Jeremy Corbyn and the Slow Death of the Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn has to go.

And God, that hurts for me to say, it really does. I voted for him in the first Labour leadership election, but wasn’t able to in the farcical second leadership election. Corbyn, for a lot of people in my generation, was the first politician who inspired hope. He did what Charles Kennedy did for the generation before, and what Tony Benn did before him, and Clement Attlee before him: inspire and give people hope. That’s a rare thing in politics these days, and Corbyn deserves great praise for engaging a new generation in politics, and giving them something to believe in.

But the unpleasant reality is that Corbyn has outlived his usefulness, if indeed he had any in the first place. That’s not to disparage the man. I don’t actually think he’s done anything wrong (“wrong” is a relative term when applied to politicians). That may be a difficult position to understand, but all will become clear.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party on September 12th 2015 by a landslide majority of 59.5%. Corbyn, a backbencher throughout the rest of his 32 year career, stood as a candidate because he was frustrated by the lack of left-wing options among the other nominated leaders. His huge mandate showed there was an appetite for a clear anti-austerity agenda, rather than the faceless watered-down Tory rhetoric that the other candidates were offering. Some people say that Corbyn’s support came from a cadre of fanatics, but if anyone had truly cared about the alternatives on offer, they’d have voted for them.

After that, the media went into meltdown. Articles on Corbyn’s history as a supporter of terrorist groups such as the IRA and Hamas were dredged up and blown widely out of proportion (Corbyn supported a dialogue with these groups in the hopes of achieving peace), his relatively tame love-life was hung out to dry (he had an affair with Diane Abbott at one point – who cares?), and countless, and often baseless, accusation were thrown at him in order to discredit him.

His first major fight was against air strikes in Syria, which the Cameron’s government was in favour of. Corbyn fought against it, and urged his party to do so, yet held a free vote on it. 66 Labour MPs voted in favour, including Hilary Benn, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Tom Watson, Deputy Leader. The motion was passed by a majority of 174. Looking back now, I’m not sure the vote would’ve passed by such a majority.

Local Elections

In the May 2016 Local Elections, Labour retained control of the same number of councils as it had before the election. The BBC’s Projected National Vote Share, which aims to assess what the council results would translate to in a general election, claimed that it would have resulted in a 31% Labour majority to a 30% Conservative runner-up. However, disaster struck in Scotland, where Labour’s vote-share continued to plummet against the SNP and Conservatives. However, Labour won the London mayoral election with Sadiq Khan winning against Zac Goldsmith. It was a mixed bag of results, yet the media reported the elections as though they were a disastrous result for Corbyn. Hysteria abounded.

The EU Referendum

Probably the most shameful episode in Britain’s political history since the Iraq war, the EU Referendum was the brainchild of PM David Cameron, who held the vote in order to appease the far-right of his party. He didn’t have to do this.

The fight was between the Remainers and the Brexiteers, and it was, pardon my French, absolutely fucking horrific. I have never been so ashamed of my country. The mud-slinging, name-calling, divisiveness and fundamentalism in this referendum were horrific. Families ended up at each others throats over something as inconsequential and petty as some bureaucrats in Brussels.

Corbyn was noticeably absent during the referendum. At least, that’s what the papers said. In fact, according to a Daily Mirror article, his activities during the referendum included:

  • 10 EU rallies, with speeches and meetings in London, Bristol, Stroud, Newquay, Perranporth, Cardiff, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Runcorn, Manchester, Truro, Sheffield, Widnes, Doncaster, Rotherham, Hastings, Brighton, Dundee, Aberdeen and Birmingham.
  • These included a meeting with student nurses in Birmingham, a factory in Runcorn, a clean beaches event in Truro and campaigning with activists in Scotland.
  • Launched the Labour In bus and the Ad Van.
  • A debate on Sky News with Faisal Islam, also talked about the EU on the Agenda and the Last Leg. Appeared on the Andrew Marr show twice and on Peston on Sunday.
  • Written two op-eds, one in the Observer and another in The Mirror.
  • Reached more than 10 million people on social media.
  • Six statements to the House of Commons and 10 PMQs on the EU.
  • He has been consistent on this issue from day one of his leadership, issuing a statement in September that “Labour will be campaigning in the referendum for the UK to stay in the European Union”.

                                                      ”

That’s no small feat for a 66 year old with a political party to run. Perhaps he could have done more – there’s no harm in saying someone could’ve done more – but to say he didn’t do much is a gross distortion of the facts.

The Second Labour Leadership Election 

After the EU Referendum vote revealed a slim majority for Brexit, Corbyn was faced with another leadership challenge. He sacked Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn for trying to covertly arrange a mass-resignation of Shadow Cabinet members. After this, the mass resignations started, with 23 of 31 members of the Shadow Cabinet resigning. A motion of no confidence was tabled, which Corbyn lost 172 – 40.

This signaled the beginning of a second leadership election. Angela Eagle threw her hat into the ring. Her campaign was short-lived and unpopular. In the end she withdrew from the contest after her office was vandalised and she received death threats.

Instead, Owen Smith, a former Pfizer Lobbyist, ran. After a long and tedious campaign, Corbyn won the second election with 61.8% of the vote. This, despite the fact that eligibility to vote in this election was altered, with many controversial measures leveled at Labour members barring various groups from voting, including those who had joined during or after Corbyn’s first campaign, and those who criticised anti-Corbyn aspects of the party.

Epilogue

The rest of Corbyn’s leadership post-second-election has been relatively stable. The party, for the most part, has reluctantly rallied behind its democratically-elected leader and shown a greater level of unity. Dissenting voices are still heard, and some MPs are still standing down (most recently the historian Tristram Hunt whose affiliation with the Labour party was baffling in the first place seeing as he once told Oxford students that they were the 1% and that the Labour Party needed more people like them. A closet Tory if ever there was one), but for the most part, Labour has been more stable, if somewhat shaky. Corbyn has made some strong appointments to his Shadow Cabinet, notably Clive Lewis (Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), Angela Rayner (Education) and Richard Burgon (Justice) – all dedicated and passionate MPs who have taken the good fight to the Tories.

That said, the damage has been done. Support for Labour has been irreparably damaged. How can voters have faith in a party that won’t unite behind its democratically elected leader? Corbyn cannot be considered blameless in this. A lifelong backbencher isn’t going to be a natural leader. But it’s clear that, from the start, Corbyn lacked support, and many were keen to undermine him at the first opportunity. Alas, we must now look at some other aspects of Corbyn and his time as leader.

 

The “Freedom” of the (Elite-Controlled) Press (to do as they Please)

The negative media reaction to Corbyn’s leadership makes total sense when you step back and actually look at the British media. The two most popular newspapers in the country are The Sun, with a circulation of 1,787,096 in 2016, and The Daily Mail with a circulation of 1,589,471. Both of these, along with the London Evening Standard (898,407), The Daily Telegraph (472,033), The Daily Express (408,700) and The Times (404,155) are considered to be right-wing or centre-right newspapers (figures taken from Wikipedia). The Sun and The Times are both owned by Rupert Murdoch, the right-wing billionaire mogul; The Telegraph is owned by the Barclay brothers, who have many business interests including the company Littlewoods; The Daily Mail is owned by Lord Rothermere, a supporter of the Conservative Party who falsely claims non-domicile tax status; and the Daily Express financially supports UKIP.

This collection of right-wing dailies accounted for 5,559,862 of the newspapers sold in 2016.

Against these six main newspapers stand just 2 discernibly left-wing daily newspapers (the Independent and i newspapers are considered centrist): The Guardian (164,163) and The Daily Mirror (809,147). Overall, the left-wing newspapers account for less than one million sales in 2016.

If we check the online sphere, the Mail Online comes out top with 14,759,451 average daily unique visits in January of 2016. Second place goes to The Guardian with 8,764,814, then the Trinity Mirror Group (Daily Mirror) with 7,055,634.

What this shows us is, despite a stronger online presence for left-wing newspapers, the daily national newspapers of Britain generally lean quite strongly to the right.

In terms of television news, a poll conducted by The Media Blog found that viewers believe that Sky News shows a quite pronounced Conservative bias, and that ITV news shows some Conservative bias. On the other hand, most respondents considered BBC News and Channel 4 News to be relatively impartial, with slight bias shown towards the Labour and Lib Dem parties.

What we generally get here is an idea of the media environment that a man like Jeremy Corbyn has to deal with. The majority of daily newspapers are hostile to his views, and TV news is likely to be more impartial, but still skewed towards Conservative attitudes.

Indeed, we’ve seen plenty of attacks on Corbyn during his tenure as Labour leader. From the Daily Mail’s fictional account of Corbyn causing an apocalyptic disaster as PM, to the field days had by the newspapers over such minor incidents as Corbyn’s appearance, love life, relationship with the CND, and countless others.

Even The Guardian, centre-left though it is, retains an ambivalent relationship with Corbyn, usually criticising and supporting him in equal measure. If one goes to the comments on Guardian articles, they’ll usually find many members of the public complaining of an anti-Corbyn bias. Indeed a study conducted by the LSE analysed positive, neutral and negative mentions of Corbyn in the main newspapers and found that “almost 3/5 of all articles we coded (57%) were critical or antagonistic and 2/3 of all opinion pieces (67%) coded in the period of analysis were critical or antagonistic” (p. 4).

That’s an overwhelmingly negative portrayal, and shows a clear media bias against Jeremy Corbyn. With this amount of negative and inadequate coverage of his position and person being bandied around, an important question arises: are we actually getting an accurate picture of who Jeremy Corbyn is?

 

Who is Jeremy Corbyn?

If we’ve learnt anything from the position of the media, it’s that they have little good to say about Jeremy Corbyn, and often fail to report on his actual stances. There’s a lot of criticism, by journalists, political commentators, celebrities and anyone with a Twitter account, leveled at Corbyn for being inactive, for not having clearly defined policies, and for not providing an aggressive enough opposition. And all of these criticisms are more than fair. But the media silence and admittedly mediocre organisation of the Labour party have led to confusion. Certainly this needs addressing, but what we can say is that these are the ideas that Corbyn has proposed:

  • Renationalisation of the railways. Rail fares are rising inexorably, and yet train services rarely improve. I know that the trains in my local area are 20-30 years old and owned by a Dutch company which profits and uses that money to improve its own country.
  • A National Education Service. This is probably the best idea I’ve ever heard come out of a politicians mouth. Free education from cradle to grave. A well-educated nation is a nation with a strong economy, robust industry and better quality of life. If you can find drawbacks to this policy then they’re likely short-term, right-wing economic ideas. To my mind, there’s no real argument to be had against this policy. Whatever the problems of implementing it, it would be worth the hassle.
  • Nuclear disarmament. This is a controversial one. Just as the nuclear deterrent only works when countries are both armed with nuclear weapons, disarmament is only really a viable option if all countries agree to disarm. Arguably, one country has to set a precedent for this, and I don’t think that it would be bad if Britain were to set that example. After all, if any country launches a nuclear weapon, the necessary reaction is that another country retaliates if it’s in an alliance with the targeted country. I can understand the hesitancy of some, but the Nuclear question is an absurd one.
  • A Green Investment Bank. This amounts to investment into green energy which would simultaneously help combat climate change, protect the environment, and create jobs which would bolster the economy. Opposition to this obviously comes from the established energy sector which clings to its planet-choking methods because of their limitless profitability.
  • A Living Wage. I hope I don’t need to expand on why this is a good idea. Too many people are working in unstable jobs, living hand-to-mouth and are unable to support themselves. A living wage helps combat poverty, bolsters the economy as people have more to spend, and decreases inequality.
  • A higher rate of income tax for the wealthiest in society. Again, this helps to combat the vast inequality that has arisen in Britain, and the taxes would help bolster our public services and go into good schemes. A higher rate of tax generally isn’t a bad idea. The wealthiest nations on Earth – Norway, Denmark and Sweden, among others – have higher rates of corporate and income tax than Britain, and yet the people are happier, equal, have higher rates of happiness, and a strong welfare state that supports all people from cradle to grave.

 

Self-Loathing Wins

You can level as much criticism at a politician as you like. Hopefully, it will cause them to steer in the right direction. But the fact is that Brits are cutting their nose to spite their face. A recent YouGov poll found that 45% of the population think Theresa May would be a better PM and that only 17% think Corbyn would be. Voting intention at the moment is 39% Conservative and 28% Labour. That’s a damning indictment. At this point, I’m fairly sure Theresa May is a comedy character like Alan Partridge or Ali G. She’s vague, evasive, has no plan for Brexit, she’s kept on Jeremy Hunt – one of the most unpopular men in the country – to continue destroying the NHS, she’s denied the Red Crosses claims that there is a “humanitarian crisis” in the NHS at the moment, she lurches from crisis to crisis, is unpopular and unlikeable and yet she’s still nearly 3 times more popular than Jeremy Corbyn. That doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

But then, our voting system doesn’t make sense. The First Past the Post system makes a mockery of democracy. It means a party supported by 36.9% of the electorate and even less of the country can hold absolute power. It means a woman who no one voted for can lead that party. It means that she can claim that 52% is an overwhelming mandate for a Hard Brexit, but 84% opposing a repeal of the hunting ban isn’t.

Clearly we hate ourselves. Jeremy Corbyn may not be great. But surely he’s the better of two evils? If you don’t like the Conservative party, why throw your vote away on the Lib Dems or the Greens? They’ll never achieve power. What’s needed is a progressive alliance of these parties to join forces and become a larger force to fight the supremacy of the Tories. With the Labour vote lost to the SNP, we’ve consigned ourselves to years of Conservative rule that will ultimately destroy our country. Yet we continue to whinge about the quality of the opposition rather than just sucking it up and doing all we can to fight the real enemy. We bicker and squabble over meaningless differences in what it is to be liberal or socialist whilst the right-wing laughs.

But what it comes down to is this: whatever Corbyn is or isn’t, he has been assassinated by the media and the Conservatives. The ceaseless criticism – not bowing low enough at the Cenotaph, not singing God Save the Queen, not dressing smart enough – the endless undermining of his ability by his own party, the media silence after they realised that was just as good a way of destroying him as outright attack. All of that has built up into an unstoppable echo chamber. The revolving door of media, elite politicians and big business are threatened by Jeremy Corbyn. He stands for renationalisation of various sectors, a fairer distribution of wealth, free education, a robust NHS and a strong welfare state. All of these things are reviled by the establishment because they threaten their business interests. Politicians is entirely about profit. Whoever you think Corbyn is, I have no doubt that he’s a principled and well-intentioned man doing what he believes to be right. And agree with him on most issues. A lot of people do when you look at polls – most people support his policies, but coming from him they’re poison, because the media has convinced us that Corbyn is an England-hating, terrorist-loving Marxist. Left and right alike often hold up Scandinavia as the bastion of good government policy. Corbyn’s policies have much in common with him. But we hate him. It’s a Cult of Personality. We no longer do politics based on policy, we do it based on personality.

Ultimately, I think Jeremy Corbyn was unfortunate. His election represented a nascent movement in British politics, a challenging of the status quo, and a revival of socialist politics. But it’s a small revival that’s not yet run its course. It speaks to the same kind of thinking that saw Bernie Sanders create a powerful movement in the US. These men are ahead of their time. There’s an appetite for a fairer society in the West. We can look at Germany and Denmark and Norway and The Netherlands and France and see that their countries are doing better than we are, that they’re fairer, and more efficient. We’re moving away from that in England and the US at the moment, as the neoliberal alt-right raises its ugly head. That time will pass. People will see the damage caused by these groups, and they will hanker for an answer.

Some day, perhaps four years down the line, perhaps ten, but soon, left-wing leaders with fair, responsible and progressive ideas will arise because there will be a need. And they will fight in elections and they will win. Those people won’t be Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders. But I’m sure they’ll be inspired by such figures and that their policies will be cut from the same cloth. And I hope that Corbyn and Sanders will live to see that change. They deserve that much.

 

(If you’ve read this far – wow, I’m impressed. Apologies for a somewhat garbled, biased article with a mixture of sources. I will fully admit that this article is an opinion piece and not an academic, or even very good piece. It is merely how I feel).

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