Opinion Politics

Manufacturing Consent and the Myth of the Unelectable Left

Unelectable Left
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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 through 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 continue to both attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demean the membership of the party who had the temerity to vote for him, securing one of 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, 2016:

Media hate-fest

Arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began after a hardcore group of right-wing MPs all refused to serve under him. 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,” 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 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 2015, 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, 2016 Telegraph article – a non-story about Corbyn’s state-funded salary and pension.

Not to be outdone, eleven months later (March 5, 2017), the same rag continued with the smears by suggesting Corbyn had paid insufficient tax on his declared annual earnings – a claim subsequently debunked within hours on social media. Meanwhile, the news that Tory Chancellor, Philip Hammond, refused point-blank to publish his own tax returns after being prompted to do so by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, did not receive anything like the same kind of media scrutiny.

The implication of the former ‘fake news’ story, was that Corbyn had misled the public. However, similar media outrage was not leveled at PM Theresa May after it was revealed on March 7, 2017) that she had lied to parliament after having falsely claimed that Surrey Council had not engaged in a ‘sweat heart’ deal with the Conservative government. It appears that when it comes to Corbyn, a completely different set of media standards are applied. The media’s anti-Corbyn bias is supported by evidence from academic studies:

  • A major content analysis from Cardiff University revealed that the BBC is pro-business and Conservative-leaning in its coverage.
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science found strong media bias against Corbyn, claiming the press had turned into an “attack dog” against the opposition leader.
  • The UK’s public service broadcaster gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the 2016 Labour coup, according to content analysis from the Media Reform Coalition.

 

Portland Communications & the antisemitism meme

Arguably, one of the most serious impacts that have emerged from this sustained media campaign of biased vilification, have been the attempts by the right-wing Friends of Israel group within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to topple Corbyn using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it. Among the most comprehensive analyses of the McCarthy-style witch-hunts undertaken so far has been by 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.

One of the most prominent attacks on Corbyn centred on a contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation 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 ‘anti-semitism crisis’ on June 30, 2016 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.

Eagle’s hard landing

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 New Labour 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 indicates, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:

According to a YouGov poll in the run up to the second election, Eagle commanded just 6 per cent support from Labour members and eventually dropped out of the race to be replaced by challenger, Owen Smith.

The Owen Smith debacle

In a debate on the September 8, 2016 edition of BBC’s Question Time leading up to the election, a studio audience member accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”. Smith’s voting record in parliament appeared to support this thesis.

Having pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn, the former public relations professional had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies and assiduously courted the arms industry of which his support of Trident was a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July, 2015 by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In the end, Labour Party members understood that first and foremost Smith was concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position and voted accordingly.

As Craig Murray put it:

“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”

The cementing of Corbyn’s mandate

Consequently, Corbyn increased his proportion of the vote and hence his mandate. This was despite a war of attrition by the PLP that involved a McCarthyite purging of Corbyn supporters – a disdain for the grass roots membership which has a long history within the hierarchy of the party.

The 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 is currently higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.

As Corbyn’s vindication by the memberships overwhelming support of him shows, the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy of his opponents serves nobody other than the narrow careerist motivations of an out of touch elite who have their snouts embedded in the trough and don’t want to give up their privileges without a fight. A sincere and incorruptible politician like Corbyn represents a potential threat to these privileges and the gravy train that sustains them.

This explains why the careerists inside the New Labour bubble would prefer a Tory government over a Corbyn government and thus are happy to continue with the ‘divided party at war with one another’ meme. This was what the challenge to Corbyn’s authority within the right-wing of the party is really all about. It’s not that Corbyn hasn’t a realistic chance of winning the next General Election, rather, it’s more a case that the establishment will do everything in their power to ensure that he doesn’t.

Battle lines drawn

In that sense, the political battle lines have been drawn, not between the Tories, the corporate mass media and the right-wing ‘opposition’, but between these factions and the rest of us. The resignation of the right-winger, Tristram Hunt, who was essentially parachuted into his Stoke-On-Trent constituency, represents a tacit acknowledgement by the Blairites that the New Labour faction within the party is on the ropes and that Corbyn is in the ascendancy. This notion was articulated by Ken Livingston, who in response to the resignation echoed the views of the grass roots when he depicted Hunt as being part of:

“a small elite that is very much London based that dominated the Labour party under the Blair-Brown years and were in awe of the bankers and forgot the needs of ordinary working class and middle class families, that era is gone.”

The popularity of Corbyn among grass roots members within the party has nevertheless not deterred elder statesmen like David Blunkett and Neil Kinnock from continuing to make the assertion that Corbyn is an electoral liability for Labour.

Myth-making

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.”

Murray continued:

“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.’”

The day after PM Theresa May announced a snap election predicated on a single issue Brexit strategy, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, was quickly out of the blocks in his attempts to wrong-foot her. This strategy worked a treat. His assertive and confident speech to supporters and activists outlined the broad approach Labour intend to take in order to redress years of Tory austerity-based ideology.

Electable

Corbyn’s speech was a tour de force. It will almost certainly go a long way to counter the notion that he is unelectable. The Corbyn critics who make such a claim and hence assert his leadership is not credible, is not supported by the evidence.

In his constituency of Islington North, Corbyn inherited a majority of 4,456, which is now 21,194. He’s one of the few Labour MPs whose vote increased between 2005 and 2010, when he added 5,685 to his majority. Although Corbyn is currently well behind in the polls, it must be remembered that pre-coup, Labour led the Tories in three polls in a row over 41 days.

Also, Corbyn’s record at elections is exemplary. London and Bristol now have Labour mayors, rolling back years of Tory dominance, while Labour’s majorities in by-elections have generally increased. It’s true that Copeland was a major disappointment but this was largely offset by Hunt’s replacement, Gareth Snell, regaining the Stoke seat.

Moreover, as George Galloway pointed out, prior to that, Labour won three local government by-elections – two off the Tories and one off the SNP. In last May’s local elections, the party overtook the Tories in the share of the vote, coming from seven points behind at the last election.

Meanwhile, the party which haemorrhaged 4.9 million votes between 1997 and 2010 under the ‘triangulated’ leadership of Blair who lobbies on behalf of some of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, claimed in a moment of Orwellian irony, that Corbyn is a disaster for the party. Given Blair’s toxicity, this can only be beneficial for the current Labour leader’s fortunes.

Theresa May’s unpopular campaign focusing on grammar schools is likely to play into Corbyn’s hands. Unfortunately, this gain could be offset by his misjudged Brexit strategy which I commented on here. But as I state below, this situation is not irreversible.

Ultimately, the implication the public don’t necessarily favour Corbyn’s politics is wrong. His position on issues like the NHS and the re-nationalization of the railways, which are both in chaos, are universally popular. Rather it’s more the case that the establishment know Corbyn is incorruptible and therefore feel they are unable to win him over on their terms. Consequently, they realize that the longer Corbyn remains at the helm the more likely it will be that those sympathetic to him and his policies will be elected into positions of power.

The fact that the media barons are constantly drumming it into the public’s heads that Corbyn is useless and needs to resign, is a testament to his unflinching endurance to see through the mandate entrusted upon him by Labour supporters. If the right-wing Tory media herd are so convinced that he is useless and has no chance of winning the next General Election, why would they keep insisting that he resign?

The argument put forward by Corbyn’s critics that democracy is not served by his supposed inability to be able to put a credible alternative case to the public, is undermined by PM Theresa May’s decision to refuse to take part in a televised public debate following her announcement to call the snap General Election. This is in addition to her control freakery which has resulted in the banning of both the public and journalists alike from Tory events and photo ops and her insistence that her MPs sign a three lock pledge.

Cracks

Cracks have already started to appear in the Tory armory. Columnist Fraser Nelson revealed in the Telegraph (April 21, 2017), for example, that May’s election manifesto is likely to be extremely light in both content and detail which underlines the potential risk of a Tory strategy focused on Brexit as part of their campaign.

The reliance on a hard-line constituency of right-wing extremists to get the Tories over the line, while ignoring the key bread and butter issues, is a risky one in my view, because it could easily play into the hands of her political opponents.

A major beneficiary of such an approach will almost certainly be the pro-EU Liberal Democrats which could significantly split the Tory vote. Of course, the billionaire-owning mass media support the Tories with near unanimity. But the front page of the Daily Mail (April 19, 2017) which ran with the headline “Crush The Saboteurs” (see below), is likely to alienate 48 per cent of the population who voted Remain. Therefore, the right-wing media’s depiction of over 16 million people as “the enemy” could realistically backfire on the Tories.

Battle ahead

Arguably, some of Corbyn’s biggest battles in the campaign ahead will be with the media and the disrupting forces inside his own party. However, those already writing-off the Labour leaders chances are, in my view, doing so prematurely.

It’s true that at the present time Corbyn is well behind in the polls but, as Craig Murray points out, this can be misleading. It is also worth keeping in mind that “the last Tory PM to call an early election on a single issue while ahead in the polls was Edward Heath – and he lost.”

It was music to this writers ears that Corbyn began his campaign emphasizing Labour’s intention to begin to put into place a series of manifesto policy promises to reverse the obscene levels of inequality witnessed under the Tories. But in my view, he also needs to ensure that voters are to be under no illusion that the hard Brexit May is offering is not what people voted for. He needs to come out and say so clearly and unambiguously. In this way he has every chance of capturing a great swath of the Lib-Dem vote.

The two-pronged strategy of focusing on May’s shortcomings over Brexit on the one hand, and policies to reduce inequality on the other, could silence his critics once and for all. As a Corbyn supporter and campaigner, I have three words for May and the Tories: “Bring it on.”

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