Jeremy Corbyn and the Relentlessness of the Mainstream British Media

A recent article in Private Eye demonstrating numerous instances where mainstream British media headline writers had completely misrepresented or eradicated all sense of context from comments made by Jeremy Corbyn.

A recent article in Private Eye demonstrating numerous instances where mainstream British media headline writers had completely misrepresented or eradicated all sense of context from comments made by Jeremy Corbyn.

The general public in Britain have learned much about Jeremy Corbyn in recent weeks. The mainstream British media’s spotlight has focussed sharply and intensely on his past, his principles and his future aspirations, both stated and alleged. That very spotlight, however, has also revealed (or perhaps merely confirmed, for the already-cynical amongst us) so much more about the media and the society it endeavours to influence and fashion.

Is the UK an innately right-wing society? The apparent dominant ethos of its media and body politic would certainly give such an impression. Is it a place that is politically mature enough to truly embrace civil, reasonable and respectful dissent, those who are not prepared to wholeheartedly endorse traditional British monarcho-nationalist values or indeed those who identify themselves with or through other extrinsic values? That too is certainly debatable.

Over the past weeks, as Corbyn’s election as leader of Britain’s Labour Party grew increasingly likely, the British establishment primarily reacted by resorting to methods tried and tested; the desperate and sensationalist tactics of fear-mongering. As part of a very obvious and concerted smear campaign by a rabid right-wing press hell-bent on discrediting him, Corbyn had his words cherry-picked and twisted, had his sentiments misrepresented and was subjected to malicious aspersions and innuendo. Even that esteemed institution of public service, the BBC, was more than happy to hop on the rather disconcerting anti-Corbyn bandwagon.

Blairite elements within the media on the centre-left, including Tony Blair himself, had a go too:

Corbyn’s successful election certainly did not stall the targeted onslaught.

Yesterday morning, Eamonn Holmes, an anchor on Rupert Murdoch‘s infotainment channel, Sky News, demonstrated himself to be way out of his depth when he attempted to patronise Corbyn in cringeworthily juvenile manner during the Labour Party’s conference in Brighton. Unable to match or challenge Corbyn intellectually on policy and facts, Holmes exposed his personal ineptitude for the role by comparing the governing of a country by a prime minister to the management of a football club (whilst finger-pointing and shouting his interviewee down Fox News-style) before then, as a last resort, directing discussion towards a tie Corbyn had worn during his speech to the conference the day before. Worryingly, this seems to be the sort of facile, dumbed-down nonsense that passes for serious political discourse on British television.

Holmes also compared Corbyn to a “religious leader” and a “hippy” (I can only assume it was rooted in historical and political ignorance rather than any genuine malice) on account of the latter’s wide appeal and being, in Holmes’ words, “into caring and respect”, but such a comparison merely demonstrated Holmes’ utter inability to comprehend Corbyn’s interests, motivations and rationale. If Corbyn was as Holmes thought of him, he would perhaps have devoted his life to charity – that “ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution” (to quote Oscar Wilde) – over social justice and societal reform.

Corbyn, however, is principally and ideologically driven, not simply by some spiritual or moral desire to be nice and do good for the sake of being nice and doing good, but, rather, by a rational, secular and material desire for greater social and economic equality and prosperity. Why? Because a more just, equal and inclusive society is collectively beneficial for one and all.

As James Connolly wrote in 1899:

Modern Socialism, in fact, as it exists in the minds of its leading exponents, and as it is held and worked for by an increasing number of enthusiastic adherents throughout the civilised world, has an essentially material, matter-of-fact foundation. We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their Socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of Scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity. They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold. As a political party they wisely prefer to take their stand upon the actual phenomena of social life as they can be observed in operation amongst us to-day, or as they can be traced in the recorded facts of history.

If any special interpretation of the meanings of Scripture tends to influence human thought in the direction of Socialism, or is found to be on a plane with the postulates of Socialist doctrine, then the scientific Socialist considers that the said interpretation is stronger because of its identity with the teachings of Socialism, but he does not necessarily believe that Socialism is stronger, or its position more impregnable, because of its theological ally. He realises that the facts upon which his Socialist faith are based are strong enough in themselves to withstand every shock, and attacks from every quarter, and therefore while he is at all times willing to accept help from every extraneous source, he will only accept it on one condition, viz., that he is not to be required in return to identify his cause with any other whose discomfiture might also involve Socialism in discredit.

This is the main reason why Socialists fight shy of theological dogmas and religions generally: because we feel that Socialism is based upon a series of facts requiring only unassisted human reason to grasp and master all their details, whereas Religion of every kind is admittedly based upon ‘faith’ in the occurrence in past ages of a series of phenomena inexplicable by any process of mere human reasoning.

Being caring, respectful and sensitive to people’s needs, both physical and intellectual, happens to supplement or complement that aspiration and whilst it is refreshing to see such qualities gain traction in a morally and emotionally bankrupt political landscape so often bereft of compassion, they are not necessarily ends within themselves, as far as leftist and socialist politics are concerned. They are means towards improving people’s material reality, their welfare and their existence; they are a way of creating a functional society for everyone.

In his myopia, Holmes appears unable to see utility in compassion and empathy, even if self-interest is his only guiding motive; he is unable to realise that what he thinks of as pure altruism can and does actually have social utility and material benefit for all, including for the so-called altruist, when dispensed with political consideration and forethought as to the long-term sustainability of effective solutions to matters such as inequality. Tackling and eradicating inequality makes all our lives easier, richer and more enjoyable.

Noel Whelan’s analysis in the Irish Times of the British media’s hostile treatment of Corbyn is well worth digesting. Buttressed with more specific details, he goes as far as dubbing it “undemocratic” and opines:

[Corbyn] is simply not prepared to engage in the long-established trade-off whereby, in order to avoid their media relations becoming the story, senior opposition politicians are required to engage with the media on the media’s terms. For his obstinacy the press has roundly punished him.

Richard Seymour, in another piece worthy of attention, considers the broad media reaction to be related more so to Corbyn’s politics rather than his spin-sceptical antagonism and wrote:

Understand this. The ferocity of the British media in this instance has nothing whatever to do with Corbyn’s media strategy, spin or lack thereof. Certainly, they’re offended at Corbyn’s refusal to play their game. Certainly, they would be kinder to a slick, amoral businessman bashing immigrants. But the media will never coddle Corbyn in the way that it does Farage. Not for him the complicit, stagey antagonism with which right-wing populists are greeted. The difference is that the mass media in this country agrees with and defends and articulates the principles upon which Farage stakes his claims, but can barely understand let alone sympathise with the principles underlying the current Labour leadership’s position.

You can’t understand the reasons for this in simple commercial terms. It isn’t about securing advertising accounts, or selling copy. Nor is it simply about the short-term interests of their proprietors. It is primarily about their integration into the party-political machinery. It is about their dependence on, and participation in, the exercise of state power. They are active participants in policy debates, the selection of political leaders, and the outcome of elections. Apart from the schools, they are the major institutions through which the dominant ideology of the national state is reproduced. They are, in short,“ideological state apparatuses”. And the reason they are going feral is because the traditional mode of their domination is under attack. That, too, is a good thing.

Rather astonishingly, upon Corbyn’s successful election, the official security-centric line of the Conservative Party, via David Cameron, the right-wing leader of that party (I jest; Corbyn, of course, has been routinely and stridently referred to as the “left-wing leader of the Labour Party” by the BBC and mainstream media, presumably in a rather Machiavellian attempt to emphasise his alleged “extremism” relative to the socio-economically-severe and communally-destructive Tory position being disingenuously portrayed as “centre-ground”), Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and numerous other senior party figures, the Labour Party under Corbyn was accused of now being a threat to the UK’s national and economic security as well as to the security of families in the UK.

It was an extraordinarily toxic and desperate reaction to “an entirely reasonable, democratically-elected disagreement with [the Conservative Party’s] position”. One can only assume it was rooted in fear; after all, why would Cameron bother “dignifying” Corbyn’s “extremism” with such direct attention if he really perceived it to be electorally-hopeless and non-threatening to the cosy position of his own party, as so many in the media are making out?

Mark Foley wrote of Cameron’s uncivilised reaction:

Despite what Cameron says here, macro-economic consensus is behind Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies, and any non-insane individual assessing foreign policy on a “security” basis would quickly reach the commonsensical view that less involvement in the bombing and terrorising of foreign peoples will lead to a lessening of the terror threat in the UK. That’s not what Cameron offers.

Look at his concern about “families”: his government is happy to leave children drowning in the Mediterranean sea, while adding to the chaos in the lands they’re fleeing through equipping anyone with cash with weapons, and often direct political backing. In the UK, families lose their homes, their dignity and even their lives, with many killing themselves due to savage, ideologically-driven cuts to welfare due to Tory policy. On every point he raises he’s a liar and a hypocrite.

Cameron and Fallon’s manipulative mode of scare-mongering – expressing faux-concern for “your family” – was little more than another emotive variation of one of the oldest and most cynical tricks in the political text-book; the “won’t somebody think of the children?” appeal.

Jack of Kent further mused:

On the over-riding threat-to-national-security theme, the Sun broke a story, to be archived somewhere between factually-loose and completely-fabricated, the day after the election announcing that Corbyn had plans to abolish the army.

Of course, Corbyn had never stated that of which he was being accused in the sensationalised headline. The quote that “inspired” the headline actually went as follows:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their armed forces did what the people of Costa Rica have done and abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army, and that their country is near the top of the global peace index. Surely that is the way we should be going forward.

Accusations of sustaining patriarchy also accompanied Corbyn’s success, seemingly for the sole reason that he had been elected leader of a major political party whilst simultaneously happening to possess a Y-chromosome and in spite of his stated intention to ensure the majority of his shadow cabinet would be made up of women. He lived up to his promise, but, even then, was subjected to further accusations of reinforcing institutional sexism for having not given women roles in the “Great Offices of State”.

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, defended the designation of roles in the following terms:

Jeremy does not accept the old 19th century hierarchies of these positions which go back to the days of empire. Health and education are the major deliverers of our agenda.

Corbyn had a bogus charge of anti-Semitism levelled at him too for his criticism of Israeli policy in Palestine and for his Palestine solidarity work. Challenging and critiquing Israeli state policy or aggressive, belligerent Zionism should not be confused for anti-Semitism; whilst critics of Israel can indeed be motivated by anti-Semitic inclinations, automatically conflating the two is so often a disingenuous means used by Zionists to discredit their intellectual opponents and shut down debate. Indeed, on account of some of the people with whom Corbyn has engaged in his working towards fair and peaceful resolutions to ongoing political conflicts, he has had a rather unique and hypocritical guilt-by-association standard applied to him.

What else was there? Oh, yes, of course; he was condemned, quite illiberally, for having failed to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ and was rebuked for having left the top button of his shirt open at the 75th anniversary memorial of the Battle of Britain.

This was an eyewitness account from a serving officer present at the ceremony:

I would like to mention that during the service at St Paul’s today, Jeremy Corbyn stood in dignified silence during the National Anthem, unlike the Secretary of Defence who was busy looking round and trying to catch the cameras. Thank you Jeremy for coming and paying your respects and not show boating and glad handing as Mr Cameron did. A man standing in dignified silence shows greater respect for the fallen than a noisy peacock and the PM and Defence secretary were not dignified.

Corbyn’s defence (as if a defence should ever be required for standing in respectful silence) was reported in the Guardian as follows:

“I’m going to be at many events, and I will take part fully in those events,” Corbyn said. “I don’t see a problem about this. The issue, surely, is that we had a memorial for the Battle of Britain. I was there, I showed respect for it, and I will show respect in the proper way at all future events. That’s what I will be doing.”

Pressed on whether the proper way to show respect was to sing the national anthem, he said: “The proper way is to take a full part in them, and I will take a full part in them.”

Within minutes of the interview being broadcast, Labour sources confirmed that Corbyn would in fact sing the national anthem in future.

Interestingly, it was the party, rather than Corbyn himself, who had emphasised the point that Corbyn would be singing the anthem at future events of this nature. If it was the case that Corbyn himself back-tracked on his completely reasonable and respectful position, it is unfortunate, but what is thoroughly loathsome was the pressure of intolerance that seemingly compelled Labour Party sources to release an unequivocal statement confirming that Corbyn would indeed be singing along in future, in accordance with the demands of the baying reactionary press.

Bizarrely, the “incident” prompted Jon Snow to ask Corbyn if he loved his country on Channel 4 News. Corbyn responded positively, for what it is worth, and, later,even still felt it necessary to reassure the public of his love for his country via his speech at the Labour Party conference.

Extraordinarily, prior to this and in separate unrelated craziness, there was talk from an unnamed senior serving general in the British army of a possible military mutiny in the eventuality of Corbyn becoming the UK’s prime minister. Richard Seymour wrote of the muted reaction to this staggering threat:

Consider the Sunday Times, which doesn’t seem to think it at all alarming or scandalous that an army general should say to the paper in an interview that a Corbyn government could face “mutiny” from the armed forces, who would use “whatever means possible, fair or foul” against such a government should it consider shrinking the role of Britain’s imperial military.

So, this is what modern liberal democracy looks like…

And then we have articles of the throw-enough-shit-and-some-is-bound-to-stick variety, such as this in the Spectator, attempting, rather tenuously, to blame Corbyn for or to associate him with all manner of things, portrayed as “gaffes”, that are either commonplace and non-noteworthy occurrences in politics or ultimately beyond his influence or control.

I suppose, all things considered, Corbyn can be thankful he never had the privilege of inserting his genitals into the mouth of a dead pig as part of a ceremonial initiation into an Oxford university society. Wouldn’t the mainstream media have loved to have been able to add suspicion of necrobestiality to their Corbyn-reserved arsenal?

Whilst talk of #PigGate was abundant on social media fora such as Twitter, suspiciously, lampoonery and moral discussion of its explicit details appeared to be broadly confined to the medium. This is a medium of communication and information-exchange oft-portrayed by the self-protective traditional media of vested interests and agendas as possessing lesser moral weight and inferior social standing simply by virtue of its nature; its nature, of course, being democratic and transparency-breeding.

When allegations, that might otherwise be accorded pre-eminent and headline-level importance by the mainstream media were they to involve to a political opponent or to a perceived threat, are made relating to a similarly-politically-aligned figure and are discussed on the internet, it is dismissed as “mockery” and “abuse”. Indeed, Ashcroft’s pig-related allegations have not been verified, but when did an uncertainty over veracity ever cause the gutter press scruples before engaging in the character assassination of a foe?

Compare the relatively subdued and ambiguous or even vague mainstream media responses to Lord Ashcroft’s allegations (which included references to drug-use and vandalism) to the media’s aggressive and explicit exposure of any hint of Corbyn-related rumour and innuendo. Of the odd media reaction to Corbyn’s reported relationship with Dianne Abbott in the 1970s, Richard Seymour wrote:

Indeed, there is a tone of desperation sneaking into the smears — such as the attempt to find some way of embarrassing Corbyn over a normal, adult, consensual relationship from 1978, which the Telegraph characterizes as damaging.”

The details of the Cameron matter are trivial and inconsequential on a purely isolated level, sure. What young toffs wish to get up to in their private time is their own business, after all (unless the details somehow possess or possessed broader societal significance), but the stark difference in the respective responses is telling.

I do not wish to concern myself with moralising in respect of drug-use or juvenile vandalism – we are all entitled to our youths and to our private lives so long as we are not causing harm to others – but the double standard of the Tory ethics machine became very much apparent over the past number of weeks. Whether or not the Cameron allegations are actually true or not is besides the point here; Tory apologists defended Cameron as young, reckless, drunk and perhaps even adventuresome regardless, but would they have been so sympathetic towards this white over-privileged male had he been young, reckless and poor, female or black? I very much think not.

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One comment

  1. […] so conniving and, worse, the BBC weren’t so keen to indulge them. Of course, the BBC have form in attempting to discredit Corbyn and have no doubt been more than happy to oblige again over the […]

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