By John Cunningham (this article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website)
Although I’ve never had had warm feelings towards the media, I also dislike the tendency to blame the media for every ill or woe in the world; it just doesn’t work like that. The media isn’t all bad all the time.
Personally, I have regularly turned to the journalism of people like Andrew Rawnsley, Nick Cohen, Polly Toynbee, John Harris and others, not because I agree with them (this rarely happens) but because of a desire to read some occasionally intelligent — or moderately intelligent — viewpoints put forward in a clear and articulate manner. However, within the last year or so, the commentaries and analysis coming out of even the middle-ground “liberal” press has descended to unprecedented levels of odious bile which has little, if any, connection with reality. They have descended in a very short time to “a superficial and dismal swamp” (to paraphrase Frederick Engels).
At times the abuse has been astonishing. Increasingly it is directed not just at Corbyn but also at his supporters, often referred to, in the most childish manner, as “Corbynistas” or “Corbynites” as if somehow, those supporting Corbyn were the followers of a boy band or, as alluded to on occasion, attendees at a Nuremburg rally.
A list of these abuses, insults and smears would make lengthy — and dismal — reading; so here are just a few examples from a variety of sources: Polly Toynbee (Guardian 18 July) claimed that the “incomers” [to the Labour Party] are “fronted by a small handful of wreckers armed with political knuckledusters.” Also from Toynbee we have her measured description of Corbyn as “dismal, lifeless, spineless…” (Guardian 25 June). Carole Malone (Daily Mirror 16 July): Corbyn supporters are “Lenin style bully boys who’d send women to the Gulag.” John Harris (Guardian 12 August) deserves a special mention for his article entitled “If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead”, which not only raises infantilism to an art form but contains an “explanation” of Trotsky’s notion of transitional demands which is so laughable that it wouldn’t pass muster in a third rate pub quiz.
Probably the worst example, so far, that I have come across is worth quoting at more length: Nick Cohen (Observer, 31 July) “…after the killing of Jo Cox by an alleged right wing extremist, Angela Eagle and Jess Phillips and all the other anti-Corbyn MPs who are speaking out know that the death and rape threats from left-wing extremists may not just be bluster.” There you have it — if you are a Corbyn supporter you are (a) automatically a “left-wing extremist” and (b) a potential rapist and/or murderer!
I wrote to the Readers’ Editor of the Observer pointing out this slander. Initially, he did not respond but after a second e-mail merely drew my attention to an article by Cohen in the Spectator and remarked that he obviously wasn’t talking about people like me! While I am mightily relieved that the Observer’s Readers’ Editor thinks I am a decent sort, what, might I ask about all the other thousands of Labour members who will be voting for Corbyn, murdering and raping all the way to the ballot box? A third e-mail from me calling for an apology drew no response at all (surprise, surprise). What is it that drives journalists like Cohen and Toynbee, who are by no means stupid people, to descend into this gutter? After all, life for the Cohens and Toynbees of this world will not be drastically altered by the continuance of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, nor would life be suddenly rosier if, by some Potterish intervention, Owen Smith were to win.
Toynbee has already shown her propensity for jumping ship if things don’t go her way. My guess is that for the educated snobs of this liberal and not-so-liberal commentariat the thread that binds them together is a sense of elitism, a dislike, a repugnance of ordinary people doing things for themselves. It is, more-or-less, the same elitism, the same distrust of the masses, that drove some of the early socialists like Charles Fourier and Saint Simon to condemn the emerging trade unions, while slightly later the Webbs and the Fabians were to embrace similar ideas about the untrustworthiness of ordinary workers.
This trend dominated the Parliamentary Labour Party for years and it manifests itself, for example, in the way that routinely, throughout the history of the Party, conference resolutions have been ignored if the Party leadership didn’t agree with them. Whether we are talking about Tony Blair, Ramsey MacDonald, Hugh Gaitskell, Polly Toynbee, Anne Perkins, Nick Cohen or ex-Stalinists such as the Times journalist David Aronovich; the approach is top-down, “we know best and if you don’t agree with us shut up or bugger-off”.
Clearly, the wisdom of these sages is being ignored, sometimes by the very people who would normally listen to them… and they don’t like it one bit; hence a peevish and prolonged bout of name-calling and the sneering dismissal of thousands of ordinary people who are making their voices heard and trying to shape a new political agenda. In short they sound like nothing but spoilt schoolchildren who have had their ball taken away.
In any other place in the world the massive increase in Labour Party membership would be shouted from the rooftops. No Social Democratic party in history, with the possible exception of the pre-First World War German Social Democratic party, has seen such exceptional growth. Yet the newcomers are cast in the role of the biblical Gadarene swine, rushing headlong to a certain death while the comfy, smug, complacent ladies and gentlemen of the press tut-tut their displeasure. As a certain London-based political exile of Jewish origin once remarked, “…they confess they are striving to replace the old aristocracy with a new one. To counter the existing oligarchy they would like to speak in the name of the people, but at the same time avoid having the people appear in their own person when their name is called.”