The self-inflicted crisis that has ruined Theresa May’s summer holiday…and possibly her government [EDITORIAL]

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Conservative pundits have worked up a sweat trying to launch a successful ‘summer of smear’ against Labour leader Corbyn. At first it was unnerving; then it became funny. And now it’s become a masterclass in ‘How to fuck up a smear campaign’, turning into the self-inflicted crisis that could ruin Theresa May.

What’s the point?

So, the whole point of a smear campaign is to throw shade on your opponent’s weaknesses, and light on your strengths. Labour did well on this with the ‘dementia tax’ during the general election campaign. The Conservatives had an awful offer in an area which Labour had a great offer. They could say with integrity that while May was creating a problem, they were offering a solution.

Over the summer, the entire anti-Corbyn media and political class have shown what happens when you forget this. First, with the failed student debt nonsense. And now, with ‘VENEZUELA!’

What should (in their view) have been a summer of hell for the Labour leader has backfired spectacularly. And they have only themselves to blame.

Student debt

The smear (originating with the Conservative Party) claimed Jeremy Corbyn had abandoned a supposed promise to cancel historic student debt:

The conservative media picked it up and ran with it. But there were three very big problems with this smear.

First, the Labour Party never pledged to scrap historic student debt. It was not in the election manifesto, campaign posters, leaflets, or in any speech by Corbyn.

Second, the average reader age of the papers that led the smear campaign is over 50.

And third, the Conservative Party has no counter-offer for students. Not only did the party treble tuition fees in 2010, but it recently granted universities permission to raise fees year-on-year.

In short, the Conservative Party’s big idea to stop young people voting Corbyn was to publish things he never said, in papers they never read. And in doing so, draw attention to a problem for which they have no solution. The final results of the campaign were an increased approval rating for Corbyn, and a far more successful counter-attack from the left.

And with all the bitter experience gained from that shambles, the pundits learned… nothing. Because now they’re at it again. This time, ‘VENEZUELA!’

‘VENEZUELA!’

The political crisis in Venezuela has seen the government of Nicolas Maduro accused of a range of bad deeds; including the imprisonment of political opponents. So obviously, the UK media decided this was a crisis for Corbyn.

Every establishment platform, from Guido Fawkes to The Guardian, is printing stories on this relentlessly. Even BBC Newsnight has joined in.

But just as with the student debt smear, their line of attack is preposterous and self-defeating.

First, it’s a non-story. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has put out a statement urging “everyone in Venezuela, on all sides, to end the bloodshed immediately”.

Second, it’s a non-issue for most people living in Britain. The Conservatives clearly want to make ‘VENEZUELA!’ the new ‘BENGHAZI!’. But unlike the Benghazi campaign, there is no trigger issue here. The idea that Hillary Clinton may have caused the deaths of US diplomatic and security personnel in a critical theatre of war was going to catch fire domestically, true or not. There is no such burning issue at the heart of the Venezuela campaign. The people forced to queue at food banks thanks to austerity economics are not going to say: “Yes but, VENEZUELA!”

Third, the media is backing an opposition which stands accused of violence and murder. As The Canary’s Ed Sykes points out:

media outlets rarely focus on the opposition. An opposition which has reportedly damaged public institutions (such as hospitals), attacked bystanders (sometimes burning people alive), and even accepted money to carry out violent attacks.

And finally, just as with student debt, the right has drawn a target on its own vulnerable flank. The media refer to President Maduro as a ‘dictator’, because the matter is up for debate. No such doubts exist about Theresa May’s allies in Saudi Arabia. That Saudi leaders are head chopping, child-murdering dictators is a matter of fact. The worst that can be said of Corbyn is that he congratulated Maduro three years ago, after he won a democratic election. But Theresa May was over selling weapons to Saudi Arabia to blow up Yemeni children four months ago. And it doesn’t stop there.

A laughing stock

Nevertheless, the Right chunters on in the vain hope that a news vacuum helps the story take hold. All they will achieve is highlighting another problem for which they have no solution, and which their opponents do.

Worse, they further undermine public trust –  not just in the Conservative Party, but the entire establishment media. By engaging in such transparently piss-poor smear efforts, they have become the boy who cried wolf. Should a real wolf ever show up, a jaded public won’t come to this press pack of propagandists to deal with it.

Currently, the Right has no energy and no ideas. And these botched campaigns are like wrapping neon lights around a billboard saying just that. The Conservative Party is making itself unelectable, and their supporters across the media landscape are making themselves un-credible. This self-inflicted crisis won’t just ruin Theresa May’s holiday, it could ruin her government.

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