Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to condemn Russian following the Salisbury novichok attacks marked the beginning of the end of his leadership, a close ex-aide has claimed.
Following the attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson told the Commons that the Kremlin was “in many respects a malign and disruptive force”.
But Corbyn “misread” the situation, says ex-adviser Andrew Murray, adding that until then, “we were doing all right in the polls. That started bringing all the doubts about Jeremy and the leader’s office to the surface again.”
According to newly published extracts in The Times from new book Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn, by the newspaper’s journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire, Murray views the attack as a “turning point” for Corbyn’s national standing and “the uneasy relationship that the leader’s office had with the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)”.
“The Salisbury attack is something we got wrong. When it happened, I thought, ‘Well, probably there’s Russians behind this, because of the use of novichok’,” Murray said.
“You don’t run into saying ‘This is Putin’s responsibility’ when you haven’t produced the evidence of it. In fact, this evidence has now been produced. Had we known then what we know now, we’d have taken a different view, I think.”
Along with various other revelations in their tell-all new book, Pogrund and Maguire claim that the failure of Corbyn’s team to blame Russia over the attack “was in no small part” due to the influence of his director of communications, ex-Guardian editor Seamus Milne.
“To his MP critics,” says the book, Milne took a “Manichean view of geopolitics, and during his career at The Guardian had on several occasions ended up on the same side of the argument as Putin”.
Milne would also go on to “compare the incident to the build-up to the Iraq War”, telling journalists that “I think, obviously, the government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t.
“However, also, there’s a history in relation to WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly.”
So “remarkable” were the comments, that the Press Association – a news organisation without political affiliation – defied an “unspoken rule” of the parliamentary press corps by attibuting the comments to Milne, rather than simply “a Labour spokesperson”.
As Sky News reported at the time, in the ensuing row over Labour’s stance, Corbyn was accused of “appeasement” towards Russia and was “heckled” in the Commons.