A version of this article also appeared with CounterPunch.
We knew this would happen. After UK Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election for June 8th, it was inevitable that opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn would rise to the challenge. It was also expected that the media would also step up to defame him. And so it begins.
Corbyn is “angry”. His politics are “sticking two fingers up” to people with “aspirations” with his “radical” talk of fairness and wealth re-distribution. He also recently went “berserk” during an interview – if “berserk” means to become somewhat irate – and once “lunged” at several reporters, if, of course, to “lunge” means to turn around and look annoyed. To top it all off he’s also a “mutton headed mugwump” who poses an “enormous threat to our country”. Ok then.
These are all crass and at times nonsensical exaggerations from people who should know better. The media is doing itself a complete disservice by resorting to such shameless antics and anyone paying attention can see it. I was lucky enough to interview Corbyn way back before he ascended to the lofty heights of party leader and I think I can vouch for the fact that he doesn’t “go berserk” nor is he in the habit of “sticking two fingers up” and lunging at people who try to talk to him.
Bizarrely, he also isn’t a mugwump, whatever that is, nor is he “muttonheaded”. These outlandish and frankly stupid narratives are not worthy of serious journalism. All the same such defamatory methods persist. Corbyn is somehow a threat and British “journalists” are out to expose that threat.
Yet a threat to what exactly? Surely the current government have been doing a sterling job guiding us out of both economic crisis and the machinations of the European Union? Britain today is a happier, healthier place than when the Conservatives again won power in 2010. Since the referendum last year we’ve been in the process of “taking back control” of our laws and institutions against the predations of Brussels, with a bright future clearly on the cards. Nobody could argue otherwise.
Scratch all that. We can argue otherwise. No matter how often the government may claim the opposite, their pretensions as to having handled either economic crisis or indeed Brexit are illusory. This is the entire purpose behind the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap election. She wants to smash the opposition before they can regain ground whilst simultaneously winning another turn at the reins of power before the inevitable fallout from Brexit hits us full in the face.
Let’s look at some hard facts. Homelessness is still a burning issue, something that not so long ago attracted the ire of UN officials over Britain’s inability to properly house its own population. The National Health Service (NHS) continues to be in crisis. Rising numbers of citizens are having trouble even affording food. Thousands of others have literally died due to benefit cuts. The apparent resurgence in employment opportunities is a smokescreen, one where insecure and temporary jobs are the order of the day.
Internationally things are even worse. Britain’s cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia as it bombs Yemen are a case in point. Abundant arms sales to Israel in its unceasing criminality toward the Palestinians is another. The courts continue to refuse the exiles of the Chagos islands the right to return home, in the process continuing a legacy of injustice going back decades.
Theresa May’s rapprochement with Bahrain, itself another power known for having a less than sterling relationship when it comes to dealing with internal dissent, has also played a part in ensuring Britain’s commitment to an ethical foreign policy is a total sham. It’s not every day that a nation is singled out for “leading the charge” against human rights. Under the Conservatives, Britain has had that honour.
Brexit itself has become a débâcle. After throwing down the gauntlet last year on a referendum on membership of the EU, then Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat. Whilst Cameron resigned to eye up other choice careers, some suffered a harsher fate. Racial hate crimes proliferated across the nation in the wake of the referendum, with a resurgent British nationalism riding in on the success of an increasingly right-wing Euroscepticism. People have been attacked and, in one notorious incident, even killed.
Cameron’s successor is hardly shining here. In fact May’s handling of Brexit has become embarrassing, with the Conservatives alternating between macho posturing (with an ex-minister even banging the drums of war over Gibraltar) and generic indecision. “Brexit means Brexit” we are told, as if somehow repeating yourself in a single sentence entails leadership. The simple fact is that whatever happens next will depend on both negotiations and the agenda of other European powers, primary France and Germany. Given the sequence of events up to the present it seems unlikely that Britain can somehow crash out of the EU without hefty repercussions. The financial fallout is already being felt. Nationalist pontificating isn’t going to change that.
This brings us back to the decision to announce a snap election. Call it paranoia, but if the government is apprehensive of how the Brexit negotiations might turn out, it makes sense they would want an election sooner rather than later. Snatching another term in office now would make more sense than than fighting a losing battle at a future date once the full impact of leaving the EU has been digested by an increasingly divided electorate.
And divided it is. The referendum was won by a markedly narrow majority, something that needs to be kept in mind when weighing both the strength and agendas of the now contending parties. Labour may indeed be behind in the polls (as the press never tire of telling us) but this is not the whole picture.
For one, the resurgence of a notably pro-Europe Scottish National Party (SNP) is proving a headache for the Prime Minister. Despite recent gains for the government in constituencies across both England and Scotland, the possibility of yet another SNP expansion, coupled with the fact that Labour remains, by far, the largest political organisation in the UK, is something the Conservatives will want to tackle now before the going gets tougher. From a purely tactical perspective all this is understandable. A very sudden election thus makes sense.
What is difficult to accept is why both the government and elements of the press continue to distort the facts at hand. Most of us know just how powerful the modern media is. We also know how dishonest, partial and at times outright malicious journalism can prove, even prior to the advent of the epoch of supposed “fake news”. When it comes to Corbyn the British media isn’t messing around, having hurled a deluge of misinformation and blanket hostility in his direction ever since he announced his bid for Labour party leadership in 2015.
This isn’t mere opinion. A 2016 study found that, in the two months after Corbyn became leader of the opposition, some seventy five percent of media coverage in eight newspapers either misrepresented or were openly hostile to Corbyn and his policies. This is not just worrying for the state of British journalism. An effective and balanced press is in fact vital for the functioning of any democracy. In that respect this is yet another area where Britain is failing.
Take a recent Daily Mail article as an example. The author, one Jakes Wallis Simons, goes out of his way to attack Corbyn for, you guessed it, anti-Semitism, seeming to think he’s making a point by noticing Corbyn’s long standing support for the Palestinians. This is an old and downright lazy tactic, one where criticism of the state of Israel is bizarrely equated with hatred towards any and all Jews; a perspective that falls apart the moment one realises that many Jews support the Palestinian cause.
Things don’t get any better for Simons when you realise that most of his article depends upon attacking Corbyn for having met with people who may, presumably, be anti-Semitic. In fact the entire piece revolves around assuming Corbyn is guilty by merely coming into contact with certain individuals that Simons considers to be suspect. There is nothing concrete in his method, and after reading his piece you are left with the distinct impression that Simon’s simply objects to the notion of a free Palestine just as much as he’s offended by a sixty-something year old Labour politician. If he can attack the two of them then he’ll go for it. He’s partisan, in other words.
This particular tactic has been tried before. Back in 2015, Simon’s again set to work attempting to imply that Corbyn was friends with an alleged holocaust denier, one Paul Eisen. The proof? The two men apparently came into physical proximity on account of them attending the same meetings. These were hardly conferences of the far-right; a setting where Corbyn would be about as popular as bubonic plague. Instead, one particular event involved a talk on the Deir Yassin massacre, itself a particularly brutal episode in the Al Nakba where Israeli forces murdered a large number of Palestinian civilians, children included.
The group organising this event, “Deir Yassin Remembered” was apparently founded by Eisen, although Corbyn, not being telepathic, was unaware as to his politics at the time. Corbyn has subsequently been quite open about this issue and made no secret of his opinion on the holocaust, regarding it as “the most vile part of our history”. So much for denial.
A few points also seem to have escaped Simon’s notice. Given his decades-long commitment to Palestine, Corbyn would naturally be interested in the events of Al Nakba and the current situation in the Middle East in general. There is nothing unusual about that. What is strange is why some would feel he’s responsible for whoever else shows an interest in such matters, or why their politics would necessarily reflect on him.
While it may be logical in some instances to take note of the company a person keeps, when you’re dealing with a political figure who has met literally thousands of people, from anti-war activists to pensioners, over the course of their career, it makes little sense to assume they have something in common with anyone and everyone who crosses their path. Unless, of course, you have an agenda.
It doesn’t end there. Hatred towards Corbyn and a potential resurgence of pro-Palestinian activism in Britain expands way beyond the pages of such prestigious titles as the Daily Mail. Staff at Israel’s London embassy were recently caught out targeting multiple members of Parliament for a potential campaign of defamation aimed at ruining their careers. Unsurprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn also appears to have been targeted. The response from the government was minimal, with the Prime Minister soon considering the matter “closed”.
The press, after giving the affair some attention, also soon found more important things to do, with the aforementioned cases of Corbyn going “berserk”, “lunging” at reporters and being generically unpleasant soon rising to prominence. Interference by a foreign power in the UK’s domestic affairs was apparently not as newsworthy as good old fashioned character assassination. The legendary standards of British journalism had once again carried the day.
A few things are more than clear. Even with the help of an increasingly unprofessional media, the government will still have a fight on their hands come June. Whilst Labour’s chances currently don’t look too rosy, they still might be able to cause serious fractures in the politics of a government that continues to fail to perform, economically, politically and indeed ethically.
Whereas Theresa May perhaps thinks she’s played a good hand in surprising us all with an early election, the repercussions of a mishandled Brexit will be the responsibility of her government and her government alone. Couple that with ongoing policy débâcles, from housing to health care and foreign affairs, the government’s position may not be as strong as some might think. It’s still a few weeks until election day. Even in the face of yet another deluge of media bias, those committed to a different form of politics could yet surprise us all.
Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international affairs. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both human rights and global politics. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at @DanielTRead.