Why do the Tories think people care what Jeremy Corbyn says about Venezuela?

The Conservatives are calling on the Labour leader to condemn the Maduro regime.

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Have you looked at the Conservative Party press office’s Twitter feed lately? Probably not, if you’re enjoying your summer marginally more than I am. So here it is, just to fill you in:

@CCHQPress screengrabs

Wall-to-wall tweets and retweets urging the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to denounce the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian power grab.

You can see at first why CCHQ thinks this is a clever idea. President Nicolás Maduro is a socialist, and Corbyn and other left-wing British politicians have spoken positively about him and Hugo Chávez’s preceding administration in the past – prior to this crisis.

The Tories are using this to try and scare voters into thinking a Corbyn-led Britain would experience the political and social turmoil of Venezuela, while at the same time criticising the Labour leader for his silence about undemocratic and violent activity. They are targeting both socialism as an ideology and Corbyn as leader: a double whammy.

But this is unlikely to have the desired effect for two reasons. The first is it’s such a naked political calculation. The Conservative Party didn’t even have its own official line on the Venezuelan situation before today, when Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi commented:

“Jeremy Corbyn’s silence on Venezuela grows louder every day and it’s time he accepted the facts and condemned the actions of President Maduro.

“The hard left have never met a banana republic they don’t like but Jeremy Corbyn and his socialist sidekicks simply can’t stand silently in support as the Venezuelan people suffer at the hands of a corrupt and brutal dictator.”

The Tories were pulling this statement together only this morning – days after the party first began calling on Corbyn to condemn Maduro. And it only focuses on Labour.

Yes, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has made an official statement (and some freelance remarks), but so has his opposite number Emily Thornberry, who expressed concerns about Maduro’s “increasingly authoritarian rule”. Labour also released this official statement from shadow foreign minister Liz McInnes on Monday:

“We mourn all those who have been killed and injured in the protests leading up to this election, and we urge everyone in Venezuela, on all sides, to end the bloodshed immediately.

"In particular, we urge the government of Venezuela to recognise its responsibilities to protect human rights, free speech and the rule of law. The outcome of this election cannot be treated as a mandate for a further escalation of repression, division, and violence.

"President Maduro must also respond personally to the legitimate concerns of the international community about the increasingly authoritarian nature of his rule and the growing hardship facing his people.

"If he believes those concerns are misplaced, it is up to him to prove them wrong, not through his words, but through his deeds.”

But we still haven’t heard from Theresa May on the matter. It surely matters more what the Prime Minister – who actually has international clout – plans to do about this than coaxing the Leader of the Opposition to either reassess or double down on past views.

Secondly, it just won’t work. Look at the way the Conservatives tried to smear Corbyn ahead of the general election with the “terrorist sympathiser” label, and a constant focus on linking him to the IRA. Outside of Northern Ireland, voters were not put off by this, and they won’t be by how quickly or slowly he says some words about Venezuela either.

After all, the terrorism attack lines the Tories hit him with a few months ago were far closer to home than the machinations of a South American regime. If the former didn’t hurt him, the latter is unlikely to strike a chord.

This isn’t to say Corbyn shouldn’t comment. As someone who has taken a keen interest in the country, his thoughts are relevant. It’s just that CCHQ’s obsession with him doing so will not result in putting voters off him.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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