Red this one before? How the Mail recycled a McCarthyite witch hunt...

It expects readers to have very short memories and extremely short fuses...

When The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday ‘find’ a ‘red under the bed’, they have no compunction in shoving them back under there and pulling them out again the next time a bit of drama is required. Hell, they’ll have Dan Hodges create one if they have to and illustrate it with an extremely dubious communist mole.

This weekend, the MoS made a spread of a ‘shock’ report from its chief reporter Ian Gallagher (Is TV's favourite Sage member Professor Susan Michie such a big fan of lockdowns because she's a Communist once known as Stalin's nanny?) and a chuntering commentary from columnist and aggrieved animatronic owl Peter Hitchens (The day even fellow Marxists searched super-rich Sage Professor Susan Michie's baby's pram for propaganda).

Only the Professor’s background and political positions — or at least the Mail spin on them — shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Gallagher, Hitchens, or their loyal readers.

In 2018, when the target was Jeremy Corbyn’’s leadership of the Labour Party rather than Covid restrictions, Guy Adams — who is often dispatched to deliver the Mail’s hit piece features — wrote a piece headlined We the working class! That's how the granddaughter of a Baron urged her Communist comrades to back Jeremy Corbyn in the latest sign the toffs are taking over the hard left. The target was Professor Susan Michie.

The following year, in 2019, Tom Rawstorne, focused on Michie and her family again under the headline A £50million portrait of hypocrisy: How Corbyn's bourgeois-hating aide's family inherited Britain's most valuable Picasso and sold it against their mother's wishes... and Jeremy's glamorous crony got a £1.3m home after deal went through.

On Twitter, Guido Fawkes tried to claim the ‘scoop’ on Michie, pointing to a post from May 2020 — late compared to the Mail’s efforts — which blared MARXIST MICHIE’S MASS MEDIA CAMPAIGN.

The coverage by both the Mail titles and Guido Fawkes’ malevolent bloggy boil on the arse of public discourse is united by a combination of clumsy hypocrisy — they revel in all forms of wealth until the person in possession of that wealth strays from the narrow window of opinions they find acceptable — and Matt Bors’ ‘Mister Gotcha’ cartoon:

Of course, Lockdown Sceptics, Toby Young’s conspiracy club for Boden-wearers with brain worms, was all over the story.

Young praises the Mail articles for “uncovering some interesting tidbits” — facts and distortions which were included in the 2018 and 2019 articles — while making sure to praise his own efforts (“Most readers of Lockdown Sceptics will be aware that Prof Michie is a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but Gallagher has uncovered some interesting tidbits.”)

The effort required to uncover those ‘tidbits’ is as simple as rifling through past Mail cuttings and… uh… looking at Wikipedia where Michie’s family background and membership of the Communist Party is clearly noted.

The question for those noted ‘free speech’ fans at the Mail, Guido Fawkes aka notoriously thirsty red-faced man Paul Staines, and Young (who is also the not-at-all self-appointed, self-described General Secretary of the Free Speech Union) is why does this particular well-off woman bother them? And why don’t other claims of nepotism anger them as much?

Michie and Andrew Murray — the former Corbyn advisor who seems to have permanent residence in the brains of Mail hacks — divorced in 1997, 21 years before Murray started working for the Labour Party. And even the Guido Fawkes blog has to admit that “Michie is Professor of Health Psychology and Director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at UCL, so prima facie she has the credentials to be a scientific advisor” in amongst its slurs and insinuations.

I’m not arguing that a prominent academic who often appears on TV should be immune from press scrutiny of any kind, but it’s clear why the Mail titles have returned to Michie:

While they will usually bend over backwards to make excuses for aristos — even ones accused of serious crimes — the hereditary power-loving hacks at The Mail and Mail on Sunday will not stand for is someone with the luck to be born rich having opinions anywhere left of General Franco. It’s just terrible manners and why Diana is their favourite Mitford and Decca is decidedly less appealing.

But while Michie’s background and politics were used as a broader attempt to discredit anyone on the Left during Corbyn’s time as Labour leader, they are picked over here to attack her contribution to science during the pandemic.

The Mail titles, the Guido Fawkes gang, and Young’s Lockdown Septics are united in the belief that the science is ‘wrong’ and that being required to wear a face mask is a horrendous attack on their freedom and not actually a really convenient way to hide their sneering faces.

Hitchens begins his attack on Michie by drawing upon a source that I suspect he would not usually find credible:

The super-rich Communist Susan Michie is so militant that her fellow Marxists once searched her baby's pram for subversive literature. 

They lifted the tiny infant out of the way, to check that the future Professor of Psychology was not smuggling ultra-hardline propaganda into a crucial conference.

No wonder that fellow students at Oxford a few years before had called her 'Stalin's nanny'.

The 1984 pram-searching incident, disclosed in 2014 by a far-Left website called The Weekly Worker, is far from being the oddest thing about this interesting person. 

The piece Hitchens quotes from is a retrospective report on The Weekly Worker’s first conference in 1984 when it was known as The Leninist. The anecdote about Michie is unsourced and included as an aside about the actions of another faction (the Straight Leftists who published a rival newspaper and included among their number Seumas Milne) which is fairly far into the article:

For once, however, the Straight Leftists acted with some gusto. They smuggled in a daily bulletin, Congress Truth. Euro goons searched likely suspects. Babies were even lifted out of prams to see what their mothers might be concealing. That happened to Susan Michie, Andrew Murray’s partner.

It’s a minor detail and one made a single source — Jack Conrad, the author of The Weekly Worker article and the original editor of The Leninist.

Though he admits that he has not interviewed Michie about how her politics might (or might not) have influenced her views on policy and science, Hitchens has a helluva good time making insinuations:

… despite, or perhaps, because of being very wealthy indeed, she has been a fervent Communist since 1978 and still clings to the Hammer and Sickle long after the collapse of her creed's regimes from East Berlin to Moscow.

Her favourite place in the world is Havana, infested with secret police spies and one of the last tottering strongholds of Leninist rule.

I cannot say whether her lifelong belief in Communism, apparently inherited from her equally militant scientist parents and shared with her ex-husband, the former Jeremy Corbyn aide Andrew Murray, has had any influence on her advice.

Hitchens has tweeted about how aggrieved he is that people are calling his article a “hit piece”…

… and implying, as he so often does, that the haters are out to suppress his freedom of speech, which he exercises multiple times a week in the Mail.

After his catalogue of insinuations, implications, half-truths and full-on attacks, Hitchens concludes his commentary by saying:

Any society should have room for people such as Susan Michie, whose freedom of speech and thought I uphold to the end. But any society that places people such as her at the centre of its most important decisions is a society in danger.

Hitchens, who was a Trotskyite in his younger years, has the zeal of the convert when it comes to red-baiting. He thinks that concluding his piece by ‘defending’ Michie’s free speech should bat away any accusations that he’s engaged in a witchhunt. But that’s a fig leaf and a flimsy one at that — he effectively argues that Michie has a right to free speech but that her speech should have no influence — despite her academic background.

What the Mail titles and others are attempting is to imply — because of what they claim to be Michie’s personal political views (mostly based on information from decades ago) — is that the government’s scientific advisors are a Commie cabal actively engaged in what Hitchens calls “a revolution”.

The reason Hitchens and others are relying on personal attacks and ‘reds under the bed’ retro paranoia is because time and time again they have been shown to be wrong on the science and wrong on the next developments in the pandemic. They reach for personal attacks because they do not have the facts to support their positions.

That Hitchens has a penchant for seeing Marxists everywhere is just a happy coincidence. Remember, this is the man who honestly believes that Tony Blair was effectively “a Communist infiltrator”. Because while Hitchens says his politics have changed over the years, he never seems to believe that anybody else’s views shift — once a teenage Trotskyite, always a teenage Trotskyite seems to be his position. Still, he’s kept one thing he learned from his own Trotskyite past — how to have a good and bitter factional fight.