Blaming Corbyn: the final act of vilification

Updated: Feb 12

Neil Faulkner analyses the vicious media campaign against the Labour leader.

19 December 2019.

‘There was never less than a half-page of vitriol in the press every day,’ wrote one insider, ‘and the source was the right wing of the Labour Party.’


The Sun considered him a ‘loony leftist’, ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’, and ‘a Messiah figure hiding behind the mask of the common man … greedy for power and willing to do anything to get it.’ The Daily Express ran a cartoon showing him with a Hitler-style moustache.[1]


Who were they talking about? Jeremy Corbyn? No, Tony Benn, the most high-profile leader of the Labour Left in the 1980s.


Roll back the film, and you find plenty of other examples. Aneurin Bevan, leader of the Labour Left in the 1950s, for example, was a man of ‘arrogance, vanity, and spleen’.[2]


Nor is it only Labour politicians who are vilified. The same applies to left-wing trade union leaders. Arthur Scargill, leader of the 1984-5 miners’ strike, was the target of perhaps the most virulent campaign of abuse in British media history.


Just one example. During the strike, The Sun wanted to run a front-page picture of Scargill giving a Sieg Heil salute under the headline ‘Mine Fuhrer’. The print unions blocked it, so it never appeared, but the intention was clear, and it was typical of the mindless abuse hurled at the leader of 150,000 men on strike to save their livelihoods and communities.


The miners were defeated, the pits closed, and the mining towns abandoned to decades of social decay.


What do leaders like Corbyn, Benn, Bevan, and Scargill have in common? It is not flawless leadership or moral perfection. All of them made mistakes. But they embodied the socialist aspiration to lead the working class in a struggle for radical social change. And in so far as they did that – unlike the legions of lickspittles in red ties that sell out to the system – they were hated and vilified by what Tony Benn used to call ‘the lords of the press’.


Tony Benn: vilified by the media.


The Corbyn mystery


A strange mystery befogs analysis of the British general election result. The Tories, the Blairites, and their media echo-chambers tell us again and again that Corbyn was the problem, that voters didn’t ‘like him’, didn’t ‘trust him’, considered him an ‘anti-semite’, a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, a ‘security threat’, and all the rest.


Sadiq Khan’s attack was among the milder: ‘If we are truly honest with ourselves, we knew in our hearts that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was deeply unpopular with the British people, and we were extremely unlikely to form a Labour government last night.’ Alan Johnson’s was more characteristically coarse: Jeremy Corbyn ‘couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag’. Needless to say, there is much more, and much worse.


And it is a mystery, is it not, that Corbyn was so unpopular on the doorstep? After all, he is not a racist bully, a serial liar, a self-promoting narcissist, and the oafish representative of the super-rich – unlike Boris Johnson.


He has not referred to press barons as ‘Jewish oligarchs’ – unlike Boris Johnson. He has not likened Muslim women to ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letter-boxes’ – unlike Boris Johnson. He has not described black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ – unlike Boris Johnson. He does not consider gay men to be ‘tank-topped bumboys’ – unlike Boris Johnson. He has not said that single mothers are ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive, and illegitimate’ – unlike Boris Johnson.[3]


On the contrary, Corbyn is a socialist who has spent his life fighting for the working class, the poor, and the oppressed. Yet it is Corbyn – not the foul-mouthed Tory bigot – who was unpopular on the doorstep. Strange, isn’t it? I wonder why.


Nye Bevan: vilified by the media.


Who benefits?


Cui bono? Who benefits? It is the old question which the Roman lawyer taught us we should always start with.


You don’t need to look far for the answer. Last Saturday it was reported in The Guardian that ‘a super-rich European family yesterday bought a house in central London for £65m, saying their decision was a direct result of Boris Johnson’s election victory’. Apparently, the estate agent – ‘which specialises in selling very expensive London properties to overseas buyers’ – has been inundated with calls ‘from wealthy house-hunters who had been delaying purchases’.


London share prices soared – the essential measure of how optimistic the rich are about making money. ‘You just cannot understate the sense of relief here in the City,’ reported Stock Broker Neil Wilson. ‘UK equities were basking in the warm glow of the Tory victory as investors threw out their worst-case scenarios for the British economy. There are some seriously relieved investors and bankers and corporate financiers.’


According to the Evening Standard, London’s right-wing tabloid, the City reaction to the Tory victory ranged from ‘restrained rejoicing’ to a ‘flood of relief’ in sectors threatened by Labour’s nationalisation plans, while it was ‘confidence restored’ in property markets and ‘cheers for certainty’ in the leisure industry. ‘I look forward to seeing a significant release of investment,’ announced house-builder Galliard. ‘Decisions that have been stalled on the back of political uncertainty will now get the green light.’


Or consider who was quickest of the mark to cable congratulations to Johnson from overseas: the global leader of the Far Right. ‘Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great win!’ tweeted Trump. ‘This deal has the potential to be far more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU. Celebrate Boris!’ Trump, of course, speaks for the US conglomerates planning to clean up on British public services.


The Israeli government was also crowing. The foreign minister hailed Johnson’s win as ‘a victory of values’, adding that ‘the spectre of anti-semitism loomed large, and the British public voted against it’.


UK special envoy and former Tory MP Eric Pickles has already denounced the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign as ‘anti-semitic’ and a ‘thinly disguised piece of racism’. The Tories plan to make action against Israeli goods illegal. Solidarity with the Palestinians – the litmus test of socialist internationalism – is now under direct attack.[4]


Here are the winners: the rich, the corporations, the Far Right, and the Zionists. The losers are the working class, the poor, and the oppressed, at home and abroad.


Arthur Scargill: vilified by the media.


A shock to the system


In the 2017 general election, the Tories and the British ruling class got a shock. They had expected Theresa May to romp to victory over a Corbyn-led, internally divided Labour Party trailing in the polls. Instead, despite Blairite sabotage and relentless tabloid abuse, Labour surged from an April low of 25% support to take 40% of the popular vote in the June election and deprive May of a working majority.


This time round, the Labour Party had a similar manifesto, the same leader, the same shadow chancellor, and the same shadow home secretary; it was, in short, the same left-led party that had come close to toppling the Tories in 2017.


Indeed, the overwhelming consensus is that most Labour policies, including the most radical, remained very popular with a majority of ordinary voters even in 2019. But this simple truth is now being buried by the entire political establishment, the mainstream commentariat, and, of course, the Labour Right.


So, incidentally, are these two salient facts about the result. First, the Tory vote went up only a little, whereas the Labour vote collapsed, partly because more of the party’s supporters stayed at home than in 2017, but also because many votes were lost to Remain parties. In fact, the electoral stats imply that Labour lost four votes to Remain parties for every one it lost to a Leave party.[5]


Second, the Tory victory was a triumph of age over youth. Polling evidence shows Labour support among 18 to 24s at 71% and among 25 to 34s at 59%. Whereas it shows Tory support among 55 to 64s at 56% and among over 65s at 64%.[6]


None of this, however, is of any help to the dominant right-wing narrative that it was all Corbyn’s fault, and by extension the Left’s fault, and that the main message of the election is that Labour should gallop to the right to ‘re-connect’ with its natural supporters.


Criticism and solidarity

We believe that that Labour leadership made serious mistakes. We report on these in our election analysis article on this website (here). We believe the Labour leadership should have united the progressive vote by denouncing Brexit for what it is: a project of the Far Right, and the British expression of the wave of nationalism, racism, and fascism that is sweeping the world.


We believe the Labour leadership should have carried that argument into working-class communities, refusing to duck or fudge or ‘triangulate’ in an attempt to appease voters influenced by nationalism and racism, but instead projecting an alternative message of unity among the oppressed in a struggle for social reform.


We also believe that the Labour leadership should have counterattacked on the question of anti-semitism. It was not enough to insist that disciplinary procedures existed and were being implemented to deal with occasional instances of actual anti-semitism. It was essential to oppose the conflation of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism and to hold aloft the banner of pro-Palestinian international solidarity. Failure to do this made it far easier for the Tories to weaponise the anti-semitism smear (now being rolled out internationally) and for the rest – the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Right – to use it to undermine the Corbyn leadership.

But we do not share any of the criticisms levelled against the Corbyn leadership by the Blairites, let alone those peddled by the Tories and the media. The British ruling class set out to demonise Jeremy Corbyn because he was a social-democratic leader offering a programme of reform. And the Labour Right, who thereby made their own substantial contribution to our defeat, amplified that campaign of demonisation – to their eternal shame.


Here is my advice to the Labour Right. It is very easy to be popular. Do what the rich, the corporations, and the Tories say. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t buck the system. That way, you curry favour with the propaganda sheets of the capitalist class.


And here is my advice to socialists. If The Daily Mail likes you, you need to ask some searching questions about your politics.


Jeremy Corbyn may be the finest leader the Labour Party has ever had. Whatever the flaws and the mistakes, we do not take advice from Tories, ‘the lords of the press’, and their Blairite acolytes on what those might be. We have our own criticisms, but they are not those of the class enemy.


Against that enemy – and what old revolutionaries used to call ‘the labour lieutenants of capital’ – we stand foursquare with Corbyn as the vilification machine grinds out yet more bile. Or, as they say in the film, ‘I’m Corbyn!’


We are present at the birth of a new factoid: the lie that Jeremy Corbyn was responsible for Labour’s defeat in the 2019 general election. It will run and run.


But we know the truth: the press lords, spin doctors, and black artists of the ruling class engineered the defeat of a social-democratic alternative because it represented a serious threat to the power, profit, and privilege of the 1%.


Neil Faulkner is a historian, writer, and political activist.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/mar/14/tony-benn-national-newspapers


[2] Foot, M, 1982, Aneurin Bevan, 1945-1960, London, Granada.


[3] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/11/boris-johnsons-record-of-bigotry-antisemitism-and-far-right-politics-must-not-be-forgotten; https://www.businessinsider.com/boris-johnson-record-sexist-homophobic-and-racist-comments-bumboys-piccaninnies-2019-6?r=US&IR=T; https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/election-boris-johnson-articles-women-women-journalist-spectator-labour-a9221036.html


[4] https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/16/conservatives-set-outlaw-racist-boycott-israeli-goods-11917644/


[5] http://www.socialistaction.net/2019/12/14/to-rebuild-from-a-defeat-labour-must-base-itself-on-the-facts/


[6] Guardian, 14/12/19, Voting analysis: Britain divided by age and class – but is the chasm here to stay?

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