I’ve been trying to finish this piece for a few days. After last week’s local elections I wanted to write something hopeful. Despite some good local successes and the analysis suggesting some overall movement in favour of the left at first it was hard. But the more I wrote and thought, and thought and wrote, the more positive I became. This piece, inevitably perhaps, is mixed but bear with me and you’ll see where I’ve got to.
Recently I have begun to think that one of the ways to consider the popularity or not of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May is by using the analogy of a weather house. As one figure comes out in the sun the other retreats only to emerge when the rain falls.
The polls and much of the mainstream media (MSM) assures us that its Mrs May that bathes in the sunshine and Mr Corbyn who has to duck the downpours, and yet a mere glance at the internet suggests a different story. In contrast to images of Theresa May in closed meetings (standing in front of banners that emphasis her rather than the Conservative Party, in a bid to play to her ‘popularity’ and to avoid associations with election fraud and the like) repeating her ‘strong and stable’ mantra there are innumerable images of Jeremy Corbyn in the middle of crowds; talking to children; being hugged, kissed and back-slapped by women and men of all ages, being handed red roses and asked for yet another selfie. An example from yesterday: Corbyn outside the Town Hall in Leamington Spa and May’s ‘team’ in yet another room in Harrow, London; which could have been anywhere as the stage managed outings are all of a muchness.
Whilst Theresa May locks journalists in cupboards, handpicks the questions that she is willing to answer and constantly refers to ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’, Jeremy Corbyn speaks of ‘our’, ‘we’ and ‘us’, sympathises and jokes with everyday people (including journalists) and rolls out policy after policy. The leader of the Labour Party has had poems and songs written about him (this one is my favourite: I feel like Jeremy Corbyn), people chant his name at indoor and outdoor gatherings and meetings and he is apparently notorious for lingering to talk when he should be on his way to another venue or to catch a train (if this makes him late, it doesn’t matter, people wait).
He is also, as I read yesterday morning, 'The Most Electable Politician in a Generation', not least because of:
His record of previous success: not only has he been an MP since 1983, and more recently convincingly won two leadership elections, but has also attracted huge numbers of new members to his party. In July 2016 100,000 new members [including me] joined the Labour Party in just 10 days, the majority of whom doing so in support of Corbyn at a time in which his leadership was under threat.
His character: history has shown that Corbyn has precisely the character that a nation’s leader should have. He has always been highly consistent in his views. He is known, even by thosewho did not support his leadership bid, as an honest, sincere and decent individual. He has an evident kindness and compassion towards those less fortunate.
AND VERY IMPORTANTLY: His policies: The policies which Corbyn stands for are rarely seriously challenged. There are few negative comments people can make about increasing the minimum wage, renationalising the railways, increasing NHS funding, restoring NHS bursaries, providing free school meals, combating inequalities, building more houses, reversing corporation tax cuts and so on.
Not long after campaigning for the General Election began Brendan Cox (husband of the MP Jo Cox who was murdered last June) wrote an article for The Guardian which includes the following:
At the turn of the year I decided the best way to mark the anniversary of Jo’s death would be to give people the opportunity to come together to celebrate all the good things that unite us as a nation. The idea has really taken off and on the weekend of 16-18 June there will be thousands of events all across the country under the banner of The Great Get Together.
The idea is simple: to show the truth behind what Jo said in her maiden speech in parliament, that “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”. The Great Get Together will now take place just a week after the general election. And I’m convinced that after polling day a collective moment of coming together will be more relevant than ever.
Later in the article Cox adds:
For lots of reasons, this isn’t an election I’m looking forward to. We’ve got a proud tradition in this country of airing our opinions and having our disagreements while at the same time respecting those whose views we do not share. What worries me is that respect for our opponents has become a disposable quality, too easily jettisoned when passions rise. But elections don’t have to widen divisions in society and I desperately hope this one won’t….
…. I hope that, while we must have a robust debate over the next few weeks, we also use the campaign as an opportunity to reach out to people whom we might disagree with and, of course, to drive those peddling hate out to the margins where they belong.
Sadly, Brendan Cox’s wish has not been granted. In mainstream and social media the attacks endemic to personality politics abound. There are of course perpetrators and victims on all sides of the political debate. And yet there is clear bias from much of the MSM in favour of the right and just yesterday we heard that the Green Party has made an official complaint to the BBC concerning coverage of the local elections. With the Labour Party in mind there is a plethora of examples of key figures, and their supporters, being at the brunt of biased coverage that goes way beyond fair reportage or constructive critique:
While the right-wing press is expected to be harsh on a Labour leader, biased coverage of Corbyn crosses traditional boundaries, infecting centre-left papers as well. The MSM’s seeming contempt for the people’s decision [the twice election of Corbyn by Labour Party members] gives pause to anyone who values democracy, whatever one’s ideological persuasion, whether you agree with Corbyn’s policies or not.
In addition to writing here I occasionally write pieces for my CLP (Truro and Falmouth) Blog. A piece I wrote last year included:
Several academic studies have highlighted media bias against Jeremy Corbyn, his policies, his shadow cabinet and his supporters (see The Media Reform Coalition 2015; The Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics (LSE) 2016; The Media Reform Coalition and the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Birkbeck, London 2016).
The LSE report went so far as to argue that in the first two months in his role as leader of the opposition the majority of the press did not act as a ‘critical watchdog’ of Jeremy Corbyn, but rather more often as an antagonistic ‘attackdog’ . . . .
As the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, reminds us:
It’s not immigration that drives down wages in this country, what drives down wages are globalisation, and predatory employers and employees either not knowing or not having their employment rights.
We need to be careful of that kind of rhetoric, because it’s not helpful…Yet still the tabloid press regularly publish pieces that draw on the ‘politics of fear’: stereotypes and untruths that negatively label, even demonise immigrants and refugees.
That the Tories campaign is built on the politics of hate and fear is not in doubt. See for example this analysis suggesting that Theresa May’s election platform is identical to that of the BNP in 2005.
Additionally, on the day before the local elections last week we were encouraged by the Prime Minister to trust her, and only her, as the one who could save us from those in Europe who threaten our democracy and are by implication ‘out to get us’. Only she, we were told, is strong enough to protect us from the dangerous ‘other’ (although whether this is through negotiation or the buying and deploying of bombs is a little unclear - both, probably). And lest we forget the strength and stability of the PM (and a party) - who backtracks and u-turns on a regular basis; breaks promise after promise and refuses to debate the leader of the opposition in public - on the day of the local elections the Conservatives paid for four-page adverts (although only acknowledged as such in the small print) in many local newspapers to tell us again.
That Jeremy Corbyn offers an alternative is obvious also. His ‘people powered’ approach which involves highlighting the many injustices and inequalities resulting from the ‘rigged’ system within society is clearly terrifying to some. If not why this response to a policy that favours the 95% from The Telegraph (or The Torygraph as it’s also know):
The ONLY factor that can return the Tories in government after the election on the 8th June 2017 is if the public have swallowed what they’ve been led to believe about the leadership of the opposition from the same media who have been lying about the capability of the Tories in government. The Tories can’t rely on a good record in government. They can’t even rely on a claim that they offer stability or that continuity is what Britain needs right now. The Tories can’t even rely on a charismatic, inspiring and inspired leadership. All the Tories can hope for is that the public are gullible enough to believe that the leader of the opposition is in some way worse than them and the ONLY evidence they have to support that is the testimony of a lying media.
It is clear that there are other issues on which people are voting, such as the NHS and education, which Labour has far more popular policies on. However there is a limit to the extent this can be won just on policies, since the Tories are putting forward so few and are trying to make this all about leadership. There is also a limit to seeing elections as being the main way of changing consciousness. We have endured many years of austerity, backed up by right wing ideas from government and the media in terms of migration and scapegoating, and a stress on individual self-advancement, not collective change. There has been a very low level of collective struggle, in particular strikes, at the same time. This leaves working people isolated and open to some right wing arguments. This will not be overcome in weeks or without the struggles which do change people’s ideas.
But we can use the election to begin to alter those ideas. My suggestion for the next month would be, yes, good policies but a much less cautious way of getting them across. Corbyn won two leadership campaigns on the basis of mass campaigning including large public street rallies. These must be a feature of the next four weeks in order to explain what he stands for, to cohere his existing supporters and to build confidence to go out and mobilise. These rallies would also stand in contrast to the invisibility of May’s public campaign. If Jeremy Corbyn is so unpopular, how come hundreds flock to hear him speak and that he is prepared to turn up in public and deal with any criticism face to face?
Corbyn made a good start on this yesterday.
At the risk of sounding mawkish (I don’t care) it seems to me that if Theresa May’s Team (i.e. the Conservatives) focuses on hate and fear, Jeremy’s Corbyn’s Labour is concerned with love and hope for a better present and future for us all. And yet there are many (including sadly some that call themselves left-wing) that continue to attack him. There are those who write and promote articles with titles such as ‘What should you do if you support Labour but can’t stand Jeremy Corbyn?’ (I refuse to provide the link to this); others who insist that he is ‘a perfectly nice and decent man’ but a ‘useless leader’ and of course the torture of the constant drip, drip, drip in the press and on the TV by those who tell us Labour can’t win and the Conservatives can’t lose. And yet:
We may each be whispers in a raging storm, but eventually enough whispers can turn into voices, and voices into roars which can create a political movement with the potential to defeat those who desire nothing more than to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. There has never been a more important time to increase our collective roars and cries of genuine peace, justice and equality.
Whatever happens in the next few weeks, even if the worst happens (and let us all work every day to try to make sure that it doesn’t), something has changed. Many people, young and older, have become energised in politics in an unprecedented way and social media, if not the MSM, provides us with a wide range of challenge and critique that it seems the mainstream are beginning to fear .
And for those of us who are talking and writing about all of these issues there is support, camaraderie and shared humour (see this report of Amazon reviews for life size cardboard cut outs of May and Corbyn OR look for yourself). Although I am aware of the ‘speaking to the converted’ argument, like others I believe that these shifts are fundamental to our current and for our future collective voice in support of the many rather than merely the few.
As noted earlier, contrary to suggestions otherwise (again largely by the MSM), the election campaigns of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are very, very different. Despite the vicious and often libellous critique of Corbyn by the Tories, much of the media and others the warmth and affection surrounding him is palpable and joyous. A while ago I posted this image (shared via Twitter by Banksy) on my Facebook page and then in a Blog post. Despite the negative discourses that surround us, for me as a Labour Party member and Corbyn supporter, as a campaigner and activist (online and on foot) this represents all that is positive about the left at the moment. The picture remains one of my favourite images of the last few months.