Tom Barlow, co-founder of Real Media, talks about how Britain’s June 8 general election race is tightening between Labour and Tories and how the mainstream British media is losing credibility in the process
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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May were on British Sky News and Channel Four for what may be the closest thing to a debate before the snap election that will take place on June 8th. Here are some of the exchanges from the live audience and the host of the BBC News Night show, Jeremy Paxman and the candidates. JEREMY PAXMAN: Now, you had a manifesto commitment which said there would be a cap on the cost of social care. Then, your latest manifesto dropped that. Now, for clarification, the Health Secretary said there will be no cap, and four days later, you said there will be a cap. THERESA MAY: We had what Jeremy Hunt was talking about and what we referred to in our manifesto was the specific proposal, this proposal was put forward by Andrew Dilnot a few years ago when he was asked by government to look at the social care issue. Audience Member: Why have you made it impossible for me to vote Labour in this election with your ruthless, short-sighted policies such as 26% corporation tax, the abolishment of zero-hour contracts, £10 per hour minimum wage, and now, you want to put VAT on my children’s school fees? JEREMY CORBYN: Corporation tax was 28% in 2010. This government has reduced it, the proposal is to reduce it further. We’re gonna put it back up to 26%. And why are we doing that? Because, this country is badly divided between the richest and the poorest. You put corporate tax and tax at the top end down, the division gets greater. Are you happy that so many of our children are going to school with super-sized classes? So many of our children are going to school hungry. Are you happy when there’s so many people waiting for hospital operations? A million waiting for social care. You don’t address these problems by ignoring them. JEREMY PAXMAN: Can I ask you, explicitly, unambiguously: what will the cap be? THERESA MAY: I’ve … well, as I’ve just answered, I’m not going to give you a different answer from the one I’ve given Faisal. It’s not about not knowing, Jeremy, it’s about thinking what- JEREMY PAXMAN: You don’t know, do you? THERESA MAY: -It’s about thinking what the right approach is to get to that figure- JEREMY PAXMAN: But you don’t know! SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to discuss the live, non-debate of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May is Thomas Barlow. Thomas has worked as a community organizer and activist, and he’s the senior editor and co-founder of the U.K. Independent News Outlet, Real Media. Welcome back, Thomas. THOMAS BARLOW: Hello, good to be back. SHARMINI PERIES: So, Thomas, I understand that Theresa May had just refused to debate Corbyn face-to-face. So, how did this type of questioning from the audience and being questioned by Paxman actually work out in terms of the viewers watching who are trying to make a decision? THOMAS BARLOW: Well, I’m not entirely sure whether the impact is anything very much, you know, it was a mostly dry affair although the audience added a bit of flavor to it. I think Jeremy Corbyn’s been campaigning for two years now and handled everything that was thrown at him really well. He’s quite used to these questions, now. And even though the media was kind of not doing its job by asking kind of ridiculous questions about Ireland and so forth, it’s what people wanted to hear about. And he came back with very solid answers. He won’t have probably convinced many new people, but there will be a few people on the fence who’re like, “Yeah, I understand he was interested in the peace process, not like, a supporter of the IRA or anything like that, he was just trying to help bring peace during 1996, ’97 to that area of the world,” and so forth, things like that. The only place, really, Theresa May … she … slipped up, or well, she was put into a corner and it will have changed some voter’s minds, is where Jeremy Paxman’s pointed out that she’s U-turned on a couple of policies very quickly, including one, a key campaign pledge in the manifesto, within three days, she U-turned on it. She’s U-turned on a couple of other things almost immediately. Her premiership has actually been very weak, very shaky in that regard, that she’s not committed to go through with things and, while some of us might like politicians who change their minds, what was pointed out is that, if you’re going to go to Brexit negotiations with a very hard line, a very tough position, and then turn around, people in Brussels are gonna be looking at that and thinking, “You’re a blowhard who changes your mind very quickly and collapses under pressure.” And I think that was probably a reasonable point that’s gonna be made to a lot of people who have been looking at Theresa May as a strong, capable leader for the Brexit negotiations and thinking, “Actually, maybe she’s not strong; maybe she’s not capable of negotiating,” because she doesn’t seem to have control over her own ideas or manifesto at this point. By the way, news just in: there’s going to be a debate tonight; it’s going to be with the minor parties only. Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to join in that debate and has challenged Theresa May to come onto live TV and debate him. And now, she’s put in a difficult position where she’s either going to U-turn again and look like someone who always changes her mind, or she’s gonna look like a coward who refuses to debate publicly the rest of the political establishment, political parties in this election. So, she’s been painted into a corner and that’s been quite an interesting and, I think, quite successful technique and tactic by Jeremy Corbyn in this late stage. SHARMINI PERIES: And what was the reaction of the British press from Monday’s election? I know Corbyn’s been getting a terrible rap on the part of the mainstream networks there. So, how were these sessions taken up by the British press? THOMAS BARLOW: It gets to a point where what the British press says no longer is going to influence the undecided, because they have been so clearly against Jeremy Corbyn from the start, yet his popularity improves every time people hear policies and manifesto pledges. You know, re-nationalizing railways, the energy sector. You know, people ask why does the French state own a quarter of our energy and it’s making money for the French people, but we can’t own it? These things that Conservatives are never gonna address. And so the press reaction was largely, actually, half the papers: The Daily Mail, The Express, The Metro, they didn’t even run front pages on it. It was largely of indifference. Some of them tried to make it seem like there’s something interesting going on … Theresa May had reaffirmed her pledge to be strong on Europe and so forth, but to be honest it was pretty indifferent and confused at best, the media reaction. I don’t think it will shape public opinion very much. SHARMINI PERIES: Thomas, you just mentioned that the smaller parties will be participating in the next debate with the other parties and Jeremy Corbyn, whether Theresa May attends or not. What is the significance of having these smaller parties, and why are they a part of the larger political arena in the UK? THOMAS BARLOW: It’s been very interesting living in the UK over the past decade. Smaller parties have become significant in the political landscape. The Liberal Democrats, for instance, actually got only 2 percentage less of votes than the Labour Party in the 2010 elections, despite only getting a third of the seats of the Labour Party or even less. So, the Liberal Democrats had a significant impact on the elections. UKIP had, as well. They are all starting to fade, actually. Brexit has had, for some reason has taken us back to a two-party system. We do have an area-by-area voting, similar to the U.S. congressional system, so it’s not very easy for smaller parties to break through like it would be in proportion to representation. But it’s not just that. UKIP is under new leadership, chaotic leadership, which has the leader, Paul Nuttall, been caught openly lying, not only about political things but things like, he was at the Hillsborough disaster and so forth. Now, people have been mocking up pictures of him doing the moon landing; his lies have been so outrageous that he’s sort of taken UKIP to a place where it is no longer politically relevant. The Greens have been doing a lot of deals with Labour at a local level and supporting Labour just this one time because the danger they see the Conservatives pose to the national politics. In the smaller nations in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, national politics are still playing out as before, so there’s Plaid Cymru, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists and they make up a significant part of the political discussion there, but they still make up a small proportion of the overall British population. And the Liberal Democrats have not only shot themselves in the foot by going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 and then U-turning on everything that they promised almost immediately with absolutely no regrets or no apologies, but then also coming into this election, they said, we are the party who is against Brexit but also we will refuse to work with Labour in a coalition government. They’ve essentially committed themselves to only working with the Conservatives in a coalition government. So, any progressive support that Liberal Democrats might have got, they’ve lost because they’ve committed to working only with Conservatives and not with Labour who would be more natural progressive allies. So that’s the state of the small parties in the U.K. They did make up a very significant part of the U.K. discussion but now their impact maybe is decreasing and what we’re seeing is a return to the old two-party politics of Labour versus Conservative. SHARMINI PERIES: All right. I thank you so much for joining us, Thomas, and let’s do a part two on foreign policy. THOMAS BARLOW: Thank you. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.