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The media’s depiction of the party opposition to Corbyn as ‘centrist’ is a cover for how right-wing it actually is, says economist John Weeks

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Last Saturday Britain’s Labor Party announced the results of its leadership vote and Jeremy Corbyn easily won reelection with 61.8% of the vote. The results were 2.3 points higher than when he was first elected to lead the party last year. Corbyn had to fend off a leadership challenge when Labor Party members of parliament overwhelmingly voted against him 172-40 in a no confidence vote a few months ago just after the Brexit vote. Corbyn now faces the daunting task of uniting the party and of preparing it for a national election that could be held anytime between 2017 and 2020. He’s what Corbyn had to say after the results were announced. JEREMY CORBYN: I will do everything I can to repay the trust and the support to bring our party together, to make it an engine of progress for our country and the people that depend on the Labor Party to protect their interests and win power to deliver real change in this country. PERIES: Joining us now from London is John Weeks. John is professor emeritus of the University of London and author of the book The Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality, and Distorts Policy. Thank you for joining us today John. JOHN WEEKS: Thank you for having me again. PERIES: So John, even though Corbyn won reelection with a solid majority, the opposition to him within the party, the more centrist wing of the Labor Party, mainly the elected party MP’s are fierce. So how is he going to reunite the party? WEEKS: Yes, that is the crucial issue and the term you used, the centrist wing is quite appropriate because that is a term that the mainstream press is using because the mainstream press is opposed to Jeremy Corbyn and they want to portray his opponent in as favorable light as possible. So they don’t want to refer to the right wing of the Labor Party so they refer to the centrist. Some of them are centrist but they’re also some quite right wing Labor members. So how is Jeremy Corbyn now going to go about uniting the party? And I should say that what that may really means is neutralizing the opposition that he is receiving from the other members of parliament of the Labor Party. Overwhelmingly the membership of the Labor Party supports him. We know that as you pointed out. He got 62% of the vote and previously he got almost 60% of the vote so there’s no question that he is the most popular leader in a very long time among the party members. The question is how is he going to neutralize or convert the Labor members of parliament, 80% of whom voted for him to resign. It appears that some of that 80% were people who were convinced to oppose Corbyn by the argument that if there’s an election then they will lose their seats. So they were brought over on the grounds that raw terror you might say that they will lose their seats. But still I would say there are certainly over half of the Labor Parliamentarians who are bitterly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn. They are bitterly opposed to him because they became parliamentarians in a neoliberal period. They do not support social democratic policies. They do not support an aggressive and larger role for government regulations, government expenditure, and government oversight. And so it’s not so much that they dislike Corbyn as a person, I’m sure they do not. It’s that they do not like his policies. Your followers on the Real News might think what would happen if Bernie Sanders had won the democratic nomination, he would’ve become president and he were to introduce a bill to severely regulate the banks, how many democrats in the senate and the house would support him? I would say not very many. Well, Jeremy Corbyn faces the same problem. PERIES: Now in terms of what is going on in the political discourse in the UK, the media has joined as you correctly point out, terms like centrist and as well as they have just been covering Jeremy Corbyn as if he’s not a fit leader to lead the party and win the election. So first of all how do the party and now Jeremy Corbyn plan to deal with the media because that really needs a strategy. Secondly, is he a fit leader? Because some of the progressive elements in the UK are saying he doesn’t have a very organized campaign here. WEEKS: On the first part, the media and I’d say there’s some hints that the most progressives are least reactionary depending on how you look at it. Newspaper in Britain, the Guardian, has perhaps shifted a little bit to be less critical of Jeremy Corbyn. Over the weekend in its Sunday edition which is called the observer, it had a relatively sympathetic article on the shadow chancellor John McDonald and it had a short but somewhat sympathetic article on Jeremy Corbyn. However, the fact remains that the media, both the print media and television are overwhelmingly against Corbyn. That would include the BBC, the interviews are quite critical even though it is owned by the government or perhaps because it is owned by the government. So how are they going to deal with that? Well in the past both Corbyn and his right hand many John McDonald who is Shadow Chancellor have said they’re going to work through the alternative media which means things like the Real News. It is unfortunately the case that in Britian there is no equivalent of the Real News except the Real News itself which of course has quite a few followers particularly in London. But in the country, there’s no equivalent to that. So it’s all very well to say we’re going to work through social media and Corbyn and his followers and his supporters do work through social media but as you know better than I, that is not the same thing as having a Fox News that’s behind you. Most people do they may follow social media but they also follow the mainstream media and you have it all against you, you have a very steep hill to climb. On the other part what you’d ask criticism of Corbyn not running a very good campaign or not being a very good, not being leadership material. I think to be honest Corbyn and his team over the last year have made a lot of mistakes. They have not been very good in their media management and John McDonald, the Shadow Chancellor, has said that they did make mistakes, they have been handling the media badly and they have to improve on that because a message that is coming across is not very clear. Not coming across very clearly I should say. In addition to that, there has been some rather not very wise things done in terms of political tactics. For example, several weeks ago, John McDonald suggested the opposition MPs ought to leave the Labor Party or they might be deselected from their constituencies. While I can certainly understand why he said that and he might even have it in mind, it’s not very constructive at this point to do things like that. PERIES: And then about the point, the second part of my question that is about the criticism of Jeremy Corbyn in the mainstream press is that his campaign is very disorganized and not planned very well and this is a point of reference in terms of them saying he would not make a good leader. What are your comments about that? WEEKS: I think that there’s some truth in that. However, I think that people have to remember particularly those who are viewing the contest from a far and not just picking up snippets of news, that 15 months ago Jeremy Corbyn was a relatively obscure MP that no one even on the left ever dreamed would be leading the party. So most people that come to lead a party have gone through a preparatory process and they’re sort of groomed for it and they’ve been laying the groundwork for it and planning and conspiring if you will. Jeremy Corbyn literally came out of nowhere and I think that certainly John McDonald has said and I think Jeremy Corbyn as a leader too–they were rather disorganized. Now that he has won, the second time overwhelmingly I think that his strong supporters, I would consider myself a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, will be looking at him much more I won’t say critically but expecting a level of confidence and engagement with the political system and engagement with the government which is a considerable improvement on that, we observed over the last year. PERIES: Alright John so much more to talk about. About your earlier point about using all alternative media sources and so forth, our senior editor and CEO Paul Jay will actually be in London next week and perhaps those who are watching are interested in establishing a Real News London Bureau should contact our office at contact at the WEEKS: Well that’s very good news to hear. PERIES: John I thank you so much for joining us and hope you’re back very soon because this story isn’t going away. Thank you. WEEKS: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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John Weeks is Professor Emeritus and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Policy and Research, and Research on Money and Finance Group at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.