RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN UK POLITICS – 21 December 2017

[Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton): Order. Due to the large number of interventions that colleagues have taken, which always has implications for others, after the next speaker I must reduce the time limit to four minutes.]

Dr Julian Lewis: In the light of what you have said, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will not take any interventions.

I wish to ask whether any hon. Member in the Chamber – other than perhaps the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) – feels a flicker of recognition when they hear the names of the following organisations: the World Federation of Trade Unions, the International Union of Students, the World Federation of Scientific Workers, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, and – above all – the World Peace Council. Those were part of a magnificent array of Soviet international propaganda front organisations that plied their disreputable trade through half a century from the end of the 1940s right up until the downfall of the Soviet Union. They were well funded, very active and almost wholly – at least as far as the United Kingdom was concerned – ineffective, because they were clunky and did not really understand the way that British people and parliamentarians think and operate.

I have heard something in every speech and intervention made today with which I agreed. We are all on the same page. We all understand that Russia is not a modern constitutional democracy and that it will do everything within its power to promote its messages and undermine the messages of those whom it perceives to be its adversaries. I always hesitate to cite one of the most evil men who ever walked the face of the earth – Dr Joseph Goebbels – but he knew a thing or two about propaganda, and one of his central tenets was that the purpose of propaganda is not to change people’s minds; it is to find out what they already believe, and reinforce it.

There is a very good reason for that. Except when dealing with young minds that have not had a chance to form their value systems and opinions – that is a big and important exception – I have come to the conclusion, through working in this field for a long time before I first entered the House, that people are much more resistant to the effect of propaganda than they are given ​credit for when it comes to changing their minds. The effect of barrages of propaganda might be to dishearten them, but it will not generally convert them unless they are impressionable, and most people are not.

[Mr Seely rose – ]

Dr Lewis: I said that I would not give way, and I am afraid that I will not out of consideration for others.

Let me follow up the argument that was developed by the hon. Member for Ilford South [Mike Gapes] when he spoke about different stages in society. I think that, apart from failed states, there are three main types of society: totalitarian extremism, ruthless authoritarianism, and constitutional democracy. Sometimes, we have the choice between only the first and the second, because the third takes time to evolve.

The reason why the Russia of today, although dangerous, is not nearly as dangerous as the Soviet Union of yesterday is that it has moved largely from totalitarian extremism to ruthless kleptocratic authoritarianism.

The reason why totalitarian extremism is more dangerous is that it has an ideology that finds resonance in the target societies – for example, the ideology of the workers’ paradise. There are no fifth columnists of young British people who are bowled over by the masculinity, alleged or real, of Vladimir Putin, but there were plenty who were fooled by the concept of a workers’ paradise.

So by all means be careful and by all means recognise that Twitter can affect young impressionable minds, but remember one thing: to defend ourselves properly we need to defend ourselves in the field of cyber against cyber-attack on our infrastructure, rather than worrying too much about ineffective propaganda measures.