On Friday, I went to hear a still impassioned 89 year old John Berger at the British library, talking about painting and politics. I remembered a quote from him that I’d copied into a notebook: “Today the discredit of words is very great. Most of the time the media transmit lies,” a quote that might form a fitting coda to a week of Jeremy Corbyn coverage.
Let's start with the New Statesman. Their political editor describes Corbyn stepping up to PMQ with the "confidence of an ideologue", except it's difficult to see how this ‘ideologue confidence’ differs from the confidence of a long-standing member of parliament, or someone with an emphatic party majority. Similarly, The Times refers to Corbyn's ‘Chairmen Mao Style bicycle’, except it's difficult to see any empirical difference between this and, well, a bicycle. The Sun devote a full page to claiming that Corbyn is accepting a Privy Council invite in order to 'grab' the 6.5 million Short money available to opposition parties, except the short money isn’t related to membership of the privy council at all, and Corbyn states that he hadn’t been invited to join at that point in any case .The Metro says that Corbyn has done a 'u-turn' in appointing women to the cabinet, except he'd always promised a cabinet that was 50% women, and delivered just that. In fact this is the highest percentage of women ever in a shadow cabinet. Nonetheless, the “Does Corbyn have a women problem” is a headline replicated across the BBC, Telegraph and New Statesman. The meme was planted before the leadership result with the “women only carriages” farce. A Guardian pundit ridiculed Corbyn's foray into “policymaking, ” and others condemned this ‘policy proposal’, except it never was, in any shape or form, a policy proposal, as a cursory moment’s googling would reveal. Then of course a “fury” over Corbyn not singing “God save the Queen”, and how this was disrespectful and unpatriotic, except: 1. It’s difficult to see where this ‘fury’ existed outside the press and MP clucking company; 2. that singing a song promising to serve a hereditary monarch has nothing to do with democracy or the defence of it, nor with the RAF or Army 3. That in a modern democracy that supports freedom of belief, conscience and expression, this non-singing should also be a non-event. Later on Channel 4 Corbyn is asked by Jon Snow if he loves his country, except this question rests on the non–sequitur that love of a modern democratic country and love of the hereditary monarch is the same thing, and C4 clearly lacks the courage to depart from the script.
All of the stories above, a random spillage from the back of a lorryload, if put before a court of law or a court of reason, would fall apart and be thrown on the dung heap. Over and again, we are dealing with falsifications, misrepresentations, non-sequiturs, supposition, speculation, and irregular facts forced into pre-existent holes. We are also dealing with the press as a chorus to a spectacle engineered largely by themselves.
The situation is now pre-emptive of parody. The latest headline concerns Corbyn’s ‘snub’ to the national rugby team – not attending yesterday’s match due to pre-existing constituency commitments. Again, the assumption is that carrying out his democratic mandate – the very stuff of our national political system- is less important, less ‘nationally’ important, than an empty symbolic ritual. Had Corbyn gone to the match, as several tweeters pointed out, headlines would have doubtless been something like “Corbyn gets a free ride to Rugby match, neglecting constituents”. There is something like a headline generator algorithm here, guaranteeing that two different Corbyn behaviours will always add up to the same negative result. So, the unprecedented 50% gender parity obstacle is sidestepped by insisting that only the 3 “top jobs” as designated by historical convention actually matter, thereby producing ‘sexism’ as the reigning meme. Where opposites always add up to the same negative spin we can only be dealing with a pre-existing intention to destroy. We are dealing, in actual fact, with propaganda.
Various pundits urge Corbyn to employ a PR man. (Again, the headlines can be predicted: “Honest”Corbyn brings in Spin doctor.”) Not singing the national anthem, they opine, was “bad politics”, where “politics” has collapsed into spinnability and media take-up. Undone top buttons and mismatched clothes, or sleeping with someone in the 70’s are likewise, it seems “bad politics”, Except they’re not “politics” at all. Politics proper takes place elsewhere, in the immiseration of the poor, the selling of national assets, the distribution of wealth and power and their concentration in non-elected hands.
How politics proper will be rediscovered is open to debate. Perhaps it’s foolishly optimistic to think that the dominion of the mainstream press is shrinking, as people talk to their fellow citizens online as never before, and disseminate, at speed, fact-checks and counter arguments; foolishly optimistic to observe just how quickly the anti-Corbyn nonsense and directives have been countermanded and corrected, to hear the clamour and range of opposition beyond the media spectacle, and to sense that a growing community is out there that wil not be drowned by the deluge of crap.