WATCH: John McDonnell brands Russian bot claims a ‘classic smear story’
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has reacted furiously to a story claiming that Russian Twitter bots sought to swing the general election in Labour’s favour.
According to an investigation by The Sunday Times and Swansea University, some 6,500 suspect accounts pumped out pro-Corbyn messages and attacked the Conservatives in the run-up to last June’s vote.
The study found that 80% of the accounts were created in the weeks before polling day, and were used to target voters with key political messages during vital points in the campaign, including in the wake of the Manchester bombing.
But the Labour frontbencher hit out at the “ludicrous” story this morning, blasting the “Conservative-supporting” Sunday Times and instead seeking to turn the tables on the Tories for accepting donations from wealthy Russians.
He told Sky News: “This is ludicrous. This the thing they accused [former Labour leader] Neil Kinnock of during the general election.
“If I remember rightly, the Russian Embassy was putting out supportive noises towards the Tory party. If there's an issue here about anything on Russian influence within our society, it’s about Russian oligarchs funding the Tory party. Let's have an inquiry into that.”
Mr McDonnell urged the Conservatives to back Labour’s amendments when anti-money laundering legislation comes to the House of Commons next week.
He said the proposed changes - which could reportedly win the backing of up to 19 Tory rebels - would “tackle this dirty money coming through he city of London and winding up in our economy”.
And in a furious swipe at the paper for reporting the bots story, the Shadow Chancellor added: “This Sunday Times story - a Conservative-supporting newspaper - [is] farcical. They tried it in ’92 on Neil Kinnock. They're doing it again just before election this time.
“It's a classic Sunday Times smear campaign. If they're really serious about tackling influence of Putin and his allies in our society, get them to support my legislation that we're promoting which is tackling money laundering and dirty money coming through the city from Russian oligarchs.”
Digital Minister Matt Hancock told The Sunday Times that he believed the paper’s allegations were “extremely concerning”.
He added: “It is absolutely unacceptable for any nation to attempt to interfere in the democratic elections of another country. The social media companies need to act to safeguard our democratic discourse and reveal what they know.”