During his barnstorming speech at the last 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.”
Buoyed by the electoral success of Trump as well as the disorientation of large sections of the left resulting from a xenophobic-based Brexit vote and right-wing populism seemingly gaining traction throughout Europe, Paul Nuttall will exploit his newfound fame as the leader of UKIP by cynically using the kind of socialist language of Corbyn above, to steal the electoral ground occupied by Labour.
The fact that Paul Nuttall, who gained a fraction of the votes secured by Corbyn, denies climate change, opposes abortion and gay marriage, in addition to favouring capital punishment, fox hunting and NHS privatisation, will nevertheless garner more media exposure than Corbyn with which to try to convince the public that he stands for none of those things.
There is nothing the political-media establishment likes better than to give a fascist cult-like UKIP the propaganda exposure it craves in the face of a socialist threat which undermines it. Such is the media’s open hostility towards Corbyn, that it would be foolish to underestimate the extent their propaganda could play in contributing significantly to his downfall.
What would appear to be a growing class consciousness amongst a significant segment of the population as evidenced by Corbyn’s popularity is, I would contend, offset by a significant rump of the working class who have right-wing tendencies and who often 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 likely to buy into the ideology of ruling class tools like Paul Nuttall.
In the 1930s, Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci articulated the extent to which the dominant class are able to exert ideological hegemony over a society. Gramsci understood that as societies exist in a continual state of flux, this hegemony is not guaranteed. When the confidence of the working class is high as it was during the three decades of the post-war years, then ordinary people 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, have the ability to determine consciousness on its own terms and thus are able to shape existing social reality. The ruling class generally exercises “hegemony” over the terms of ideology, through its control of the instruments of consciousness; but the mass of ordinary people 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 they have the potential to change it.
The contradictions outlined help explain how the emergence of an opportunistic right-wing establishment tool like UKIPs newly-elected leader is able to exploit the same political space as a principled socialist like Corbyn. This is achieved by perpetuating the myth that the party Paul Nuttall leads is able to ostensibly represent an angry and disaffected working class, many of whom channel their anger and disaffection towards immigrants.
Unfortunately, some Labour politicians are also only too willing to pander to racists in an attempt to capture their vote. For example, the New Labour careerist Rachel Reeves, during and anti-immigration speech, sought to ensure potential Labour voters that her party could be just as racist and reactionary as UKIP and the Tories. Similarly, a Tweet by a long-standing Labour party member and Brexit-supporter, Scott Nelson, who I responded to in the wake of Paul Nuttall’s victory (see below), illustrates that pandering to racist ideas is not a monopoly of right-wing and faux-left politicians.
People voted for Brexit for a multitude of reasons that 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. However, it’s undeniable that a significant percentage of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit either did so on the basis of xenophobia or because they bought into the racist immigration fear-mongering ideas of extreme-right groups like UKIP and Britain First.
Given the extent of false working class consciousness outlined above, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that many working class UKIP voters who oppose the socialist principles and values espoused by Corbyn, would nevertheless support issues like taxing the rich and the renationalisation of the railways.
It’s this kind of contradiction that underpins the genius of a propaganda system that demonises political figures the establishment regard as a threat to the status quo. The corporate mainstream media constantly bashes socialists like Corbyn while promoting bigots like Paul Nuttall because they act as a deflector shield for the political establishment’s own ineptitude.
The inability of the media in highlighting, in any fundamental way, the tensions that exist between Theresa May, Boris Johnson and EU ministers over the Brexit debacle is a case in point. Johnson’s contention that the EU’s 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 that nevertheless went largely unchallenged in the media.
In response to Johnson’s outburst, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in a rather sardonic fashion,
“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.”
The German finance minister continued, “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’s assertion that the UK will trigger Article 50 in January was subsequently contradicted by May, while 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. 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.
By demonising Corbyn on the one hand, and with their disproportionate coverage of right-wing parties like the Tories and UKIP on the other, the media fail to bring real power to account. There can only be one reason why they have barely mentioned any of the tensions within the ruling class that have arisen over the Brexit debacle described above, and that’s because they regard Corbyn as the lightning rod for abuse and bad publicity.
The election of Paul Nuttall as leader of UKIP, whose image is more worker and street fighter rather than cheeky-chappie banker and financier, will not only serve as another establishment deflector shield but is also intended to split the working class Labour vote by appealing to the lowest of common denominators.
Like a journeyman who travels on a road without end in the anticipation that beyond the rainbow lies salvation, Nuttall’s race to the bottom is in reality, a race on a road to nowhere.