The Canary and conspiracies (pt 2) — the case of Keir’s campaign funding

Back in 2017 I wrote a piece titled “The Canary and conspiracies — the case of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack”, in which I took issue with an article published on the leftwing website The Canary denying the Assad regime’s responsibility for a sarin attack on an opposition-held town in Syria.

I criticised The Canary and other New Left Media sites for “encouraging their readers to embrace cranky conspiracist fantasies” and urged them to give it a rest. But did they listen to me? No, they didn’t.

Take The Canary’s recent exposé of the funding of Keir’s Starmer’s Labour leadership campaign. The article, by John McEvoy, is titled “Keir Starmer received £50,000 donation from pro-Israel lobbyist in leadership bid”. The lobbyist in question being the multi-millionaire businessman Trevor Chinn.

I’ve analysed Keir’s list of campaign donors myself (see my article “Who funded Keir Starmer’s campaign?”). I found that there were a number of large donations from wealthy individuals, of whom Trevor Chinn was by no means the most generous.

In addition to the £50,000 from Chinn, the campaign received £100,000 from Waheed Alli, £100,000 from Bob Latham, £95,000 from Martin Taylor, £50,000 from Clive Hollick, £25,000 from Peter Coates, £25,000 from Martin Clarke and £10,000 from Paul Myners. Which came to £455,000 altogether.

So why does The Canary concentrate on the role of one rich Jew who contributed a relatively small part of this sum?

What in fact connected all these wealthy donors, including Chinn, was that they were aligned with the Labour right and had demonstrated political hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn. That is the actual story here. It explains why Keir obstinately refused to release the full details of his major donors during the campaign.

If he had done so, it would have undermined his assurance to Labour members that he would be continuing the radical political programme adopted by the party under Corbyn’s leadership. These donors clearly didn’t believe Keir would do that — because if they had, they wouldn’t have backed his campaign.

Why write an article that downplays this point in favour of suggesting that the sinister influence of the Zionist lobby was behind Keir’s election? (That is at any rate the message that many readers have taken from McEvoy’s piece.)

In any case, if Keir was indeed the Zionist lobby’s candidate of choice for the Labour leadership, one important component of the lobby obviously didn’t get the memo. The Labour-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement, whose members are obliged to “promote Labour or Socialist Zionism” along with “the centrality of Israel in Jewish life”, nominated Lisa Nandy instead.

Despite his declaration of unqualified support for Zionism, Zionists themselves have generally shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Keir Starmer. As can be seen in this article from , relief that Corbyn is no longer Labour leader has been tempered with grumblings about Keir being far too sympathetic to the Palestinian victims of Israeli state oppression.

In short, The Canary’s article is representative of a section of the left that takes an exaggerated view of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK. This disproportionate and occasionally obsessive emphasis on the role of Zionists in British politics sometimes crosses the line into antisemitic conspiracy theory.

Here, to take particularly crude example of the controlling-power-of-Israel school of thought, is a meme evidently inspired by The Canary’s story. It looks like the work of the same Zionist-conspiracy crank who concocted this meme attacking Tom Watson. The idea that the donation of £50,000 from Trevor Chinn proves that “Starmer works for a foreign power” is just idiotic. Yet leftists who should know better have been sharing the meme on social media.

The political influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK has long been acknowledged. However, people who see the hand of Zionism everywhere are at best conspiracist crackpots and at worst antisemites. The section of the left who does this should stop doing it. It’s wrong in principle and it makes us look stupid.

First published on Medium in April 2020