Columnists and journalists are contributing their part to the effort to marginalize Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK’s Labour Party explains Prof. Leo Panitch of York University
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
I’m speaking with Leo Panitch. This is segment two of a conversation we’ve been having about the Labour Party in the UK and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and how he’s being covered in the media is the topic of this segment. While the fight within the Labour Party continues between Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters on one side and Corbyn’s opponents on the other side, the British media seems to be taking a very clear side against Jeremy Corbyn. Just recently, for example, one of The Guardian’s main progressive columnists, Nick Cohen, launched a scathing attack against Corbyn.
Now joining me to analyze some of this media coverage of the Labour Party is Leo Panitch. Leo is a senior scholar and a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at York University. He’s the editor of the most recently released issue of the Socialist Register for 2018, titled “Rethinking Democracy.” And he is also a regular guest here on The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us today, Leo.
LEO PANITCH: Back again, Sharmini. Glad to be here.
SHARMINI PERIES: Leo, just a few days ago, Nick Cohen wrote a broadside against Corbyn and his supporters. Tell us what this is all about and who is Nick Cohen?
LEO PANITCH: Nick Cohen used to be a quite left-wing columnist. He’s moved increasingly towards the center over the years. And this particular scurrilous column was more comprehensively McCarthyite than anything I can remember in The Guardian for a long time. And that’s saying a lot because although a lot of progressive people read The Guardian online, as well as in print as their newspaper of record, as their journalistic bible. It has always, going back to the 1970s when there was an initial attempt that Corbyn grew up with, an attempt to bring the party back to being a democratic socialist vehicle, one that would have provided an alternative to neoliberalism had it succeeded. The Guardian played a very unfortunate role in opposing it as representing the moderate wing of the establishment, if you like. When Corbyn came back spearheading a new attempt to do this in the new environment of the crisis of neoliberalism, The Guardian played the same role.
Now, the British press is particularly scurrilous in its treatment of the democratic left. You expect this of The Daily Telegraph, of the Daily Mail, et cetera. But when The Guardian plays this role, it can have a very, very debilitating effect on the left itself. And it has played this role in relation to Corbyn and people have noticed this on social media a lot. It’s been very hostile to Corbyn. In the last two years, every twist and turn inside the Parliamentary Labour Party on the part of those who are trying to get rid of Corbyn despite his overwhelming election by the membership, his great success in bringing new members in, those people would leak to Guardian journalists all kinds of distasteful and unfortunate stuff about divisions, about Corbyn’s incompetence, et cetera.
Now that Corbyn not only proved by getting re-elected as Labour Party leader but did so well in the election, that’s been harder to do at one level. And it was quiet for a while, and The Guardian even looked like it was coming on board for a while. But what has happened in the last few weeks is that the close connection that these establishment politicians, even if they’re at a local level, local councillors, career politicians, have with these journalists on the left and they do form part of a club together. They’re known to be interfaced with one another in a very close way.
They have begun playing the kind of role they played back in the 1970s and early ’80s against Tony Benn. It was particularly scandalous in the early ’80s when this was done in relation to a gay, left-wing politician, Peter Tatchell, and all kinds of vilification was heaped upon his head to the point that Michael Foot tried to get him deselected as a Labour Party candidate.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now-
LEO PANITCH: It’s being repeated now in these conflicts within the party over the nomination of a Labour MP in Watford and over the councillors that I mentioned in Haringey. But it became the occasion for Nick Cohen to, in the most bizarre way, accuse on the one hand many members of Corbyn’s team as being Stalinist communists and on the other associate them with the kind of thing they’re usually accused of not being sympathetic enough to. To the identity politics activists in the GBLT community or the Black movement, et cetera, most of whom are very pro-Corbyn, and associating them with intolerance in the name of those communities.
The extent to which that vilification went really raised hackles on the part of many people. It sounded very much like the kind of media on the right that we’re getting in the Trump era. And one fears that we’re seeing the demise of liberalism in this crisis of neoliberalism in the media.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Leo, to what extent is this replicated in the broader British media? One of those examples we had concurred about here is that Corbyn winning the international MacBride Peace Prize was almost completely ignored by the British media. Is the media in Britain actively trying to undermine Corbyn as a whole?
LEO PANITCH: Oh, of course. I mean, this is really a fact and no one would deny it. Certainly on the part of the right-wing press that I spoke of. But there’s loads of evidence done by communications and media scholars on the extent to which the BBC itself has since Corbyn’s emergence has been extremely biased against him. Not only in terms of the amount of coverage that is directed of a negative kind at him, but in terms of ignoring what should be mainstream news when something like this happens for a party leader. So, the example that you just gave of Corbyn winning this peace prize, making this remarkable, really impressive speech at the United Nations in Geneva, that that should simply be ignored is indeed something to be noted.
I would point out, Sharmini, that what was apart from the brilliant way in which he pledged that Britain’s values under a Labour government led by him would be oriented to progressive activism around climate change, around peace, around ending neoliberal austerity in a cooperative internationalist way with other states, that he did at the same time remind his listeners that Salvador Allende, a democratic, newly-elected elector of Chile in the early 1970s, was overthrown by a military coup. And in making that inexplicit comment, one has to think that he was saying something implicitly about the dangers that could emerge, even in the United Kingdom. The fact that that would be ignored by the British media is a symptom of what we’re talking about.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Leo. I thank you so much for joining us today. We’re going to be covering this moving forward. There was some speculation that the next elections in the UK, the general elections might be coming sooner than later. It’s not formally scheduled to take place until or before the 2022 but there’s some talk that it might be forthcoming, that Corbyn might have another go at the prime-ministership. Do you think that’s likely to happen?
LEO PANITCH: It will. I don’t know that it’s likely. On the other hand, it could lead to Tories clinging together with this very right-wing, Northern Ireland little party that’s keeping them in the majority in order not to have to face Jeremy Corbyn in an election which they would likely lose. So, it’s hard to know. And I must say, and this would be the topic of a good conversation between us since you always ask such good questions, is it something that we would want? Or that Corbyn or the Labour Party people should want there to be an election sooner than later insofar as, and here the question of Greece and Syriza does come very much to mind, insofar as the Labour Party is not yet ready to take on the tremendous task of implementing its policies in a British state which is organized and structured to be hostile to it, in the face of a media that would be overwhelmingly negative to it.
So, is the party changed enough to be an agency of not just making demands of a progressive kind but an agency that actually knows what to do when it gets inside the state and that is capable of mobilizing and educating people so that an alternative policy can actually be introduced? “Do we need more time?” is a very, very big and difficult question.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Leo, I look forward to that conversation and thank you for joining us today.
LEO PANITCH: So long, Sharmini. Be well.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.