Economics and politics - comment and analysis
17. July 2016 I Will Denayer I Countries and Regions, General, General Politics

Corbyn’s fight for a social and democratic Labour and how he is being depicted in the media

Researchers from the Departments of Political Science and Media and Communications from the London School of Economics published a paper on the journalistic representation of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press. The very interesting paper can be read here.

Corbyn is an unconventional party leader, who is more left wing than previous leaders of the Labour Party and who contests neoliberalism, austerity and privatisation and is anti-war. The question the paper addresses is to what extent this led to an overtly aggressive media reaction. As the paper shows, instead of informing, the media have been trying to delegitimise Corbyn – a democratically elected leader of the main opposition party. The study set out to empirically analyse the nature of the media representation of Corbyn in eight British newspapers from 1 September to 1 November 2015. The results show that Corbyn has been represented unfairly by the British press, that there has been a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate, that Corbyn was often denied his own voice, that the press misrepresented his views and treated him with scorn and ridicule – both in the ‘serious’ as well as in the tabloid press. No other political leader has been treated like this. All of this leads to very serious ethical and political questions about the function of the press in a ‘democratic’ society.

This is a good paper and, as the researchers recognise, since November 2015 everything did become much worse. It is not only the press. The BBC has also been enormously biased against Corbyn.

At the moment, so many things are going on that it is difficult to keep track of it all. But the essence is very clear. Nafeez Ahmed provided proof in The Canary that the decision to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was planned by a core group in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as soon as he won his landslide victory in September 2015 (see here). They believed that Corbyn was a liability for the party and that he had to be removed, one way or the other. Ahmed shows that there are direct links between Labour First and Progress, two Blairite pressure groups and key MPs sabotaging Corbyn and ‘influencers’ in the press. The biggest fear in the PLP has always been that a fundamental shift could endanger their position. The rise of Momentum, a grassroots campaign that has emerged around Corbyn’s leadership, was increasingly seen as a threat to the Labour status quo. Momentum activists have urged Labour members to block right-wing candidates in the National Executive Committee elections. Momentum campaigning has meant that the Constituency Labour Parties (CLP) have overwhelmingly nominated pro-Corbyn, left-leaning candidates. Labour First had invested significantly in its own candidates, but largely failed due to the popularity of nominees backed by Momentum.

The official position, uncritically endorsed by the wider media and political class, is that the coup against Jeremy Corbyn was a spontaneous democratic response to a shocking loss of confidence in his leadership due to the failure of his EU referendum campaign. This is untrue. The EU referendum simply provided yet another pretext to stir up trouble. This is not about Corbyn’s ‘unelectability.’ As said, Ahmed’s investigation provides compelling evidence that the coup to depose Corbyn has been conceived and led by a cohort of senior Labour politicians with close ties to Tony Blair, and others who align themselves with the New Labour ‘old guard’ (see here).

The details are of little importance except that they show to which lengths the right wing fraction is willing to go. Last week, the Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) ruled that anyone who joined the party in the last six months, whether by union affiliation or any other means, will not be eligible to vote in the new Labour leadership elections. Every one of those members must pay a fee of £25 to register as a supporter, with only a two day window. This disenfranchises more than 100.000 new Labour members (see here). Last week, someone set up a Crowfunder to help pay for people who cannot afford to vote. That is social democracy under siege by the Blairites.

All of this is beyond disgust. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who took the country to war with Iraq on the basis of lies and false pretenses and who are consequently politically and morally co-responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings are not ‘terrorists’ It is Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to use the Labour Party to destroy austerity and rebuild the welfare state who is dangerous. Hundreds of Labour MPs who have on social and economic matters been consistently voting together with the Conservatives – last year, an overwhelming majority of these ‘social democrats’ voted in favour of the Tory anti welfare bill – are serving the common good. It is Corbyn who is some sort of socialist anachronism.

It is not Corbyn who did not read the times, but New Labour. The era of neoliberalism is over. It is not Corbyn who was in the process of making the party irrelevant, it was New Labour. A moderate such as Miliband, who, as a person, stands far above the Blairite saboteurs, nonetheless wrecked the party by parasitising on an ideology that Labour should diametrically oppose. He managed to lose the election after a full five years of Tory austerity which simply has no equal in recent history – not even under Thatcher. But it is Corbyn who is ‘unelectable.’ It is Corbyn who is out of touch with reality, although the membership of the party is in the meantime higher than during the heydays of Blair. But what does it all mean if people cannot even vote?

There is no doubt that the right wing will try anything to unseat Corbyn and destroy the leftist fraction. If this means wrecking the party and making everything so dysfunctional, so that the Conservatives will win the next election, so be it. There is not the slightest doubt that the Blairites prefer a Tory government over a Labour government under Corbyn.

There is only one way to solve this. Corbyn needs to get rid of these collaborators. There is a chance to transform Labour into a modern, left wing and genuinely democratic party. Such an anti-neoliberal and anti-austerity party could have massive appeal. The social basis for it exists, but every day that goes by is another day of intrigues and dirty games that are devised to disgust people and chase them away. Of course, ousting the Blairites is not a great electoral strategy, because it can in effect mean Labour will have to fight the Tories in the next election as well as a new party of Blairites, possibly together with the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP. But there is no other choice. This process is now unfolding. The Unite trade union conference will be backing the mandatory reselection of the 172 MPs who have formed part of the coup against Jeremy Corbyn, the constituency Labour parties and the membership.  In short, if Corbyn wins the next leadership contest, these people are out. If he fails, Labour will become a softer version of the Tory party.