Friday, 24 July 2015

Jeremy Corbyn and the Media

Short of having a gun to my head it's highly unlikley that I would ever vote Labour. I blame the party and it's ideals for many of the problems Britain has faced for a century or more, from our bloated public sector to the persistent welfare dependent underclass, by way of industrial collapse and mass immigration. However, they are still the main opposition and with 5 years to go until the next election there is surely a chance that the next Labour leader will be Prime Minister; however unlikely it seems now, 5 years is a long time and lots can change.

So I've been following the leadership contest in the sort of vague and semi-detached way that sometimes allows you to see more clearly than if you were to hang on every word and read every press release. Something about this contest that has struck me as a bit curious is the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn - the veteran "old Labour" left wing MP for Islington North.

At first his candidacy was treated as something of a joke or a sideshow, something like a support race at a Grand Prix, complete with crashes, breakdowns and paint swapping overtakes, but still just a sideshow ahead of the main event. Anoosh Chakelian in The New Statesman doubted he would even get enough nominations. When he did receive the nominations, The Guardian went straight into attack mode, focusing on the divisive nature of Corbyn. This tried and true tactic of sewing division by over-reporting it is what did for the Tories long after the actual Maastricht battle was over.

The Telegraph then picked up on the rather mischievous #ToriesForCorbyn Twitter campaign to encourage it's mostly conservative-leaning readership to join the Labour party and vote for Corbyn, something Toby Young was confident would help "consign the party to electoral oblivion in 2020 - and silence its loony Left forever." 

As Corbyn secured significant support, the coverage of Corbyn's candidacy developed from this rather frivolous, good-natured diversion into something more sinister, culminating in fellow Labour MP John Mann writing an open letter to Corbyn demanding he explain why he didn't do more about allegations of child abuse in the 1980s in his Islington constituency. Again with the wide lens of semi-detached interest I saw this instantly for what it was. Mann has been an MP in the same party as Corbyn for 14 years where he presumably didn't see this as an issue, and now brings it up as he feels this makes him an "inappropriate" candidate for the leadership. Mr Mann appears to be accusing Corbyn of indifference to, or perhaps even collusion in child molestation. This would surely be a criminal matter, or at the very least make him wholly unsuitable to be an MP.

In fact the entire Labour party and much of the rest of the political establishment have very serious questions to answer regarding child abuse over the past decade. Practically the whole of Rotherham Council appears to have turned a blind eye to systematic sexual abuse of children up until 2013. How was one opposition backbencher really meant to tackle this problem against such a backdrop, at a time when it appears that the whole political establishment was turning a blind eye?

Mann's decision to bring this out now is playing politics with child molestation. The press, of course, picked up on the substance of the allegations and made very little of this rather crass attempt to smear Corbyn over allegations of insufficient action 25 years ago.

I hadn't really heard much about Corbyn before his leadership bid so I decided to read up on him. His particular brand of left wingery appears to be nothing that would have shocked say Ken Livingstone, the former (Labour) mayor of London who also associated himself with the IRA, opposed the Iraq war and spoke in favour of higher taxes on the rich. I certainly don't see in there anything that would shock the average Labour voter, who is almost a different species from the party leadership represented by the other three bland, Blairite candidates.

It's not quite clear why Corbyn is so unpalatable. The most radical policy he seems to have suggested so far is a requirement for offices to be kept below 30 degrees centigrade. In a country where this temperature is considered a heatwave this is hardly likely to be a hammer blow to the productive economy.

Whether by conscious design or a herd mentality in the media Corbyn seems to have been deemed unfit not by the members of the Labour party, but by the pundits, journalists and members of his own party's leadership, and they will now stop at nothing to scupper his candidacy.

Corbyn doesn't have a bone through his nose or a habit of walking around in a dish dasha. He doesn't appear to want land reform or the abolition of private property. He looks like a geography teacher, or practically any other natural Labour voter for that matter, and he has the views to match. Britain claims ad nauseum to be a tolerant, open-minded country where people succeed on their merits, not their appearance or their background. However when faced with a potential Labour leader who looks like a Labour voter it suddenly becomes a very intolerant place indeed.

Despite the fact that I disagree with just about every single one of those views I find it quite sad that so many people appear to be happy with this lazy and arrogant dismissal of a candidate who appears to represent a good deal of the traditional support of the party. Not because I especially want Corbyn to win - in fact I would quite happily see the Labour party disappear into obscurity and be replaced by UKIP as the opposition to the Conservatives. However, this level of susceptibility to the media is a very dangerous thing. It gives the illusion of a choice between 3 candidates who are almost identical in their outlook and policies, and even in their mannerisms and fashion sense.

That style and outlook is in turn almost identical to those of the Conservative party leadership, who are equally at odds with any of their natural voters; meaning the choice come election time is equally false and meaningless.