The Waplington Files: a non-exhaustive list of centrist conspiracy theories

Martin Waplington — The title of the article comes from this one. A very short lived conspiracy theory that got a LOT of traction at the time from people who not only should have known better, but who very likely did know better. The UK voted narrowly to leave the EU on June 23rd 2016, following a grim public campaign period that both 24 hour news channels and the highest circulation papers framed largely as a dispute between two wings of the governing Conservative party. Immediately after the result, a great many Labour establishment figures made clear they largely blamed Jeremy Corbyn. But suddenly, on the 27th, Chris Bryant upped the stakes when he claimed Corbyn had ‘refused to confirm’ to him that he’d voted remain. The two men clearly don’t get on — highlighted previously when the Telegraph reported he’d been earmarked for the position of Shadow Defence Secretary but talks fell apart after he reportedly insisted on “a 30-minute conversation about what would happen if we had to invade Russia”. While this was going round the more hardcore remainer circles on social media — understandably rattled by their shock defeat —New Statesman journo George Eaton claimed they were ‘near-certain’ that Corbyn had voted leave, teasing further press revelations. This stoked a frenzy — Corbyn was a traitor, he’d misled the nation and run a ‘deliberately bad’ campaign, and surely he had to go? The story fizzled very quickly the next day when it turned out the sole source for this claim was one guy, ‘Martin Waplington’, who claimed Jeremy had told him, within seconds of meeting him in a tapas bar in the week before the vote (quickly corrected to two weeks before the vote, while Jeremy had the solid alibi of filming The Last Leg for C4) that he would be voting leave. That was it, that was the whole story, and that was obviously the end of that particular story. However, the initial reporting and whole evening of social media numbers would have reached a vast number of people, all based on nothing, and even today there are people deep in the #fbpe and associated hashtag fandom that push the ‘Corbyn voted leave’ fantasy. Martin Waplington himself, sadly, faded back into political obscurity as soon as he’d arrived.

Seumas Milne is pulling all the strings. Of everyone — this is one of the biggies, in that he’s been one of the main focuses of accusations from the day Corbyn appointed him from the Guardian. He was already unpopular with a number of influential centrists because, largely, his views expressed as a journalist on foreign policy in particular were completely incompatible with the hawkish views of the Gerasites, Henry Jackson lads and Euston manifesto acolytes that abound — a high profile beef with David Aaronovitch, who Seumas would reportedly prefix as ‘the hated..’ is typical of this, and i’d imagine some of it is professional jealousy, as Milne’s book ‘The Enemy Within’ is a work of investigative journalism his rivals could only dream of writing, and his time as the Guardian’s Comment Editor is widely seen as that part of the Guardian’s high point — he was certainly fairer in commissioning ‘opposing’ (i.e right- and centre-right) views than his successors have been to the left.

So from literally day one of his new job there were various Seumas Milne related conspiracy theories flying round. Seumas is the real power behind the throne (despite playing no part in the leadership campaign or Corbyn’s decision to run), Seumas is the Corbyn offices’ link to Putin’s Russia (this fairly even-handed long read Milne profile in the bad NS strongly implies that his ‘pro-Putin’ credentials are massively overegged by critics, and increasingly that Seumas is one of the key figures ‘behind’ left anti-semitism (which actually tends to develop in grassroots pockets, not the corridors of the Guardian). A specific photo soon after of Seumas in a suit and shades instantly became a meme on the right, sealing his characterisation as a shadowy hatchet man far more than anything specific he’s said and done.

Here’s a random sampling of recent tweets attributing anything from ‘the Corbyn camp’ they dislike to Milne, specifically. I could do the same for any period since his appointment, really, and it all seems wildly speculative.

But things have intensified in recent months as a new theory has spread like wildfire — the assertion that every prominent pro-Corbyn voice in the media gets their lines direct from Seumas, via WhatsApp. This is usually expressed to mean people like Owen Jones, Matt Zarb-Cousin, Dawn Foster, Abi Wilkinson, and Aaron Bastani but a fair few expand it to seemingly the entire twitter left — i’ve been accused of it myself, as a fairly low-follower account with a Wario avatar who has never worked in politics or journalism, it’s self-evidently ludicrous that I’m personally taking orders from Corbyn’s Director of Communications. The whole thing seems to stem from a Lucy Fisher article on Ash Sarkar, which reveals that some of these media figures are in contact with the LOTO team, but even the ever-ghoulish smear artists at Guido Fawkes — whose influence on and links to the alt-centre is always revealing — have explicitly denied believing Seumas Milne takes any part in this.

Matt Zarb-Cousin (various):

Matt came to public prominence more recently than most of the young pro-Corbyn voices in the media, employing a fairly combative strategy on twitter in particular after leaving his post as a spokesman for Corbyn last March to return to his old job. Because of this, he was never going to be a popular figure with the alt-centre but the extent to which he’s fired up the imaginations of the worst centrists going is impressive. Last summer, the consistently aggressive and unpleasant Andrew Spooner, pictured above guesting on his favourite show, The Kaiser Report on Russia Today, decided he was going to Expose the Truth About Matt Zarb-Cousin. This resulted in a festival of cyber-stalking, which included nearly a full week of intensely ‘researching’ the school uniform history of Matt’s alleged old school to try and ‘prove’ he was posh, and getting caught out scrolling back through years of tweets from Matt’s family members to try and dig up dirt. Those of us on the twitter left who called Spooner out on this creepiness got doxxed in return — he would pin tweets explicitly asking for dirt on any of us who he took exception to. As someone who has largely stayed anonymous on twitter after my first few months on here, the upshot of Spooner weaponising his followers against me had, within hours, accounts i’d never seen before reporting to him where I lived, where I’d gone to university, what i’d studied at university, and what my job was. Other friends of mine got it worse, getting bullied off twitter, banned with false reports, or in one case doorstepped by the Daily Mail on the basis of largely false claims from Spooner himself.

Matt’s current job, which he also held before working with Corbyn, has seen him successfully lobby to have the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals drastically cut — surely good news to all but the most devoted libertarians. But many on the Labour right and the twitter alt-centre see this as fertile ground for conspiracy as well, repeatedly claiming that Matt’s motivation is to increase profits at his bosses’ casinos, rather than his own past battles with gambling addiction he’s spoken about candidly and publicly (not believing this story doesn’t stop an alarming amount of them — including former Labour frontbencher and Ladbrokes lobbyist Michael Dugher, publicly mocking his struggles). Ian Austin — somehow still a sitting Labour MP — even made a series of bizarre accusations that Zarb-Cousin was himself in receipt of lavish hospitality from the very bookmakers whose profits he has successfully repressed.

Harry Leslie Smith locked in attick — Harry Leslie Smith is a World War II veteran who took up writing on retirement, becoming a fairly high profile media commentator and author particularly in the last 5 years or so. His messages and views are generally very populist-left, focusing on issues like widening income inequality, the NHS crisis, and a broadly anti-war message. His personal twitter account, active for eight years next month, tweets along broadly similar ideological lines, but is a little more curt and irritable than he appears in person — you know, like literally everyone is on social media and web forums regardless of ideology. To the alt-centre, this seems to cast doubt on the veracity of this account, and it’s been an increasingly common assertion for years that an unscrupulous friend or relative is hijacking his name to push their own left wing politics — which again, are perfectly in line with those in his books, articles and live TV appearances — in an upsetting case of elder abuse. I had a look to try and find out when this theory originated and lo and behold! The very first example I could find on twitter was by top alt-centrist light entertainer @twlldun, in late 2015. I should note here that journalist James Bloodworth — another early proponent of this theory — deleted all his tweets a few months back and DOES have past form with wild conspiracies — promoting the ludicrous idea that there were Cubans on the ground in Syria in some grand Red Alliance for a Daily Beast commission.

The reason they’ve taken a dislike to him is incredibly clear — Twlldun for example has attacked him consistently for three years now but the first attack he launched on him was very clear and predictable.

and soon any time Harry expressed a clear left wing opinion, working journalists who should know better went on the attack, again despite this being entirely in keeping with his politics in live tv appearances, book signings etc

And over time it’s somehow hardened from insinuation to cold hard fact. Harry Leslie Smith has had his account taken by ‘exploitative relatives’. The below account ‘@Corbynsuperfan’ — Danielle Grufferty — is really saying the quiet part loud here — it rests on the idea that a 95 year old man either cannot hold those views or cannot have the remaining faculties to express them. Either way, this theory is deeply rooted in ageism and is, in my opinion, another facet of the alt-centre’s tendency not to believe opposing opinions are even real — why engage with them when you can take jibes at senility, at mental health, or simply suggest your opponent is a bot, not even a real person.

Джолион Моэм QC — This is probably the most minor and least widespread theory in this piece, but I find it endlessly funny so it’s in. Jolyon Maugham QC, board member of Tory think tank and Rupert Myers vehicle ‘Bright Blue’ has a pretty weird twitter game where he alternates every few weeks between pretty fair minded, engaging criticism of Corbyn and the left, and wild attacks on the authenticity and intelligence of everyone to the left of Blair. He also owns two windmills and donated to a transphobic fundraiser, so he’s absolutely fair game.

Anyway, during one of his more restrained spells on twitter one of his followers smelt a rat (I've omitted the twitter handle as they’re a low follower count normie account. Some might take this to be an endorsement from me to steam in on all the other accounts I've called out here — and you’d be right)

So that was weird and very funny, but it was just one person and even Jolyon was going along with it for comedy purposes at the time. But months later….

There’s a second Jolyon Maugham Truther — and it’s none other than Jolyon Maugham!!! (It’s a really weird tweet, and I wonder if it’s designed to muddy the waters over twitter authorship in case of libel threats — but you’d think a QC would be clear enough where the line is not to bother with weird shit like that?)

Mass membership is bad/doesn’t count — An immediate impact in Corbyn running a serious leadership campaign in 2015 was a huge influx in membership — the party now has approx 550,000 full members, a rise of at least 250,000 from August 2015. Despite being a seismic boost to party finances and revitalising countless borderline inactive CLPs, many on the right deeply resent this. You’d imagine this was because the balance of grassroots membership had changed, but many insist otherwise. Initially, the accepted explanation was ‘they’re all trots’. Tom Watson famously implied that most of the incoming members and supporters were the AWL, whose active membership probably numbered in the hundreds, and many others were claiming it was the SWP — who by this point were absolute pariahs among most serious leftists for their disgusting handling of the Comrade Delta affair. Obviously this is just complete bullshit, if there were 250,000 active trotskyites in Britain the left’s political landscape would have been massively different. I wonder if here the prevalence of former trots in hawkish centrist circles (Harry’s Place, Times bloggers etc) skews their own views on how widespread they are/were in society?

More recently, and particularly after the big success of the 2017 election, where Corbyn’s Labour got 40%, against all predictions, the message shifted. All these new members were naive youngsters, who just didn’t understand the tyranny of the hard left, and had been cynically bought off with the false promise of Free Stuff (particularly free tuition). Unlike most of the theories in this piece, this one seems to have started on the explicitly Tory parts of twitter — you can see how deeply rooted the false party line of ‘you can’d spend money without huge taxation to pay for it’ nonsense of the economic hard right — but the alt-centrists again and again will push literally anyone’s message so long as its an anti Corbyn one. This also speaks to the wider trend of open contempt for The Young for not caring enough about politics, and then when they do, for not Knowing Enough about politics (i.e. agreeing with them) compared to some divorced dickhead dad who’s joined the Progress 1000 Club instead of getting a motorbike.

Spygate and the shadow Stasi- So this was obviously a huge thing in the whole press for about a week, one of the most obvious discrepancies between the flimsiness of the story and how much it was pushed by commentators and publications that again should and did know better. The gist of the problem was that the sole source for the allegations was a lad called Jan Sarkocy, an ‘ex-Czech secret agent’, but his claims were obviously hugely trumped up at best — claiming Corbyn was meeting him to report on what Margaret Thatcher had for breakfast on days he had clear alibis, ignoring the dozen reasons why he’d be the last person in 80s UK politics to know Thatcher’s daily habits. But all this fuss seemed to stir up a fringe conspiracy theory that had been batted around occasionally for a couple of years — the idea that there had been a SECRET STASI FILE ON CORBYN that would NEVER BE RELEASED. The focus on ‘Corbyn — friend to spies’ seemed to get journos and people with apparently lots of time to pursue ludicrous leads ‘investigating’ this — only to seemingly hit a brick wall when the agency that hold the Stasi records confirmed there was no file.

Those of you who’ve read the HLS conspiracy, or the Jolyon Maugham conspiracy, or seen the similar ‘Rachael Swindon’ conspiracy might be a step ahead of me here — yes, you’ve guessed it, the German spokesman who confirmed this was not real (whether he was supposed to be a deep cover East German continuity agent, a bluffer with no position, a fucking tulpa from the Black Lodge…. who knows?)

Later that day (‘at last’) the Stasi archivists responded to what, let’s face it, must have been a really funny set of frenzied demands from hacks, with clarification that yep, Matthias Dziomba was entirely correct and by the way, this time it’s from the sole named official that Jim Pickard believes in his heart definitely exists, gg, next map. And that was it, down the memory hole, everyone pretended they hadn’t been tweeting out outlandish cover-up theories about Corbyn’s super secret deep cover Stasi file just minutes before. Back to calling leftists every shade of mentally unhealthy under the sun for saying that journalism was a bit cliqueish or whatever.

Corbyn is on his way

This was every couple of months for a bit but usually from fringe accounts, it went ‘mainstream’ for about 5 minutes with this tweet, from an author now seen calling out Corbyn for…. wanting to fund her industry????…. on a platform shared with actual, literal fascist Taki Theodoracopulos.

There was again a fair bit of ageism around at that time about Corbyn himself, which seems to have died down since the election, in fairness (and excepting the endless, tedious ‘magic granddad’ and ‘Steptoe’ jokes. Never ever underestimate the capacity of the alt-centre for absolute bottom of the barrel patter). Was Corbyn too old to ever be PM? Would his health hold up long enough? Was he a frail old patsy for the real Power Behind The Throne (Seumas? John McDonnell? Jon Lansman? Len McCluskey? this would change weekly)?

I’m David Aaronovitch, and I start every day with two capsules of BRAIN FORCE PLUS — Big Davey Aaronovitch is probably, of all prominent centrist writers in the UK, the best known as a debunker of conspiracy theories — including but by no means exclusive to those from the left, though he’s focused more on them since Corbyn got in. He even wrote a whole book in 2009 on conspiracy theories — I’ve not read it myself and given that even Rafael Behr gave it a very lukewarm review suggests I’m not missing much. But his whole persona is a grainy, hard-bollocked serious debunker of fringe nonsense — he went semi-viral ‘destroying’ Alex Jones of Infowars — something that, in all fairness, even Piers Morgan has managed.

So it’s extra hilarious that David in recent months seems to have taken a wildly conspiratorial turn himself. Most outlandishly, he seems convinced that Corbyn has questions to answer over the 1993 Warrington bombing. This relies on several logical ‘stages’ that are all various degrees of tenuous. At this point I’m going to hand things over to the centrist gerasite-aligned blogger and reigning champion of the worst twitter bio in history ‘Bob from Brockley’, who was apparently active on the left during this era and credibly debunks literally every assertion Aaronovitch is reaching for. Love a bit of hawk-on-hawk violence, me.

Pramgate was staged with the help of crisis actors — One of my faves, this. On 8th August 2017, papers like the Mirror and the Independent ran a fluff story that showed Jeremy Corbyn helping a member of the public get their pram up the steps at Crawley station. There’s no deep meaning to this beyond ‘Jeremy Corbyn is probably quite personally generous outside of politics’, but of course, the usual suspects were immediately hard at work trying to debunk the whole thing, up to and including, yes, ‘Seumas Milne staged the whole thing’ as well as ‘how can he take the time to help someone up some steps but can’t find the time to end all suffering in the world?’

Helen Lewis has since deleted all her past tweets but she in particular spent days trying to ‘expose’ Corbyn on this one, mainly based on that station apparently having a lift (idk what it’s like in the South, but here in Scotland station lifts are probably less reliable than the actual trains).

The real heart of the Labour Party (various): A core tenet of alt-centrism is that everyone who leaves any substantial Labour Party role — MP, Councillor, Millbank staff — was actually the backbone and intellectual fulcrum of the party, tirelessly propping up their entire department or constituency with hard graft. The earliest major example I can remember was Michael Dugher leaving the shadow cabinet and, later, frontline politics. This was a guy who’d briefed against Corbyn to pliable journalists like Kevin Schofield on a daily basis from within his frontbench, so it was no surprise when he got sacked for this (or, by his account, ‘too much honest, straight talking politics’). Even his closest political ally, Tom Watson, had reportedly warned Corbyn off putting him in the frontbench. Despite that, many journos saw his loss as an incredible blow that Corbyn would struggle to survive:

Obviously its harder for rank-and-file members like me to judge the performance of backroom staffers in the Labour Party than MPs as they don’t have a major public-facing element of the job, so I can’t say that Emilie Oldknow was good or bad or brilliant or awful at her job, but this from March again seems to be drastically inflating their importance to the entire party structure. By this point tweets and articles along these lines had become such a trope that it led directly to the iconic @demarionunn tweet below, which somehow fooled dozens of accounts from right across the political spectrum into taking it seriously. Having said that, you could tell me in a fortnight that ‘Karl Dandleton’ was a mediocre 2010-intake MP and I’d likely buy it.

Corbyn was performatively anti-apartheid to help him take over the party 30 years later — I can never quite get my head round Tom Harris’ Labour membership, let alone his former MP status. Like Frank Field, he’s right wing enough that a lot of Tory backbenchers would raise an eyebrow

‘Shoes’ are not shaped like feet — If Rafael Behr DMs you asking for pictures to help him ‘prove’ a ‘hypothesis’, DO NOT ENGAGE WITH HIM

“Everything I don’t like is Lenin”- Jimmy Rushmore

The twitter account ‘JimmySecUK’ (formerly Jimmy Rushmore until he got banned for serial misogyny, including but not exclusive to transmisogyny) is a bit of a serial conspiracy theorist these days. His persona is basically ‘Mike, from Spaced, if instead of joining the territorial army he’d absorbed every word of the entire ‘blogroll’ on ‘Harry’s Place’ and also got weirdly, specifically angry about ‘Pakistani sex offenders’’. He made actual headlines the other week when he ‘proved’ Corbyn was laying a wreath with terrorists by simply drawing red arrows in the background of the same photos already circulating. Shortly before that, he claimed that the statue of Clement Attlee in Jeremy Corbyn’s office was actually a statue of Lenin — his ultimate proof being an unrelated photo of several Lenin statues where one was a similar size and looked like it was made of the same material. You can’t just point at everything you don’t like and call it Lenin, Jimmy.

Ulyssesgate — One common contention among alt-centrist twitter is that Corbyn is thick. Really thick. This seems to stem mostly from his not having properly been to university, let alone one of those nice Russell Group universities they and everyone they know went to, but regardless, it’s absolutely fair game in those circles to attack Corbyn’s intelligence (and, weirdly, Diane Abbott’s, despite her Cambridge History degree. Whatever could their objection be there?). So when, in an interview, he highlighted Ulysses by James Joyce as a particular favourite book — long reputed to be one of the most ‘challenging’ books in the established literary canon, many simply dug in and accused him of lying.

And there were also those convinced that while Corbyn may have *read* Ulysses, he couldn’t possibly have understood it, like I did. Boland has deleted most of her tweets from that day but she was probably the ringleader of ‘Corbyn is too thick for this to be true’ reaction.

This led to one of my absolute favourite wild anti-Corbyn tweets of all time, by the Tory pundit Kate Maltby (again affiliated with ‘Bright Blue’) — who had studied Ulysses extensively herself and reacted to this unlikely shared interest by…. challenging Corbyn to some sort of formal debate to ‘prove’ who Knows The Most About Ulysses????? Like its celebrity fucking mastermind or something. It’s honestly hard to read tweets like these and not imagine it’s about gating off ‘high culture’ from His Sort… and Corbyn was pretty well off in the scheme of things background wise so, as usual, the question arises — what do they think of *us*?