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Labour’s media strategy should be unspun but not unravelled

Corbyn media stormLabour has had a difficult week, politically. Though Corbynites will obviously want to support the leadership as far as possible, it is difficult to deny that John McDonnell fell right into the clumsy Osborne trap that was the Fiscal Charter. The Shadow Chancellor’s naïvety on this issue speaks to one criticism that has been levelled at Corbyn and McDonnell: that after a life on the backbenches, they are unprepared for the hard-nosed realities of front-line Westminster politics.

But there is a fairly massive contradiction in these kinds of criticisms. Those who call the Party’s organization a “shambles” and loudly proclaim how poorly it’s being run are the same critics who frequently and furiously predict that the Left will soon embark on a ruthless campaign of deselection, and use dirty tricks to steal the Labour Party from its social democratic roots. These arguments don’t match up. Corbyn and McDonnell can’t have a cunning plan to reshape Labour in their own image at the same as being politically inept.

So much for all the shouting from the Right. But there is a tension to be resolved for supporters of the leadership, as well. Corbyn’s success in the Labour leadership election and any electoral success he might achieve in 2020 are based on “straight-talking, honest politics”. Corbyn is unspun, not media-trained, and endearingly authentic. The Right has been forced to accept the narrative that Corbyn ‘says what he means, and means what he says’, because it is so obviously true.

Ultimately, this results in Corbyn’s appeal to the growing anti-political vote. There is an increasing number of people across the UK who are so disillusioned with the state of British politics that anything deviating from the norm is exciting. This explains Corbyn’s popularity with UKIP voters. The question is, does presenting oneself as anti-politics necessitate a less than savvy approach to parliamentary politics?

The mockery directed at Andy Burnham during his own leadership campaign revealed the dangers of insincerely presenting an anti-politics image. His repeated claims to be from “outside the Westminster bubble”, and his fevered assertions of Northern identity, were rightly met with ridicule. It is this danger that must be uppermost in Corbyn’s mind if he is considering trying to beat the Tories at their own game.

Owen Jones has been among those calling for the Labour Party to try and replicate the political strategies of the Conservatives. He thinks Labour ministers should repeatedly refer to the cut to tax credits as “the work penalty” when speaking to journalists, staying as vigorously on message as their Tory counterparts. While this is undoubtedly a smart idea, it seems to start Labour down a worrying road, which ends with 15-foot buzzword banners draped from the roof of a train station. This is not to say the idea is a bad one, but just because Labour’s image is unspun, doesn’t mean it can’t unravel.

Seemingly, political trickery was exactly what McDonnell had in mind over the Fiscal Charter. Given his outspoken opposition to all the principles proposed within it, one can only suppose that the Shadow Chancellor’s initial decision to vote for it was an attempt to counter Osborne’s political game-playing with a game of his own.

Those who want to put McDonnell’s U-turn to incompetence rather than an attempt at political trickery haven’t been paying attention to his career so far. His most prominent previous rôle in the Labour Party was alongside Ken Livingstone in the GLC, and it was from this organization that he was dismissed by Livingstone after attempting to align the authority with the rate-capping rebellion in 1985.

Perhaps it is this (however tenuous) connection between McDonnell and Militant, the Troskyist group that kept figures of the Labour Right like Roy Hattersley up at night, that has so exercised those now on the right of the Party. Luke Akehurst, a prominent voice within the Blairite wing, has led the charge against the newly-formed group Momentum, and there are immediate parallels to be drawn with the general reaction to Militant. Akehurst, who once compared Corbyn supporters to ISIS, has been appearing in BBC studios and popping up on Twitter decrying the formation of this new movement.

Though the Right wants to react to Momentum in the same way as Militant, they couldn’t be more different. Militant was unashamedly Trotskyist, and advocated policies that horrified the Labour mainstream like the nationalization of over 200 companies in Britain. Momentum, on the other hand, will be campaigning initially on tax credits (work penalty, sorry Owen!) and voter registration, hardly difficult issues for Labour ‘moderates’ to cooperate on.

Momentum is not Militant reborn, and there is little appetite in the Labour Left for purges and politicking. McDonnell has shown some signs of wanting to step up to the proverbial plate and duke it out with the conniving Chancellor, but he’ll have to be more careful in future against too-clever-by-half Osborne. He, and the Labour leadership in general, will also have to remember where their power comes from, and not sacrifice their authentic image for points at Westminster.

One Comment

  1. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Jeremy won support by staying on message, in short real Labour policies.

    The problem facing Labour is that New Labour were complicit with the Neo-Liberal agenda, it is therefore unsurprising that they readily align to the Tories and not Labour.

    In truth the Labour Party was highjacked by what people thought was social democracy when in fact it was outright Neo-Liberalism, from the Seventies onwards the Labour hierarchy turned it’s back on Keynes and joined Milton Friedman, although none will admit it.

    We do have a problem from that where most Labour MPs either believe or follow Neo-Liberal doctrine, the deficit whilst fictitious, is something that is not going to be easy to overcome. The deficit can be eradicated at the stroke of the Bank of England’s pen, but whether MPs understand that or whether like Umnna or Cooper have their own political agenda, namely it means when you understand that; you will know the Banks are obsolete and it is the financial sector these politicians are protecting.

    I suspect that Jeremy and John McDonnell know some of modern monetary theory but not completely, and so they should now involve people like professor Bill Mitchell who not only understands the economics, but how the Neo-Liberals frame their language, we need to stop using their terminology and relate directly at what actually happens in the economy.

    The deficit is a lie as interpreted by Neo-Liberals and is just a barometer relating to public expenditure, fundamentally we can pay down the deficit at any time the government chooses.

    Austerity is a dangerous political choice and not a policy necessity. Currently used to asset strip the state.

    Public services including the NHS are being dismantled and privatised by political choice.

    This so called booming economy is bouncing along the bottom of a depression, our feeder industries like steel are making people redundant, again like a barometer telling us the true condition of the economy, which rigged government growth figures are exposed by.

    We have got a serious problem with our Neo-Liberal MPs who hide these facts, which is why they obfuscate and spin, which is also why Labour lost so much support, they were painfully obvious. Back in the 1920s Labour split with radical Liberals to form Labour, that is not an option, but in the final analysis if Neo-Liberal Labour decide they will undermine the party we should be prepared to expel them under bringing the party into disrepute.

    I personally believe ordinary people now understand what the left has been saying for a very long time, that world events are being locked into the vice like grip of Neo-Liberal doctrinaire policies, and therefore more transparent than ever before, those that think they can undermine the common cause, will be left very lonely in the wilderness of previous attempts like the SPD.

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