During his barnstorming speech at the Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn said:
“If you believe, like me, it’s a scandal that here in Britain, in the sixth biggest economy in the world, 4 million children are in poverty, 6 million workers are paid less than the living wage. And if, like me, you believe we can do things far better, then help me build support for a genuine alternative that will invest in our future – a more prosperous future – in which the wealth we all create is shared more equally”.
There is surely not a sentient, rational-thinking person in the country who would not disagree with those sentiments. In a recent article, I argued that all things being equal, there ought to be no reason why these kinds of sentiments could not be translated into electoral success at the next general election.
But such has been the media’s open hostility towards Corbyn, that it would be foolish to underestimate the extent to which the propaganda role they play could contribute significantly to his downfall.
Acting against their own interests
What would appear to be a growing class consciousness among a significant segment of the population as evidenced by Corbyn’s popularity is, I would contend, offset by a significant rump of working class Tory supporters who ostensibly vote against their own interests. It is this latter group who appear to be particularly prone to the kind of media propaganda described and thus more readily buy into the ideology of the ruling class.
But, as the Marxist Antonio Gramsci grasped in the 1930s, the extent to which this class are able to exert ideological hegemony over a society in a continual state of flux is not a given. When the confidence of the working class is high as it was during the three decades of the post-war years, then they are less likely to be ‘brainwashed’ by ruling class ideology. But when the confidence of the class is relatively low as it is now, then they are more likely to be susceptible to ruling class ideas.
This ‘false consciousness’, in other words, is not fixed; rather the working class, through struggle, has the ability to frame consciousness on its own terms and thus garner influence over the terms of the representation of the existing social reality. The bourgeoisie generally exercises “hegemony” over the terms of ideology through its control of the instruments of consciousness; but the proletariat can exert influence through its own cultural institutions. In Gramscian terms, the subordinate class, therefore, is not simply the passive tool of the dominant ideology but has the potential to change it.
The contradictions that arise from the election of Corbyn within the context of Brexit brings this conflict of ideas into sharp focus. For example, during her recent anti-immigration speech, Blairite Rachel Reeves apparently felt the need to appease Labour supporters who voted for Brexit. The speech illustrated that racist ideas are not a monopoly of the political right.
This is not to suggest that all Brexiteers are racist, but merely to point out that most racists would have voted for Brexit and many of these were working class Labour voters. People voted this way for a multitude of reasons. These include anti-establishment sentiments, the democracy argument, to give David Cameron a kick, naive wishful thinking, Lexit and because they believed the brazen lies that the hard-right Vote Leave mob told them.
But it’s undeniable that a significant percentage of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit did so because they were either inherently xenophobic, or because they bought into the racist immigration fear-mongering of extreme-right groups like UKIP and Britain First. Given the extent of false working class consciousness described, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the wealth Corbyn in his speech argued should be redistributed more fairly, is a policy that might equally be opposed to by a large swathe of working class people.
This is because they have been led to believe in the aspirational myth peddled by the mainstream corporate media that one day it might be them and their families who will be photographed for the glossy magazines, sipping champagne from the deck of their luxury yachts. Many people have become conditioned to believe that wealth should not be more fairly redistributed and so the mainstream deliberately plug a narrative that’s against the public interest.
Many of the public repeat verbatim the soundbite lines they hear from politicians on TV without having the faintest idea of the meaning that lies behind them. For instance, I’ve heard countless times people on radio phone-in programmes espousing the meaningless ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘taking our country back’ phrases, but when radio presenters press them on what they actually mean by these terms, they cannot answer.
Similarly, many people repeat the mantra that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’ without being able to support their assertions. Corbyn has espoused values and policies that most people actually agree with – taxing the rich, renationalisation of the railways – it’s just that many do not appear to associate him with those things. The media’s demonization of Corbyn is so entrenched that these worthy aims are often discredited in the eyes of the public.
That some people would rather dig their heels in and defend the status quo regardless of the fact that it’s not in their best interests to do so, is the genius of the propaganda system. The media and the Tory establishment constantly bash Corbyn, not because they are concerned for the future of democracy, the Labour Party or the country, but because it is hiding the shortcomings of a Tory Party establishment in disarray over Brexit and its relationship with its European partners.
This chaos is exemplified by the tensions that exist between PM Theresa May, Boris Johnson and EU ministers. Johnson’s contention that the EU position amounting to an automatic trade-off between access to the single market and free movement was “complete baloney” is a total misreading of the Lisbon Treaty. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said:
“If we need to do more, we’ll gladly send her Majesty’s Foreign Minister a copy of the Lisbon Treaty then he can read that there is a link between the single market and the four core principles in Europe. I can also say it in English, so if clarification is necessary, I can pay a visit and explain this to him in good English”.
Johnson said the UK will trigger Article 50 in January, only to be contradicted by the PM. Meanwhile, the three ministers tasked at extricating the UK from the EU are too busy fighting among themselves and Johnson spends his time flying around Europe apologising to everybody he has insulted. There appears to be at least two legal challenges to Brexit but the government doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do about it.
Article 50 – a legal minefield?
One of the challenges comes from a crowdfunded group called “People’s Challenge”, who have accused the government of refusing to allow it to make public the official justification for triggering Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. The government’s position is that it has no legal obligation to consult parliament on invoking Article 50 which gives Britain a two-year period to negotiate the terms of its departure. People’s Challenge said it planned to make public the government’s written legal defence of its position on triggering Article 50 alongside its own lawyers submissions to court, so that the country can see and engage with the competing arguments.
But as of 29 September, the government had insisted that every word of its defence had to be kept secret. So much for British openness and democracy! On 23 September, People’s Challenge lodged a court application to allow it to publish the government’s argument. On 28 September the court ruled that the government must disclose the legal arguments on the procedure of Article 50.
The Corbyn lightning rod
Meanwhile, EU leaders continue to harden their stance against the Tories saying that they intend to rule out any cherry-picking in relation to the ability of Britain to access the single market.
There can only be one reason why the mainstream media have barely mentioned any of the issues discussed in this article, and are therefore failing to bring the government to account over the Brexit debacle. That’s because they regard Corbyn as the lightning rod for abuse and bad publicity.
That the mainstream media continue to focus their ire on Corbyn rather than the Tories’ bungling of Brexit is clearly intended to take the public’s eye of the ball. The extent to which they succeed or not will be evident after the next general election.