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How to manage the anti-Corbyn media storm

Corbyn media stormAnd you thought Ed Miliband had it bad. Driven by the press and then echoed by the broadcasters, the media assault on Jeremy Corbyn this week has perhaps been the most scurrilous, smeary, and desperate I have ever seen. In rough chronological order, we’ve seen denunciations of Jeremy’s refusal to sing God Save the Queen, attacks on his dress, and the rubbishing of the “new PMQs“. If anything, it’s ramped up this weekend. We’ve had the demonstrably false IRA smear – hardly a surprise to see Harry Cole, known around Westminster as the most dishonest journalist in politics, behind that one. There are revelations about an affair decades ago, attacks for refusing a Rugby World Cup jolly, news that an ancestor operated a brutal workhouse. And just when it couldn’t get any worse:

A senior serving general said the armed forces would take “direct action” to stop a Corbyn government downgrading them and said his victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay”, even among Labour-supporting soldiers.

There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny,” the general said. “Feelings are running very high within the armed forces. You would see a major break in convention with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over vital important policy decisions such as Trident, pulling out of Nato and any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces. The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.” (Sunday Times (£) )

Were I to have the new leader’s ear, I’d be raising merry hell about this – even if a coup prospect is fanciful. A letter to the MOD plus a question at the next PMQs inviting condemnation of the comments, and extracting the promise of an investigation would be the appropriate response.

All this, however, demonstrates a problem with a great deal of last week’s media coverage: overreach and oversaturation. There’s only so much dirt to be dug up about Jeremy, and thanks to the summer-long leadership campaigns most of it has already had an airing. Old speeches, old interviews, old footage has already been trawled through by political opponents and journalists, and it’s most unlikely something new’s going to turn up. If all the press can do is run them and rerun them, readers could start tuning out and stop buying papers. That’s possible – the long-term decline of the press isn’t just about the ubiquity of internet news. Poor, regurgitated content is playing its part too.

There are two things Labour’s new press operation can do in this situation. The first is a strategy I’d definitely not recommend. It can attack the media for its bias and rely on a couple of wobbly media friends – The Mirror, The Graun – and hope the masses of new members and the growing influence of social media can compensate. In other words, retreat into the bunker and hope to outflank the media. The alternative is to use them. Yes, Richard is right, the media are hostile and no amount of spin or watering down policies are going to change that. The trick is then to try and lead the agenda by moving the fight to the grounds of your own choosing. There are three points here.

  • First, Jeremy’s press should always try and cultivate relationships with journos. And that includes those on the dreaded Murdoch titles. Good relations can be cashed in later to occasionally blunt attacks, and perhaps the odd exclusive.
  • Second, the leader’s campaign was principled, non-personal, and all about ideas. The trick then is to pick a few issues a month and keep hammering them in speeches, articles, PMQs, whatever for a limited duration before turning to something else. With the media running out of bilious attacks, this gives them fresh meat but shifts them onto the terrain of policy. Of course, the press has it own preferences. If Simon Danczuk says something silly, or rumours abound of more shadcab divisions, they’re par the course. But some of the strategy will work some of the time.
  • Third, rebuttal. Nothing should go unanswered. Every lie, every smear, all have to be responded to, refuted. No more ‘no comment’.

As a general rule, the left has a sophisticated theoretical understanding of the media’s political economy and the biases growing out of them. High time we had a strategy to match it.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

30 Comments

  1. David Ellis says:

    There is only one way to deal with a hostile media and that is to keep the revolution rolling so that they don’t have time to worry about what you’ve done in the past or what you did just now but are in fear of what you are going to do in the future but by u-turning on the EU referendum and various other things the press have been able to ignore his policies because they are no longer important. The right wing are already back in control of the shadow cabinet and the labour party agenda.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Two things to do are,not give them ammunition,and issue legal writs,after that take out message to other media, such as local radio stations,

    1. gerry says:

      John – yes sadly JC has so much awful baggage (Stop the War, Hamas, Hezbollah, IRA) he is a goldmine for the print media…and he also reacts poorly to media pressure: some of his interviews have been totally cringeworthy.

      David – you are 100% correct to say that only by maintaining forward momentum and keeping the elites guessing eg on the EU can Corbyn hope to break through the fog of media war, but I don’t (yet) feel that it is too late for him to do this: he has clearly decided to play the long game and hope that his grassroots mandate will feed into policy shifts so that – if he lasts! – by 2017 or so we may have a distinctive leftwing alternative on all the big issues. Its a huge gamble – one I don’t think he has yet lost, but he may just confound your nightmare predictions.

      1. David Ellis says:

        When Labour starts campaigining for a YES or REMAIN vote in Cameron’s EU referendum it will have the same impact as when Labour campaigned with the Tories for a NO vote in the Scottish referendum. Yes the battle was won but the war was lost and Labour were subsequently wiped out in Scotland. That will happen in England and Wales. The process of pasokification will re-assert itself. Corbyn had a chance of saving and stabilising the party and even winning in 2020 but that I am afraid has put paid to it all in the name of placating the party’s right wing that people just voted with great enthusiasm to get rid of. But it was always thus, the left reformists will always hand any power that falls into their laps back to the right as quickly as they possibly can.

        1. gerry says:

          And to think David, you voted for him (as did I ) only a short few weeks ago…now you are saying you were fooled (again). Why not have a little faith, and give him a little more time?

          1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            I agree, it was never going to be, “quite that simple,” and time and even loyalty are what are needed at this time, (it’s far too early to write him off,) but what ever the Labor party want I’ll be voting to come out anyway as I completely ignored their advice to personal blandishments encouraging me to to vote for the dire and utterly wretched Andy Burnham, not JC, who is know to be unenthusiastic about the EU and who is, (once again,) quite right to be so.

          2. David Ellis says:

            I did vote for him but without illusions. I voted in solidarity with those who did have illusions and because it was a big practical (thousands joining up) and ideological step forward (neo-liberal concensus broken) but I never diluted my own programmatic approach and warned of the weaknesses in his but even I could not have envisaged the speed of the capitulation to the right wing in the name of party unity and if Cameron does put forward a bill to bomb ISIS in Syria there would appear to be no doubt now that he will not impose a whip on the MPs to vote against it.

        2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          “But it was always thus, the left reformists will always hand any power that falls into their laps back to the right as quickly as they possibly can.”

          When I was much younger we used to call that, “The left will always sell out.”

          But if Corbyn really does impose a whip on his MP in support of bombing Syria then what good is he?

          That would pretty much finish Labor for me once and for all.

          1. gerry says:

            Jeremy P Craig Weston – don’t be so pessimistic! The Left are forever screaming betrayal, sellout, traitor…at each other! Whilst the Right just get on running the world…have a little faith, JC is not going to back bombing Syria.

          2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            Gerry:

            I’m pleased to hear that because for me that would be a the final insult; but remember also how good Blair was at getting people who should have known better to ignore their principles or scruples, or by simply replacing them so there is much truth in the left’s concerns nonetheless, but broadly speaking I agree with your point as does my wife.

          3. David Ellis says:

            Guys can you not misquote comments. This is happening more and more frequently on this site.

            What I did not say was that Corbyn would impose a whip to vote FOR bombing or vote for bombing himself though the pace of capitulation does not preclude it. What I did say was he would NOT impose a whip on Labour MPs to vote against it ensuring majority Labour Party support for bombing whilst keeping his own hands clean. This is simply not good enough.

          4. gerry says:

            David – I was responding to JP’s comments, but yes I did understand what you were originally saying. I don’t, however, think it is fair to expect JC to impose a party whip on this issue….given his rebel record, that would be needlessly provocative. There will be a free vote re extending bombing Syria – its a conscience issue, not a party one.

          5. David Ellis says:

            I’m afraid Gerry that is simple capitulation to the right wing of the party. That is why Corbyn is already a discredited figure. Not to impose the whip will be the most abject cowardice.

          6. gerry says:

            David – he has only been leader for 10 days, yet you say he is “discredited”. I agree he has made big mistakes re the EU, his cabinet, and how he has dealt with the media, but it is unfair of you to write him off so quickly….he is not ( yet) Alexis Tsipras, who IS worthy of vilification, due to his shameless u-turns and capitulation to neoliberalism!

    2. I’m trying to reply to the part of this thread regarding the vote on Syria – hope it gets to right place.
      I didn’t think the Leader was able to decide which items were one, two or three-line whips ??
      In the Council on which I served till recently, whips were decided by the officer group (Leader, Chair, Secretary, etc) and were open to challenge by the Labour Group. If that isn’t the case in the PLP, it should be!

  3. Bazza says:

    Good points and re rebuttals and putting over our powerful points.
    Re the military, I have always believed soldiers, sailors, RAF personnel should be allowed a trade union (apart from in the battle zone) but re wages, conditions, housing etc. and we could consult them on this.
    It would give them a voice and they may become a voice too for all the ex-soldiers who end up on the streets homeless, or who have mental health problems and perhaps too often the military and various agencies are top down and paternalistic – this would also pull the rug from under the elite upper class generals who may threaten undemocratic mischief and who probably went to the same schools as the Westminster elite.
    As democratic socialists we should also explain that the Right Wing papers do what they do to keep wealth and power with the rich and powerful (which is also in the self-interests of the owners of these papers).
    Funny they attacked Jetemy for not singing the national anthem (which I also do not do) but Jeremy showed his respect for all those who bravely fought FACISM in WW2, so we would all have freedom – a freedom that should stops us from being bullied and being told what to think, do, say and even sing!
    There was a lovely piece on-line in The New Statesman recently (highly recommended) and apparently some of our working class heroes – The Chartists (who fought to get for the vote for us all) used to sing as an alternative in private, “God save our great Tom Paine!” (they would have been put in prison at the time if they had sung it publicly).
    So (a) rebut and (b) get an alternative progressive reply in which blows their backward Right Wing restricted thinking out of the water!
    Yours in solidarity!

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      “God save our great Tom Paine!” (they would have been put in prison at the time if they had sung it publicly).

      Ah yes that would be, “the good old days.”

  4. Martin Read says:

    So, if we do not jump on the Corbyn bashing bandwagon, the military still have our best interests at heart. If all else fails, we can rely on a coup!

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Well in Europe in living memory it certainly worked well enough for exactly the same vested interests in Greece, (it may well have plan B if negotiations about staying in the EU had failed?)

      But as for the media, unfortunately and with all the pitfalls attendant to that; the only sane course of action is to not respond and treat them with utter contempt that they deserve.

      For example, “Corbyn refuses to sing the National anthem,” and so on, well I for one really couldn’t care less, nor could anyone else that I know and as for the declining readership of the SUN, (who mostly read it only for the football results anyway,) it’s now only two thirds of what it once was probably for that very reason

  5. David Pavett says:

    We all knew the sort of treatment that Corbyn would get from the Press. I would not even describe the Guardian as a “wobbly friend”. From the point when Corbyn became a credible leadership challenger it has published an unrelenting series of absurdly hostile articles. It continues to do so no he is leader though the edge has softened a bit, perhaps through fear if losing readers.

    I agree with Phil B-C that more effort needs to go into Labour’s news operation, much more. Yes, keep up the effort to stick to policy issues and also rebut all false stories.

    But I think that an additional point beeds to be made. Labour should not restrict itself to managing an overwhelmingly hostile media. It should also provide news directly to its own members and supporters. The Internet provides the means for this but Labour is not using it in any serious way.

    I just had a look at Labour’s news website. It is feeble beyond belief. It contains undated brief comments on current political issues. These comments include no links to fuller analyses and no links to material on Labour’s alternative (even to ideas it us currently considering). It doesn’t even have an RSS feed which would enable us all to see in seconds the latest material available. It is a joke and so far remains stuck in the Blairite rut of not seeing Party members and supporters as a key target audience to which high quality information must be provided.

    No great expense is requiered to correct this state of affairs. All that is needed is the will to do it and some very minimal technical knowledge.

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      Ye, absolutely, and,I would argue, a political priority in terms of fighting a hostile media.

    2. gerry says:

      You are right re the website, it is very rickety and weak. But is anyone listening to your sensible suggestions? We read that Jon Lansman and Peter Willsman are part of Jeremy’s inner circle -why not directly email them with your ideas, and start getting them on the agenda at least?

      1. David Pavett says:

        Thanks for the comment. I intend to write to team Corbyn in the next few days to do just what you suggest. I will also copy Jon Lansman in. (From what I have been told, including by Peter himself, Peter Willsman is yet to embrace the age of the Internet.)

        I have also suggested to Jon that if we are to move to more democratic times then we need a change of approach of most of the writers on Left Futures who leave us their thought and then walk away from the subsequent discussion. This is not a fitting approach for a more democratic age of Labour. For example will Phil B-C actually join in this discussion and respond to points made? That would be a refreshing change.

        1. gerry says:

          Good luck – your ideas re website are sensible and practical, and would help to give us as Labour members much needed information and analysis which as you say could help us immensely re alternative Labour policies.

          It would be great too if Phil, Michael Meacher and others would engage in discussion after posting their articles – perhaps Left Futures should only host articles where the authors commit to responding to commenters properly and in depth? That way it could trump sites like Labour List, Progress, Uncut and others, which are also good but where authors rarely respond below the line too. Jon and the others behind the site I am sure now have a million calls on their time, but this should also be an important democratic priority.

          1. David Pavett says:

            I think your idea of requiring (or at the very least strongly encouraging) authors to engage with responses that deal directly with what they write, is a really good one. I hope Jon L is reading this.

            After all, who would find it acceptable that someone agrees to speak at a meeting but declines to respond to questions and discussion?

            Some people speak as if the left were a torch bearer for democratic values. Unfortunately this is far from the case. Too many on the left understand democracy only insofar as it is a means for getting what they want. And then getting what they want becomes confused with democracy.

          2. Robert says:

            Not forgetting labour list has now returned to the right, which is what it was started for in the first place. It has been on an anti Corbyn trip for a few weeks now

            Anyone can write for labour list and get the article put up and then they can comment if they wish, some do mind you, some do not, but you do need a thick skin if your going to go after the head bangers on the site, especially those who think Blair is actually the messiah the second coming.

  6. […]  ‘Driven by the press and then echoed by the broadcasters, the media assault on Jeremy Corbyn thi… […]

  7. John P Reid says:

    The Tories will look for anything to dig up,maybe chilcott,will be a bad omen ,for us in the press ,maybe some of these comments will drive votes away
    Karen Buck, the Tories don’t want the poor to breed,
    Diane Abbott,all white people are racist
    Kate osamor,last year retweeting with a like Stafford Scott’s comment that it was a police officer that Killed Pc blakelock
    Emily thotnberry snobbery at the bloke with the Union Jack, outside his house with his vehicle
    Jack Monroe, that David Cameron cashed in on his dead son

  8. John P Reid says:

    if the party lets other like Mark steel,Billy Bragg,lufthur Rahman,who Christine shaw croft, now re admitted to the party, wants back, Peter tatchell tries to get in the party, look at the fuss over PIE,
    Then it’ll be gold for the Tory press

  9. John P Reid says:

    Plus
    Inviting Jenny Tonge to join with her view that Israel. Jewish state shouldn’t have the right to exist,whatever people say about single state solution, many Jews Criticizing the excess of self defense that Israel does,

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