by Jack Frayne-Reid
Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are often said to live in a left-wing "echo chamber," listening only to the views of likeminded individuals. This is some tall order, considering the vast majority of media coverage of him is negative, and his detractors are seldom shy to speak out. It's as if having a few lefty mates on Facebook renders you blind and deaf to the entirety of media and popular opinion.
So, in order to help prove this plainly ludicrous assertion false, I'm going to spend this piece doing what many on the left actually spend an inordinate amount of time doing; rebutting statements that I disagree with about Corbyn and the movement surrounding him.
Since I wrote my last article for Le Nurb, the marginal right-wing faction within the Parliamentary Labour Party whom I christened the "Bonfire Pissers" (and John Prescott christened the "Bitterites") have continued their concerted campaign to topple the leader they so resent - even at the party's expense - and the media has continued to afford them undue attention.
Meanwhile, the findings of a new Guardian survey show the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn has reinvigorated Labour at the grassroots level. Membership has grown by 116,753 since the general election and 87,158 since Corbyn became leader, the ranks swelling to a total of 388,407. This is well over twice the membership of the Conservative Party, and almost up there with the 407,000 Tony Blair commanded before he went and alienated (literally more than) half of them by invading Iraq. This growth spurt is unprecedented at a time when mass-membership party politics has long been considered on the wane. Clearly, this bonfire will take industrial quantities of piss to extinguish.
Whilst Arch-Blairite Peter "Lord of Darkness" Mandelson told the press in December that 30,000 people had left Labour in protest at Corbyn's leadership, the actual figure for departures since May is 13,860 (less than half of Mandelson's spurious claim, and dwarfed by the intake). The study also found - Bonfire Pissers take note - that members were "unhappy with public splits within the PLP," but, positively, that the new members were a coalition of the young and the old. Unfortunately, the quote that The Guardian's print edition chose to emphasise in their front-page story was that "at some point there is going to be a collision between these younger and older people," when, on the contrary, all evidence seems to point to members of both age groups sharing common aims and values.
This editorial choice reflects the tone of the media coverage of the Labour Party, which exacerbates the tensions that the Bitterites are trying to create and weakens public perceptions of Labour in the process. Liberal journalists fuss over the public perception of Corbyn, seemingly without realising that they are creating much of it. Reviewing the January 13th Prime Minister's Questions for the New Statesman, George Eaton begins a sentence "But while the facts were on Corbyn's side," which immediately sends alarm bells ringing; what tricks can David Cameron possibly have up his sleeve that are more impressive than his words being factually correct on the most basic level?
Turns out it's what Cameron does best; contemptuous schoolyard-bully jeers. Although Corbyn has brought a fresh, respectful approach to it, PMQs has turned into more of a joke than ever thanks to the Prime Minister's appallingly immature behaviour, responding to each of the Labour leader's ever-pertinent queries by viciously attacking him as if he were the head of the government who must be held to account on the issues of the day. Although Cameron would never have dared come out with these fatuous verbal middle fingers when he himself were opposition leader, because it would have made him look as awful as he definitely is. Despite his astonishingly flippant attitude to the concerns of ordinary British people, it seems many journalists are simply predisposed towards Cameron's "the Honourable Gentlemen is a tosser and his mum smells" approach to political debate, and yet will continue to attack supporters of Corbyn for behaving anything less than 100% "New Politics".
Let us not forget, a left-winger is a hypocritical sell-out if they even so much as own a mobile phone or have the temerity not to live in a cave. Uncovering a sickening betrayal of the most fundamental leftist principles, The Daily Telegraph ran the headline "Socialist Jeremy Corbyn reveals he covets a £475 bicycle", making wanting a decent bit of environmentally friendly gear sound as bad as having designs on thy neighbour's ox (even though I'm reliably informed by people who aren't repelled by physical exercise that £475 is fairly standard for a good bike; plus, he did say it was his dream bike). It may come as a surprise to the Telegraph to learn that not all socialists live quite ascetic enough lifestyles to eschew all modes of transport bar feet. Personally, I'm not even a vegan. I prefer to feast on the palpitating hearts of capitalists.
A kindly group of souls ultimately crowdsourced £5500 for Corbyn to get himself a new bike, although, knowing this particular terrorist sympathiser, he'll probably go and give it all to Syrian refugees or Save the Children or something similarly Britain-hating and security-threatening. Meanwhile, poor David Cameron, lacking his own fly set of wheels, will have to make do with his new, modestly priced £10 million private jet. The Telegraph eventually removed their criticism from the piece (because even they could see it was ridiculous) but, by shining a light on this Faustian pact with Raleigh Bicycles, they'd delivered their most memorable headline since they broke the hot scoop that Corbyn had literally "ruined Christmas."
Now, as the numerous heartwarming pictures of him in Santa hats can attest, Corbyn is clearly no Scrooge. For a start, Scrooge was definitely a Tory. I mean, his statement that if poor people facing the Victorian workhouse "would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population" sounds like something Iain Duncan Smith would say while gleefully launching his next programme of unconscionably cruel benefit sanctions. Corbyn's Scrooge X Grinch X ISIS Christmas-ruining plan involved holding a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle in the New Year and maybe letting go of some of its members who had been viciously talking him down in the press and the Commons despite him having the decency to offer them their positions in the first place.
John McTernan - a former Blair advisor most recently notable for describing the majority of Labour members as "morons" and running the campaign that managed to lose them fifty seats in Scotland - warned Radio 4 that it would be "a purge, not a reshuffle", language that was quickly repeated across the press, along with the term "revenge reshuffle," as if this differed from the reshuffles other party leaders do, where they move ministers to the backbenches as a sort of fun holiday. And indeed, with an entire two sackings, it was a brutal purge to rival the worst of Stalin combined with the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones.
Michael Dugher, who had dismissed all Labour members who use the internet as "trolls" and tarred anti-war campaigners in an intellectually reductive fashion as "more anti-West than anti-war," was an obvious choice to be let go of as Shadow Culture Secretary, not least given that part of his brief was to take on the unethical practises of Rupert Murdoch's News UK and, as well as showing precious little interest in criticising them during his time in the role, days after his sacking he was writing for The Sun.
Moving Maria Eagle from Defence - where she disagrees fundamentally with Corbyn - to Culture - where she is sure to do a much better job than Dugher - made total sense. And former Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden's contention that the military actions of the West have no role in fuelling terrorism is simply factually incorrect, and would be refuted by any number of none-more-Western Washington diplomats. In fact, a 2004 inquest commissioned by Donald Rumsfeld came to this conclusion. I wonder how comfortable McFadden feels placing himself to the right of one of the key architects of the Bush administration on foreign policy, the most right-wing aspect of arguably America's most right-wing government ever.
Really, most of the drama seemed to come from journalists being pissed off that they had to wait for 30 hours outside Corbyn's office while he spoke at length with every Shadow Cabinet member and painstakingly deliberated over who should stay and who should go. Although, to be fair, Corbyn did come out and ask them not to.
The big question was whether Corbyn would move Hilary Benn from his position as Shadow Foreign Secretary. Benn has become something of a deistic figure among the British establishment, having been touted by many as a future Labour leader after making a speech described curiously in an otherwise-quite-objective Independent article as "powerful" in favour of the bombing of Syria, which held the extremely leader-like distinction of being disagreed with by the majorities of the Shadow Cabinet, the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Labour membership and the general public. "If Hilary Benn was leader," my New Labour father told me, "We'd have proper opposition." "Proper opposition," presumably, in the sense of "agreeing and voting with the government."
Benn is not the only Labour "moderate" whom the press are giving a leg up. Backbencher Dan Jarvis seems to see himself as a sort of Shadow Leader of the Opposition, echoing Corbyn's every media move with wildly different messages. Corbyn does a substantive and successful interview on the Today Programme; Jarvis gets afforded a fawning profile in The Guardian. Corbyn writes an article in The Observer clearly setting out his policy agenda; Jarvis writes a piece for the New Statesman where he speaks of "reaching out" which, in case you don't have your wonk-speak dictionary on you, means "being more right-wing."
Jarvis lacks one of Corbyn's crucial weaknesses in that his military service means nobody can call him out on his patriotism. But Corbyn supporter Clive Lewis, who fought in Afghanistan, and has only been in parliament four years fewer than Jarvis? He voted against bombing Syria, so he must be a terrorist sympathiser. Plus, he's black, and the Mail would hate that. There are vital new Labour (not New Labour) voices out there, like Lewis and his fellow 2015 arrival Cat Smith, but the airwaves are still clogged up by the dinosaurs of the party's right-wing.
This was especially evident in the wake of the reshuffle, when Smith appeared on the Daily Politics to defend it, alongside Chris "Who?" Leslie. I'll remind you: over the summer, as acting Shadow Chancellor, Leslie delivered the rubbish right-wing economic strategy that indirectly won Corbyn no end of support, particularly with his decision that Labour should not vote against the Tories' welfare bill. Leslie inserted the phrase "hard left" into no less than seven strategic points throughout his appearance, sounding like a parrot caught in some horrifying infinite time warp, stuck at a precise moment sometime in the Blair-era. It reminded one of the key technique of recently-knighted Tory spin doctor Lynton Crosby - repeat a phrase or idea over and over again until it's lodged in people's minds - recently evidenced by the unnatural frequency with which Tory MPs said "security" following Corbyn's election. Clearly annoyed by Leslie's blustering attacks, Smith asked him "who are the hard left?" A question surely posed by many wondering why they're extremists for knowing, no matter what the tabloids say, that welfare has been cut quite enough as it is.
The reshuffle actually resulted in a Shadow Cabinet more united on key issues, with Eagle replaced in Defence by Emily Thornberry, an opponent of Trident renewal much more in line with Corbyn. But the downside was that, in its protractedness, this replacement distracted from Labour's strong campaigning on issues like flood defences and the renationalisation of the railways, although the media must take as much blame for this as the Corbyn camp, given they were more interested in Labour's internal strife than the issues facing the public. In fact, have you noticed something odd about this piece? I've scarcely had the time to discuss much in the way of actual policy, which is pretty crucial to the whole politics thing.
This is the essence of the anti-Corbyn project; to get everyone talking about personalities and soap opera theatrics and forget the real reasons he was elected - rising inequality and stalling social mobility, rising homelessness and job insecurity, soaring rents, stagnating pay, the increasing burden of personal debt, the erosion of the welfare state, the destruction of our environment and a hawkish foreign policy, that sees Brits and foreigners alike killed in droves (although mainly foreigners, of course). This is why the next piece I write will not be about the internal divisions of the Labour Party, but about the divisions this Conservative government are tearing in the fabric of our society.
To conclude, here is my message to Labour's right-wing; I'll stop calling you Bonfire Pissers and we can be friends, united in the pursuit of equality and social justice, but first you must recognise that the people at The Sun and The Daily Mail are not and never will be your friends. You may be their white knights now, but they are merely using you as pawns to further their own right-wing agenda, and if you ever manage to seize control of the Labour Party you will see how quickly they begin to paint you as dangerous crypto-Communist radicals who must at all costs be stopped. It would be very unwise to confuse people liking you with people disliking your enemies.