Corbyn speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival and Rally in 2015
By Daniel Margrain
In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent in order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy. This is largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.
The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. Sharon Beder outlines the reasoning behind the coordinated political, corporate and media attacks on democracy:
“The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.”
This is the context in which the UK political and media establishment continue to both attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demean the membership of the party who had the temerity to vote for him, securing the biggest electoral mandate of any Labour leader in British political history. It’s the possibility that Corbyn will break the iron-clad neoliberal consensus that scares the establishment the most. As Mike Sivier has shown, the significant role the media have played in undermining Corbyn’s leadership, as well as their failure to explicitly acknowledge the establishment coup against him, can be traced back until at least April last year.
Arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began after a hardcore group of Blairite MPs all refused to serve under him. The corporate media also played their part in what has arguably been the most vitriolic and biased reportage ever witnessed against any British political figure in history. What Media Lens accurately described as a “panic-driven hysterical hate-fest right across the corporate media spectrum,” began during Corbyn’s campaign to become leader. As the media analysts noted at the time, “the full extent of media bias against Jeremy Corbyn can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of attacks on him as compared to those directed at the other three candidates: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.”
The intensity of the media attacks on Corbyn increased after the election despite the fact that he secured ‘the largest mandate ever won by a party leader’. The focus of these attacks included what colour poppy Corbyn would wear, his refusal to sing the national anthem or whether he would wear a tie or do up his top button. All of this was granted national news headlines and incessant coverage. Not to be outdone, in October 2015, the BBCs political editor Laura Kuenssberg featured in an almost comically biased, at times openly scornful, attack on Corbyn’s reasonable stance on nuclear weapons. The BBC then broadcast five senior Blairite Labour figures all opposing Corbyn without any opportunity for an alternative viewpoint.
Kuenssberg followed up this hatchet-job three months later when she helped to orchestrate the live resignation of Labour shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty on the BBC2 Daily Politics show as a pre-requisite to accusing Corbyn’s team of ‘unpleasant operations’ and ‘lies’. Then came the April 12 Telegraph article – a non-story about Corbyn’s state-funded salary and pension.
Academic studies confirm the media’s anti-Corbyn bias.
- A major content analysis from Cardiff University revealed that the BBC is pro-business and Conservative-leaning in its coverage.
- The London School of Economics and Political Science found strong media bias against Corbyn, claiming the press had turned into an “attack dog” against the opposition leader.
- The UK’s public service broadcaster gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the 2016 Labour coup, according to content analysis from the Media Reform Coalition.
Portland Communications & the antisemitism meme
Allied to the above, have been the attempts by the Blairite Friends of Israel rump within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to topple Corbyn using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it. Arguably, among the most comprehensive analyses of the McCarthy-style witch-hunts undertaken so far has been by journalist Asa Winstanley.
In an excellent piece published by the Electronic Intifada (April 28, 2016), Winstanley outlined the links between right-wing, anti-Corbyn and pro-Israel forces within the Labour party. He meticulously showed how this lobby manufactured an ‘antisemitism crisis’, pinpointing the individuals involved, the tactics and dirty tricks used and the connections to powerful individuals whose ties lead to pro-Israel groups both in London and Israel.
One of the most prominent attacks on Corbyn centred on another contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation made by Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth who Wikileaks have revealed is a ‘strictly protected’ US informant. Smeeth staged a highly publicised walk-out during Corbyn’s launch of a review into the Labour party’s ‘anti-semitism crisis’ on June 30 last year which, as Jonathan Cook pointed out, was in fact, “a crisis entirely confected by a toxic mix of the right, Israel supporters and the media.”
A few days earlier another manufactured and staged anti-Corbyn story made the headlines. This time it centred around a Corbyn ‘heckler’ at Gay Pride, who in fact, as Craig Murray observed turned out to have been Tom Mauchline who works for the public relations firm, Portland Communications, whose ‘strategic counsel’ is Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former media chief who helped to sell the illegal invasion-occupation of Iraq.
Eagle’s hard landing
In addition to all of this, Corbyn’s pro-Remain position with respect to the EU referendum provided his critics with the ammunition they needed in their attempts to undermine him further. Chief among these critics is Angela Eagle, one of the many Oxford educated Blairite plotters who resigned her post in order to position herself as a potential replacement for Corbyn and who claimed to be dissatisfied with Corbyn’s performance during the EU referendum campaign. However, as the graphic below indicates, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:
According to a YouGov poll in the run up to the second election, Eagle commanded just 6 per cent support from Labour members and eventually dropped out of the race to be replaced by challenger, Owen Smith.
The Owen Smith debacle
In a debate on the September 8, 2016 edition of BBC’s Question Time leading up to the election, a studio audience member accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”. Smith’s voting record in parliament appeared to support this thesis.
Having pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn, the former public relations professional had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them.
Smith also supported Blair’s city academies and assiduously courted the arms industry of which his support of Trident was a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July, 2015 by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
In the end, Labour Party members understood that first and foremost Smith was concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position and voted accordingly.
As Craig Murray put it:
“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”
The cementing of Corbyn’s mandate
Consequently, Corbyn increased his proportion of the vote and hence his mandate. This was despite a war of attrition by the PLP that involved a McCarthyite purging of Corbyn supporters – a tradition of disdain for the grass roots membership which has a long history within the hierarchy of the party.
The grass-roots popularity for Corbyn must be seen against a backdrop in which the Labour party gained 60,000 members in one week following the attempted coup against him. Membership of the party is currently higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.
As Corbyn’s vindication by the memberships overwhelming support of him shows, the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy of his opponents serves nobody other than the narrow careerist motivations of an out of touch elite who have their snouts embedded in the trough and don’t want to give up their privileges without a fight. A sincere and incorruptible politician like Corbyn represents a potential threat to these privileges and the gravy train that sustains them.
This explains why the careerists inside the New Labour bubble would prefer a Tory government over a Corbyn government and thus are happy to continue with the ‘divided party at war with one another’ meme. This was what the challenge to Corbyn’s authority within the right-wing of the party is really all about. It’s not that Corbyn hasn’t a realistic chance of winning the next General Election, rather, it’s more a case that the establishment will do everything in their power to ensure that he doesn’t.
Battle lines drawn
In that sense, the political battle lines have been drawn, not between the Tories, the corporate mass media and the Blairite ‘opposition’, but between these factions and the rest of us. The recent resignation of the Blairite, Tristram Hunt, who was essentially parachuted into his Stoke-On-Trent constituency, represents a tacit acknowledgement by the Blairites that the New Labour faction within the party is on the ropes and that Corbyn is in the ascendancy. This notion was articulated by Ken Livingston, who in response to the resignation echoed the views of the grass roots when he depicted Hunt as being part of:
“a small elite that is very much London based that dominated the Labour party under the Blair-Brown years and were in awe of the bankers and forgot the needs of ordinary working class and middle class families, that era is gone.”
The popularity of Corbyn among grass roots members within the party has nevertheless not deterred elder statesmen like David Blunkett and Neil Kinnock from continuing to make the assertion that Corbyn is an electoral liability for Labour.
This narrative is consistent with the notion that the left are un-electable more generally. Such a narrative is a myth. As Craig Murray posited, the idea that you have to be right-wing to win elections is belied by the fact that the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon won the people of Scotland over on a left-wing ticket. Secondly, as he rightly says, there is no point being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents. Third, the British public’s ‘enthusiasm’ for somebody like Blair in 1997 was not based on policies known as Blairite. As Murray astutely points out:
“The 1997 Labour Manifesto was not right-wing. It did not mention Academy schools, Private Finance Initiative, Tuition Fees, NHS privatisation, financial sector deregulation or any of the right wing policies Blair was to usher in. Labour actually presented quite a left wing image, and figures like Robin Cook and Clare Short were prominent in the campaign. There was certainly no mention of military invasions. It was only once Labour were in power that Blair shaped his cabinet and his policies on an ineluctably right wing course and Mandelson started to become dominant. As people discovered that New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, to quote Mandelson, their popular support plummeted. “The great communicator” Blair for 90% of his Prime Ministership was no more popular than David Cameron is now. 79% of the electorate did not vote for him by his third election.”
“Michael Foot consistently led Margaret Thatcher in opinion polls – by a wide margin – until the Falklands War. He was defeated in a victory election by the most appalling and intensive wave of popular war jingoism and militarism, the nostalgia of a fast declining power for its imperial past, an emotional outburst of popular relief that Britain could still notch up a military victory over foreigners in its colonies. It was the most unedifying political climate imaginable. The tabloid demonization of Foot as the antithesis of the military and imperial theme was the first real exhibition of the power of Rupert Murdoch. Few serious commentators at the time doubted that Thatcher might have been defeated were it not for the Falklands War – which in part explains her lack of interest in a peaceful solution. Michael Foot’s position in the demonology ignores these facts. The facts about Blair and about Foot are very different from the media mythology.”
The reality, as one commentator on twitter put it, is that in corporate media and political establishment parlance, “un-electable” is media-political code for ‘likely to be highly electable but ‘will not serve elite interests.’”
The notion that Corbyn is unelectable is not credible. In his constituency of Islington North, Corbyn inherited a majority of 4,456, which is now 21,194. He’s one of the few Labour MPs whose vote increased between 2005 and 2010, when he added 5,685 to his majority. It’s true that Corbyn is currently well behind in the polls and it’s going to be tough – in my view, impossible – to unite the right-wing of the party that appears unwilling to work alongside him.
But it must be remembered that pre-coup, Labour led the Tories in three polls in a row over 41 days. Also Corbyn’s record at elections is exemplary. London and Bristol now have Labour mayors, rolling back years of Tory dominance, while Labour’s majorities in by-elections have uniformly increased. Moreover, as George Galloway pointed out, Labour won three local government by-elections – two off the Tories and one off the SNP. In last May’s local elections, the party overtook the Tories in the share of the vote, coming from seven points behind at the last election.
Meanwhile, the party which haemorrhaged 4.9 million votes between 1997 and 2010 under the ‘triangulated’ leadership of a man who lobbies on behalf of some of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, claimed in a moment of Orwellian irony, that Corbyn is a disaster for the party. This can only be beneficial for the current Labour leader. Finally, Corbyn’s Tory counterpart, Theresa May’s unpopular campaign focusing on grammar schools and the uncertain situation around Brexit is also likely to play into Corbyn’s hands.
So the implication the public don’t necessarily favour Corbyn’s politics is wrong. On the contrary, his position on issues like the NHS which is in chaos, and the re-nationalization of the railways are universally popular. Rather it’s more the case that the establishment know Corbyn is incorruptible and therefore feel they are unable to win him over on their terms. Consequently, they realize that the longer Corbyn remains at the helm the more likely it will be that those sympathetic to him and his policies will be elected into positions of power.
It’s unlikely that the Tories will call a snap election given that the proposed boundary changes will benefit them electorally at a later date. This means that Corbyn will potentially have time to initiate the changes required in order to unite the party or, more likely, rid it of the plotters before the likely election in 2020. Three years is a lifetime in political terms and I’m convinced that if Corbyn and those close to him can see off the plotters, he can win.