An analysis by Media Lens of the concerted attempts to smear and discredit Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn who is currently the front runner in the race to be the new Labour Party leader.
In May, voters grasped Spanish political orthodoxy and shook it like a rag doll:
'The anti-austerity party Podemos claimed its biggest victory in Barcelona, where activist Ada Colau seized control of the city hall. Podemos and Ciudadanos... made advances across the country that will give them a chance to shape policy for the first time.'
Podemos also backed the campaign of Manuela Carmena, a 71-year-old labour-rights lawyer, who ended 24 years of rule by Spain's hard-right Popular party in the capital, Madrid. These were major triumphs in the face of fierce and united corporate media opposition. Jose Juan Toharia, president of polling firm Metroscopia, said:
'Tomorrow's Spain doesn't feel identified with the establishment parties.'
A Guardian leader commented:
'Together, the two traditional parties have seen their support shrink from two-thirds of the poll in 2011, to just over half. Podemos and Ciudadanos have filled the void. The two-party system that had dominated Spain since the end of dictatorship in 1978 is crumbling.'
MP Jeremy Corbyn, reportedly 'far ahead of his rivals in the Labour leadership election', has explicitly called for Labour to learn from Greece's Syriza, Spain's Podemos and the Scottish National Party by campaigning against 'austerity'. Corbyn said:
'I have been in Greece, I have been in Spain. It's very interesting that social democratic parties that accept the austerity agenda and end up implementing it end up losing a lot of members and a lot of support. I think we have a chance to do something different here.'
This echoes a comment made by Podemos' leader Pablo Iglesias in an interview with Tariq Ali. Iglesias suggested that Podemos and Syriza offered potent examples that had already been followed in Scotland:
'We saw this in the UK. The Scottish National Party [SNP] really beat the Labour Party by criticising austerity and criticising cuts, which are related to the failure of the "third way" policies of Tony Blair and Anthony Giddens.'
One might think that, in discussing the popularity of Corbyn's leadership bid, a rational media would give serious attention to the visions, strategies and success of Podemos, Syriza and the SNP. For example, we can imagine in-depth interviews with Iglesias and Colau on Corbyn's prospects. We can imagine discussions of how a weakening of the two-party grip on Spanish politics might be repeated outside Scotland in the UK, where similarly moribund political conditions apply. As former ambassador, Craig Murray, has observed:
'[I]f the range of possible political programmes were placed on a linear scale from 1 to 100, the Labour and Conservative parties offer you the choice between 81 and 84.'
And yet, we have not seen a single substantive discussion of these issues in any UK national newspaper. The Lexis media database records 1,974 articles mentioning Corbyn over the last month. Of these, just 29 mentioned Podemos. Our search of articles mentioning both 'Corbyn' and 'Pablo Iglesias' yielded zero results, as did our searches for 'Corbyn' and 'Ada Colau', and 'Corbyn' and 'Manuela Carmena'. Lexis found 133 Guardian articles mentioning Corbyn over the last month, with three of these containing mentions in passing of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. The Independent had 47 hits for Corbyn, with one article mentioning Sturgeon.
These would appear to be natural sources and comparisons, particularly given Corbyn's explicit references to them. Instead, we found complete indifference combined with a ruthless and relentless campaign to trash Corbyn across the so-called media 'spectrum'.
'Marxed Man' – The Corporate Press Go To Work
A leading article in Murdoch's Times dripped with elite condescension:
'Only against a backdrop of stupefying blandness could Jeremy Corbyn have emerged as a serious contender for the leadership of what is still technically Her Majesty's opposition.' (Leading article, 'Silence of the lambs,' The Times, July 27, 2015)
Clearly Corbyn was unworthy of Elizabeth. His sins:
'This is a man who five years ago shared with George Galloway the distinction of presenting his own show on Press TV, the English-language propaganda arm of Iran. He wants the Bank of England to discard 17 years of independence from political meddling and to begin building houses and laying down railway lines. He believes Britain has not learnt its lessons from Karl Marx.'
The Times' sister paper, the Sun, doesn't really do politics. But it does smears. Under the title, 'Marxed man', the editors wrote:
'But to Jeremy Corbyn, the man who polls say will be the next Labour leader, Karl Marx is still a hero. He said yesterday: "We all owe something to him." Corbyn doesn't want to take Labour back to its Bennite years in the 1980s. He wants to turn the clock back to 1917 and the Russian revolution.' (Leading article, 'Marxed man,' The Sun, July 27, 2015)
In an article, 'Corbyn's Morons have only helped the hard left', Murdoch's Sunday Times opined:
'The hard left, apparently as extinct for its influence on British politics as the dinosaurs, senses its Jurassic Park moment.'
The idea is as fantastic and juvenile as the film:
'When Labour activists, particularly the young, speak with admiration about the spectacularly incompetent Syriza government in Greece, or the Podemos party in Spain, you know reality has deserted them.'
The paper failed to explain why reality has deserted people who look to Podemos for inspiration, successful as it has been in the real world.
Hard-right Times warmonger David Aaronovitch asked on Twitter:
'What positive debate... is served by having Corbyn on the ballot?'
Spanish versions of Aaronovitch doubtless asked the same of Pablo Iglesias and Podemos.
The Sunday Mirror guffawed at Corbyn:
'He is also a throwback to the party's darkest days when it was as likely to form the government as Elvis was of being found on Pluto.
'Today the Sunday Mirror carries articles by three leading politicians whose words should be heeded by all Labour members.' (Leading article, 'We need a leader for a new world,' Mirror, July 27, 2015)
The three wise heads were David Blunkett, David Owen and Yvette Cooper, all securely located between '81 and 84' on Craig Murray's linear scale of political choices.
The Telegraph lamented the political passing of Tony Blair, who dismissed Corbyn out of hand. Blair 'remains the party's most eloquent advocate of a more sensible approach to business and wealth', according to the editors. The Guardian's Seumas Milne explained this 'sensible approach' when he noted that Blair's 'self-enrichment from corporations and dictatorships has degraded the office of prime minister'.
The Telegraph insisted that Britain 'needs a grown-up opposition prepared to debate the issues of the day, not a populist rabble interested only in echoing the wealth-hating delusions of the disaffected Left'. The kind of editorial position Lord Castlereagh had in mind in the nineteenth century when he insisted that 'persons exercising the power of the press' should be 'men of some respectability and property'. 'Sensible' people, in other words. (Quoted, James Curran and Jean Seaton, Power Without Responsibility - The Press And Broadcasting in Britain, Routledge, London, 1997, p.13)
The Telegraph's editors dismissed 'Mr Corbyn's fantasy politics', again ignoring the fact that they have scored very real victories in Europe.
The Guardian warned that 'Politics moves in cycles and some are more vicious than others.' Corbyn is leading a vicious 'spiral into irrelevance after defeat', his politics a defunct throwback:
'His ideological positions [in the past] did nothing to accelerate escape from opposition... his solutions long pre-date the challenges of the 21st century.'
'All candidates must turn their attention to more forward-looking alternatives. The challenge for Mr Corbyn's rivals is to match his crusading passion while leading the debate back to a discussion of the country Labour would aspire to lead in 2020.'
Also in the Guardian, executive editor Jonathan Freedland wrote:
'Tony Blair and others tried to sit the kids down and say: "Look, you've had your fun. But take it from us, even if Corbyn is right - which he isn't - he is never, ever going to get elected. This crusade is doomed. Come back home".'
Freedland took issue with the effectiveness of the approach, not the analysis:
'The unkind reading of this is to suggest that support for Corbynism, especially among the young, is a form of narcissism.'
An interesting response at a time when leading climate scientists are suffering 'severe depression', some reportedly 'close to suicide', with one 'looking at property in Greenland. As a possible bug-out scenario' – somewhere to escape the ravages of approaching catastrophe. Rejecting the profit-driven system that is so stubbornly refusing to respond to the crisis is 'narcissism' for Freedland.
Also in the Guardian, senior columnist Polly Toynbee wrote:
'Suddenly the party that has been a reasonably friendly coalition through the Blair, Brown, Miliband years, begins to feel like the poisonous place it was in the early 80s. That's when it split over toxic Militant entryism unchallenged by Michael Foot, its unelectable leader with a raft of impossibilist policies.'
The years spent selling Labour out to the neocons were 'friendly', while resistance is 'poisonous' 'nastiness' in which people have taken 'leave of their senses'. Who on earth would want to disrupt the status quo and jeopardise the shifting of deck chairs on the Titanic a couple of inches to the left? 'This is summer madness,' Toynbee concludes; Corbyn is 'a 1983 man', 'a relic'.
Also in the Guardian, Martin Kettle dismissed Corbyn's 'programme of prelapsarian socialist purity...'
The Guardian has allowed rare glimpses of dissent that make a nonsense of its own view that Corbyn's politics are an 'irrelevance'. Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was cited:
'I am not surprised at all that there is a demand for a strong anti-austerity movement around increased concern about inequality... It's just very hard to say these centre-left parties [sic] – with emphasis on "centre" – have been able to deliver for most people. Their economic models have not delivered and their message is not working.'
Rare exceptions aside, the trend in Guardian commentary has been clear, as Craig Murray noted:
'The fundamental anti-democracy of the Blairites is plainly exposed, and the panic-driven hysterical hate-fest campaign against Corbyn by the Guardian would be unbelievable, if we hadn't just seen exactly the same campaign by the same paper against the rejection of neo-liberalism in Scotland.
'I think I am entitled to say I told you so. Many people appear shocked to have discovered the Guardian is so anti-left wing. I have been explaining this in detail for years.'
By striking contrast, the Guardian devoted a front-page article to the task of selling Yvette Cooper, a discredited right-winger who backed Blair and the Iraq war. The pictures and text belonged in a New Labour party political broadcast:
'Hers is a life and political career punctuated by firsts – a first in PPE at Oxford, the first female minister to take maternity leave, the first female treasury chief secretary, and now the ambition is to be the first female Labour leader and first Labour female prime minister.'
New Labour and the Guardian were thus once again playing the gender card, exploiting a fake version of feminism to advance an elitist, corporate, warmongering agenda.
In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley mocked the 'fantasy' of 'Corbynmania' directed by 'the Pied Piper of Islington' suffering from his 'terrible delusion'. Rawnsley, yet another passionate Blairite, mocked opponents of the Great Man as deluded 'neoliberal finance capital conspiracy' theorists.
The editors of the Russian oligarch-owned Independent also lamented the loss of Blair. He 'transformed the fortunes of the Labour Party', although 'his record in office, especially his wars, remains controversial'.
Much as the 9/11 attack on New York 'remains controversial'.
The pain of the media class was projected onto the wider populace: 'many voters in the centre ground will despair at the prospect of having to choose between an increasingly hard-faced Tory party dominated by George Osborne, and an impractical and economically dubious leftist agenda presented by Mr Corbyn'.
As comedian Frankie Boyle observed in the Guardian: 'in the press, public opinion is often used interchangeably with media opinion, as if the public was somehow much the same as a group of radically rightwing billionaire sociopaths'.
For the Independent's editors, Corbyn 'is not the answer to the Labour Party or the nation's problems'. The piece bowed low to Blair: he 'won a hat-trick of victories', after all. 'For that alone he earned his right to be listened to'. We wonder if this group of radically rightwing, billionaire-led sociopaths would say the same, if they were citing Blair, serving life for war crimes, from his prison cell.
A 'New Labour grandee' was quoted in the Independent under the title: 'The next Labour leader should be anyone except Jeremy Corbyn, Alan Johnson says'. Johnson likened Corbyn's politics to electoral 'suicide'.
Like the Guardian, the Independent allowed a rogue comedian, Mark Steel, to lampoon the relentless smearing of Corbyn. But the corporate Independent's 'sensible approach' was summed up by an article titled: 'City has been too quick to dismiss the threat of Jeremy Corbyn.'
The Evening Standard, owned by the same Russian oligarch, contemptuously waved Corbyn, and democracy, away:
'But given the options available, the most important task is simply to exclude Corbyn... Labour must have a credible leader, not a fantasist.'
Betraying The Electorate?
In her Guardian article, Polly Toynbee suggested that voting for Corbyn would amount to a 'betrayal' of the electorate. In a piece for the openDemocracy website, Ian Sinclair argued that in fact it is Toynbee, not Corbyn, who is out of touch with public opinion.
Sinclair noted that Corbyn supports a publicly run NHS, a position supported by 84 per cent of the public, according to a November 2013 YouGov poll. In addition:
'He supports the nationalisation of the railways, a position backed by 66 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according to the same poll.
'He supports the nationalisation of the energy companies, a position supported by 68 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according to the same poll.
'He believes the Royal Mail should be publicly owned, a position supported by 67 percent of the public, according to the same poll.
'He supports rent controls, a position supported by 60% of the public, including 42% of Conservatives, according to an April 2015 YouGov poll.
'He opposes the retention of Trident nuclear weapons, a position John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, notes is supported by a "smallish plurality" in "the majority of polls".
'He strongly opposed the 2003 Iraq War, which was also opposed by the more than one million people who marched through London on 15 February 2003.
'He has long pushed for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a position favoured by 82 per cent of the public, according to a May 2014 YouGov poll.'
Thus: 'Corbyn's key political positions are in actual fact supported by a majority of the British public.'
Like Blair and the rest of the establishment, the Guardian and other corporate media claim their motivation is to preserve Labour's electability, rather than to attack any and all politics that stray off the 'centrist', 'modernising' path. In reality, it could hardly be more obvious that this collection of profit-seeking, corporate enterprises – grandly and laughably proclaiming themselves 'the free press' - is opposing a threat to their private and class interests.
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David Edwards of Media Lens