Disagreement: Peter Hitchens and Dan Hodges.

They can’t both be right. But the fact that their columns disagree at all shows the level of division over Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on the Salisbury poisonings and Russia’s alleged involvement.

Dan Hodges takes a thoroughly Tory stance which we can see through straight away:

So it wasn’t all ‘fake news’ after all. Jeremy Corbyn is not a paid Russian agent. But as the events of last week proved, he is most certainly an agent of Russia.

An “agent of Russia”? Having been a critic of Russia for most of his Parliamentary career, dating right back to Soviet times? This is conspiracy-theory nutjobbery, I think!

Within minutes of Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015 , Conservative HQ issued a campaign poster that made the incendiary claim that he was ‘a threat to our national security’. At the time it was roundly condemned as a sensationalist smear. But as we now know, it was merely a statement of fact.

Or indeed, a model of understatement. Not even the most malign practitioner of the dark political arts would dream up a scenario where the Leader of the Opposition stood at the House of Commons despatch box in the wake of a chemical weapons attack on the United Kingdom, and began mimicking the obfuscation and evasion of its perpetrators.

Which perpetrators? We still don’t know who did it.

The UK, in a joint statement with France, Germany and the United States, could only state that the nerve agent used was “of a type developed by Russia”. No mention is made of whether the substance was created in Russia, or by the Russian government for the purposes of covert warfare against the UK.

Let’s face it – if those were the circumstances of its creation, then it was a failure because the Tory government pointed the finger at Russia straight away. That’s one very good reason to suggest that Russia wasn’t behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia; a genuine attack by Russian agents would have been nowhere near as clumsy.

‘Jeremy has always been on the right side of history,’ his supporters like to boast. Well, it will be interesting to see how the history books record the moment their hero asked the Prime Minister if she was planning to let Vladimir Putin run tests to ascertain whether his own murderous hand had been behind the release of a deadly nerve agent in the middle of Wiltshire. Or gave his spokesman licence to publicly rubbish the findings of the Government’s own weapons experts. Or gave similar licence to his allies to spread crazed conspiracy theories about the nature of the attack, and brand as ‘enemies’ any Labour MP who backed Theresa May’s proportionate and measured response.

Oh, dear. Perhaps Mr Hodges should get the Valium out, because his own nerves seem to be suffering.

Mr Corbyn did ask whether Mrs May would honour the Russian government’s request for a sample of the alleged nerve agent. But he suggested passing it on to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and called on her to seek the support of the UN in future decisions – and she has acceded to both those suggestions.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman did point out that the Government’s own weapons experts have been wrong in the past – most famously about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Given the fact that we went into a hugely damaging war in that country on the basis of that claim – and no such weapons were found – perhaps Mr Hodges should be a little less judgemental about Mr Corbyn’s spokesman, and a little more sceptical about the so-called “weapons experts”. Anyway, isn’t this the government that doesn’t believe in experts?

As for these “crazed conspiracy theories” – what are they? That the origin of the alleged nerve agent has not been confirmed? That its composition has not been confirmed? That we do not know who administered it to Mr Skripal and his daughter? Those aren’t conspiracy theories – they are statements of fact.

And it isn’t Mr Corbyn’s allies who’ve branded Labour MPs who supported Mrs May as “enemies”. The truth is actually the other way around.

Peter Hitchens’s blog piece reads, at least in part, as a response to the jingoistic nonsense of his colleague:

I have been to many countries where free speech is dangerous. But I have always assumed that there was no real risk here.

Now, several nasty trends have come together. The treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, both by politicians and many in the media, for doing what he is paid for and leading the Opposition, seems to me to be downright shocking.

I disagree with Mr Corbyn about many things and actively loathe the way he has sucked up to Sinn Fein. But he has a better record on foreign policy than almost anyone in Parliament. Above all, when so many MPs scuttled obediently into the lobbies to vote for the Iraq War, he held his ground against it and was vindicated.

Mr Corbyn has earned the right to be listened to, and those who now try to smear him are not just doing something morally wrong. They are hurting the country.

I sense an even deeper and more thoughtless frenzy over Russia, a country many seem to enjoy loathing because they know so little about it.

I don’t often agree with Mr Hitchens, but he is absolutely right about this.

Other Mail columnists would do well to adopt a similarly balanced viewpoint.

But they almost certainly won’t.


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