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 as a result of 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 are attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demeaning the membership 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.
But arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began the moment he became leader after a hardcore group that included shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds and shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker, all refused to serve under him. Others included shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Shabana Mahmood, shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh and shadow Cabinet Office minister Lucy Powell.
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,” actually 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 last year, 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.
Allied to all this, 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 Tony Greenstein (who remains at the forefront of moves to combat genuine cases of antisemitism on the fringes of the Palestine solidarity movement) in addition to the brilliant investigative work of 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.
The latest attack on Corbyn centred on another contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation, this time 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 supposed ‘anti-semitism crisis’ last Thursday (June 30) 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.
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 would appear to indicate, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:
According to a YouGov poll, Eagle commands just 6 per cent support from Labour members while a greater number than last time said they will vote for Corbyn if he were to stand again. In other words, just like last time, Corbyn would likely win more votes than all the other candidates combined. This 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 currently stands at about 450,000 – a figure that is higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.
This would almost certainly translate into Corbyn receiving more votes than his Blairite predecessor Ed Milliband did at the last General Election. With the proportion of the Labour vote increasing under Corbyn, the two main parties are neck-and-neck at 32 per cent. This undercuts the recent claims of elder statesmen like David Blunkett and Neil Kinnock 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.'”
This description applies to Corbyn. The ‘un-electable left’ meme is likely to intensify the longer Corbyn manages to hang on. In these unsettling and unpredictable times, it’s the one propaganda weapon the establishment is certain to cling to as their means of attempting to prevent democracy from breaking their grip on power.