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Tom Newton Dunn and “Hijacked Labour”: Still No Answers One Year On

On Twitter, three left-wing journalists (Ash Sarkar, Owen Jones and Ellie Mae O’Hagan) remonstrate with former Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn over his promotion a year ago of a bizarre conspiracy chart called “Hijacked Labour”:

Newton Dunn responded to the above (also highlighted by others as “Tom Newton Dunn Day”) by blocking Jones; some journalists apparently consider Jones’s subsequent complaint about this reaction to be more worthy of commentary than Newton Dunn’s continuing failure to account for how the “Hijacked Labour” story came to be published or why it was then deleted. To date, Newton Dunn’s only public comments on the matter are correctives to the claim that he promoted a neo-Nazi website, rather than a site that included some neo-Nazi sources.

The chart, as I have mentioned before, was self-evidently a crank effusion that made connections that were either banal, inexplicable or simply wrong (a point overshadowed by revulsion at its use of far-right sources). One link led to the actor Matt Berry, while a bizarre emphasis was placed on the supposed influence of the deceased French philosophers Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. At least one person named on the chart complained about their inclusion: this was a doctor named David Rouse, who stated that “I quit labour the moment Corbyn got in as I disagree with his politics. So looks like they need to try and get their facts right”. The Sun published only a low-resolution blurry screenshot, I suspect because Newton Dunn knew that it could not withstand scrutiny.

Newton Dunn’s story was headlined “Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”. Presented as leading the supposed group of officers was one “Mark Bles”, the pen-name of a former SAS soldier turned author named Mark Whitcombe-Power. IPSO rejected a complaint that an SAS soldier should not be described as an “intelligence officer”, on the grounds that members of the unit may undertake surveillance work, and the press regulator also judged that the word “say” distanced the paper from the claims being made. Crucially, the Sun was not asked by IPSO to substantiate the existence of “intelligence officers” in the plural, even though that central detail is presented as established fact in the headline.

However, although it’s tempting to see secretive propaganda outfits lurking behind the scenes, one would hope that an operation connected to intelligence agencies would have done a more competent job. The truth is shabbier. Prior to the appearance of the “Hijacked Labour” website, a previous version of the same chart was hosted at a site called “Traitors’ Chart”. The repackaging occurred days before Newton Dunn’s story was published, and it was only with the Sun story that Bles became publicly associated with the project. As such, it seems that his involvement from this point both obscures the chart’s actual provenance and gives it more credible pedigree. If Bles – retired and living in France – was induced to be the front-man in good faith, it would be very difficult for Newton Dunn to now give an explanation about what actually happened.

Clues to the true provenance of the chart are traced in Daniel Trilling’s Guardian piece linked to by Sarkar and Jones. There are also some details on a Twitter thread by a researcher named Steve Rose. His Tweets include a video with a distinctive voice-over that was created to publicise the “Traitors Chart” version of the chart.

On the one hand, the story is not going away. But on the other, as noted by another Twitter user, “What’s kind of amazing is that Tom Newton Dunn’s strategy of ‘just pretend/insist that it didn’t happen’ has actually been completely successful”.

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