Little good can be said about the operations of RT, the Russian state funded propaganda channel, in Britain. But in one notable respect it does provide a valuable public service. It gives us a pretty decent indication of which figures active in British politics are cranks. Not everyone who goes on RT is a crank, admittedly, but there are very few zealots or charlatans of any note who haven’t at some point made an appearance. This is no coincidence. One of the few things which unites the radical left and right in the UK is a propensity, in just about any given situation, to give the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt.

There are I think two phenomena going on here, and I will endeavour not to conflate them. For a section of the hard-left the most pernicious forces in world politics are those countries governed along liberal-democratic-capitalist, or “Western”, lines. Pretty much any faction which confronts them should be supported, or at least excused. Not so long ago this faction was fringe, and of little real importance. Now it controls the Labour Party.

Take what happened in 2014 when Russia launched a limited invasion of Ukraine, after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced from power. Jeremy Corbyn, then an obscure backbencher, wrote a piece entitled “Nato belligerence endangers us all” in which he argued that the conflict was being fuelled by “the obsession with cold war politics that exercises the Nato and EU leaderships” both of which had become “tools of US policy in Europe”. At the time Corbyn was also Chair of the ironically titled Stop the War Coalition, which published a piece accusing the West of “demonising President Putin” and claimed the crisis was triggered by “recklessly provocative moves to absorb Ukraine into the EU”. Not to be outdone, Seumas Milne, now Corbyn’s Communications Director, claimed that military expansionism “has overwhelmingly come from NATO, not Moscow”.

When you take this history into account, Corbyn’s response to the Salisbury poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and the Douma chemical attack appear less incomprehensible. In the Skripal case, he suggested we send a sample of the nerve agent responsible to Moscow, as though this could lead to an admission of culpability. On Douma, he told Andrew Marr that, even if the guilt of the Syrian Government is proven, we should only take military action with UN approval, knowing full well that the Russian veto makes this impossible.

In both cases Corbyn lacks the decency to openly advocate inaction, instead suggesting criteria he must know can’t possibly be met. This is moral cowardice masquerading as leadership. Meanwhile other figures on the hard-left use the time to muddy the waters. Craig Murray, Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan turned political activist, downplayed the Russian state’s motive to target the Skripals, and went as far as to suggest Israel as an alternative suspect. His words were quickly picked up by Corbynite clickbait site The Canary.

Much of the hard-left has had a pro-Moscow tilt for decades, even if the reasoning has changed since the fall of the USSR. But in recent years they’ve been joined by elements of the radical right, who see Putin’s Russia as a bulwark against globalisation and a certain type of social liberalism. In 2014 when asked which world leader he most admired Nigel Farage replied “as an operator, but not as a human being, I would say Putin” before clarifying that he doesn’t “approve of him politically”. During the 2014 Ukraine crisis he mimicked the likes of Corbyn in downplaying Russian culpability, shifting the blame to “this EU empire, ever seeking to expand”.

Farage is not an isolated example. In April 2017 Arron Banks, co-founder of the unofficial UKIP aligned Leave.EU campaign and a close Farage ally, told The Guardian that “I’m pro Putin being actually for his country. It’s not possible to run that entire country as a pure democracy. It’s not possible”. In his book “The Bad Boys of Brexit” Banks recalls meeting a man he believed to be “the KGB’s man in London”, presumably referring to the KGB’s successor organisation, at the 2015 UKIP annual conference. Instead of giving the man a wide birth, surely the patriotic thing to do under the circumstances, Banks attended a meeting he organised at the Russian Embassy where “our host wanted the inside track on the Brexit campaign and grilled us on the potential implications of an out vote for Europe”.

Earlier this month the still active Leave.EU campaign Tweeted that “Theresa’s claims the Salisbury nerve agent attack was 100% Russia’s doing is becoming shakier than Boris Yeltsin after ten vodkas” accompanied with a graphic which described the Prime Minister’s position on the poisoning as “The Fiction”.

In response to the Douma attack Westmonster, a right-wing media outlet co-owned by Arron Banks published a piece by George Galloway in a rare display of hard-right/hard-left cooperation. Galloway wrote that “I believe there was no such attack and certainly neither I or you have seen any actual evidence”.

The Russian state trying to influence the internal politics of the United Kingdom is nothing new. A brief glance at the Cold War is enough to show us that. But what has changed is that powerful political factions within the UK now share key parts of its narrative. During the Cold War those sympathetic to Moscow on key foreign policy questions were kept to the fringes of British politics. Now they control the Labour Party, and have significant influence within the more nativist wing of the Brexit movement. On the former point especially, our allies could reasonably ask whether our next Government will be a fully reliable member of the Western alliance. I very much hope we don’t have to find out.