Why is Nick Timothy’s Telegraph column on anti-Brexit billionaire George Soros so disturbing?

Within its coverage, the paper has seen fit to uncritically repeat a series of anti-Semitic conspiracies about Soros.

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Today’s Telegraph column from Nick Timothy carries an account of a meeting between George Soros, the billionaire and funder of various liberal causes, and Conservative donors, and the theme continues on the paper's frontpage, where “Man who 'broke the Bank of England' backing secret plot to thwart Brexit” is the splash.

The problem is that the aim of Best for Britain, the Gina Miller-founded group that wants to stop Brexit, is no more secret (or indeed newsworthy) than the fact that you're reading this on the New Statesman. That Soros is one of those funding the anti-Brexit campaign is not news either, though the Telegraph's headline has provoked a disclosure of the exact sum – £400,000 – that Soros is putting towards the campaign. (He is by no means their main donor and the organisation is also pulling in not inconsiderable amounts from small donors.)

The reason that many find the Telegraph's treatment so disturbing is that Soros, who is Jewish, has been at the centre of a series of anti-Semitic conspiracies by the increasingly authoritarian governments in Poland, Hungary and Turkey – and the paper has seen fit to uncritically repeat those accusations in its write-up of the story. That Timothy was the author of that “citizens of nowhere” speech only adds to feeling among many that the original speech was a coded way of talking about “rootless cosmopolitans”; aka the Jewish people.

Timothy's column itself is a series of facts we already knew topped up with an interesting anecdote in the opener (Soros had some Tory donors over for dinner, and it didn't go well). The demands of a weekly politics column – speaking of which, here's mine – mean that everyone will have to do that from time to time. His target isn't Jewish people, but Conservative MPs thinking of allying with Best for Britain – he's trying to accuse them of being useful idiots for a Corbyn government. As with “citizens of nowhere”, while the offence he's caused is real and in my view understandable, the target he's aiming at is elsewhere.

But the bigger question for Timothy is this: why does he keep blundering into racially-charged rhetoric, and why he is so incapable of listening and displaying contrition? His response to the “citizens of the world” row was to declare that everyone who objected to it was simply making trouble for trouble's sake. On Twitter he is busily retweeting everyone who is defending him, including Eric Pickles, who argues that Timothy couldn't possibly be engaging in anti-Semitic behaviour because he is a “friend of Israel”.

Once more with feeling: one's support or opposition to the policies pursued by the state of Israel at any given time aren't relevant to whether or not you've said something anti-Semitic. Jackie Walker's Facebook post that Jews were responsible for the bulk of the slave trade wouldn't have been any less troubling if she'd written it while wearing a “Vote Netanyahu” sticker. Timothy's friendship towards the state of Israel doesn't change the fact that the invocation of Soros, and the Telegraph's overall treatment of the story, puts him in worrying company. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.