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Some Conservative MPs and “Soros” Conspiricism

The Times reports on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show:

[Michael Gove] was asked about Sally-Ann Hart, successor to Amber Rudd as MP for Hastings & Rye, and Lee Anderson, who took Ashfield from Labour for the first time since 1979.

Ms Hart is being investigated for sharing a video in 2017 implying that George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, controlled the EU. She also “liked” a comment beneath the video saying “Ein Reich”, a Nazi slogan.

…Mr Anderson… is being investigated by the party for his activity in Ashfield Backs Boris, a Facebook group in which fellow members supported Tommy Robinson, the far-right activist, and conspiracy theories about Mr Soros were posted.

The facts in each case do not appear to be in doubt, and so the “investigations” will presumably focus on motive and context.

A case for the defence would be that Soros is an extremely wealthy individual who supports contentious causes, and that as such he should be subject to scrutiny and criticism – his Jewish heritage is irrelevant, even though antisemites may also have targeted him for their own reasons. However, this does not address the issue of conspiracy thinking – whatever the extent of Soros’s actual influence, it is not reasonable to suggest that he controls the EU.  How can such an exaggerated or distorted account of a Jewish person’s role and influence in public life not be antisemitic, by very definition? What difference can there be between the idea of a Jewish puppet-master and of a puppet-master who happens to be Jewish?

“Soros” as an all-purpose invocation that supposedly has wide-ranging explanatory value has of course been around for a long time – I first saw it on American websites years ago, and the trend has been especially weaponised in his native Hungary. In British political discourse, though, it has been largely confined to the fringe: last year, Nadine Dorries gratuitously suggested that a small anti-Brexit demo outside a Labour shadow cabinet meeting may have been “paid for by multi millionaire, George Soros”, and she also raised his name in a television interview – both times without facing any censure within her party.

Hart and Anderson will probably be able to extricate themselves with an apology – this was what happened with Lincoln MP Karl McCartney, who had RTed anti-Soros conspiracy theories by the likes of Paul Joseph Watson as well as articles promoting Tommy Robinson.

McCartney was alluded to during the head-to-head between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn a few days before the election: moderator Nick Robinson stated to Johnson “You have candidates who have Re-Tweeted Tommy Robinson talking about – quotes – ‘Muslim paedophiles'”, and Johnson replied that “All those candidates have either apologised or are now subject to investigation”. Prior to McCartney, though, Robinson was RTed by Bob Blackman in 2016 (although Blackman claims to have done so “in error”), and by Dorries last year (in circumstances I discussed here – and no investigation or apology followed).

Footnote

Hart is also controversial for promoting an article by one Cheri Berens suggesting that Muslims are involved in progressive movements as part of a plot to weaken the West, and for a comment at a hustings event that led to the disastrous headline “Tory candidate says disabled people should be paid less as ‘they don’t understand money’”. The latter controversy was a bit unfair – she was actually talking about work placements for adults with severe learning disabilities where inclusion is a social good but uneconomical. This difficult area was an odd topic for her to have got embroiled in.