In the 2015 general election, the Labour party seemed to offer little apart from a slightly watered-down version of what the Conservatives were offering. That’s why its results were disastrous in Scotland and lukewarm everywhere else. Continued survival could only be guaranteed by offering a more inspiring project to British voters. And Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory in September 2015 clearly did that – however much the corporate media and the party’s right wing tried to warn us all about the coming apocalypse.
Corbyn’s belief in an alternative to austerity soon resuscitated the ailing party that Tony Blair and co. had left behind. And in spite of the constant media attacks and attempts of the Labour right to destabilise the new leader’s project, it is now clearer than ever that a change within the biggest opposition party was exactly what tens of thousands of Brits had been waiting for.
Labour membership is booming
There’s no apocalypse. Honest. Quite the opposite, in fact.
On 13 January, the Guardian published an article proving that Corbyn has breathed life back into the Labour party. By looking at Labour’s official statistics and listening to grassroots activists in the organisation, the paper revealed that local branches have been enlivened by Corbyn’s triumph, with almost all experiencing:
doubling, trebling, quadrupling or even quintupling membership
Membership shot up from 201,293 on 6 May last year to 388,407 on 10 January. And while around 13,860 members left after the general election (5,393 before Corbyn was even elected leader), 116,753 joined in order to vote in the leadership poll. And when Corbyn won, a further 87,158 people joined between 12 September and Christmas Eve (roughly a thousand more joined between Christmas Eve and the writing of the article).
Constituency activists the Guardian spoke to admitted that the booming numbers were down to Corbyn’s leadership victory. Some are returning left-wingers who left Labour because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while the majority of new members are also firmly on the left. But the paper insists:
There are few reports of attempted infiltration from hard-left groups
But the impact of the new members is definitely being felt, says South Suffolk constituency secretary David Plowman. Regarding the issue of airstrikes in Syria, he affirms:
We had an online discussion and about 90% were against airstrikes and 10% for. Before the new members it would have been about 60% to 40%… People were heavily and passionately against them
The only potential problem stressed by constituency members was that there could possibly be a “collision” between older and younger people as they seek to find a compromise between “old politics” and “a new kind of politics”. But in the end, they’re all moving in the same direction – against austerity and against war.
What’s the mainstream media on about, then?
In an ideal world, we might well expect the media to focus its efforts on sharing new information, debating issues of importance, and exposing lies. But the reality is very different.
Greg Philo, who is research director of Glasgow University Media Unit, compares press coverage today with how Labour was treated back in the 1980s – when media outlets spoke of “trouble and turmoil” being created by “dominating” left-wing groups and of the right-wing as the sensible “majority”. Like today, he argues, left-wing views were consistently regarded to be “deeply subversive” and “unacceptable” by the corporate media. And studies at the university, he says, show that the BBC in particular has shown a “very narrow range of perspectives” on economic issues.
And while anti-Corbyn propaganda could always have been expected from the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and The Sun, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has insisted that, during Corbyn’s leadership campaign:
Even the liberal left Guardian opposed us and undermined us at every opportunity.
The BBC, meanwhile, which we fund through our television licences, has shown its own right-wing bias more often of late. The corporation’s former political editor Nick Robinson confessed in November that he was shocked by its hostile treatment of Jeremy Corbyn during his election campaign, while current editor Laura Kuenssberg has been consistently criticised for her snarky tirades against the Labour leader. The BBC has even admitted coordinating the live resignation of a Labour shadow minister. This behaviour has led Media Lens to insist that the corporation’s political editor today is simply repeating what leading politicians say while trying “not to question power or challenge government authority in any meaningful way”.
McDonnell remains upbeat nonetheless, stressing that the media attacks have:
proved to be counterproductive because the more attacks on Jeremy, the more members we recruit
The fact is that Corbyn has helped to make Labour relevant again precisely because he has helped to move the political debate leftwards – an occurrence that British media outlets have tried their best to thwart.
But as Philo asserts, we shouldn’t just hope that right-wing bias in the media magically disappears:
It is not enough merely to counter false stories and partial accounts. The gap in public life and political debate must be filled with an informed critical analysis which questions what has been made normal for us by much of our media.
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