Monday, 7 May 2018

Media coverage of local election results shows anti Corbyn obsession has reached fake news proportions

Tired  but elated I returned home from the Redbridge local election count on Friday morning. Wanstead Village had returned three Labour councillors – of which I was one - for the first time. The two incumbent Labour councillors in neighbouring Wanstead Park had also been returned, thereby turning Wanstead, the former constituency of Winston Churchill, red for the first time.

It has been a thrilling night at the Redbridge count, with Labour making 15 gains, reducing the Tories to just 12 members of a 63 strong council – a trouncing indeed.

Imagine then my amazement to return home, turn on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to hear the night being portrayed as a disaster for Labour. The first voice I heard was disgruntled Labour Mp, Chuka Umunna calling for an NEC inquiry into the disaster that was the local elections.

The media narrative rumbled on in similar vein. Failure to win overall control of the London boroughs of Barnet and Wandsworth was taken as defining the whole Labour campaign.

Headlines on the days that followed the election results, declared that “peak Corbyn” had been passed, going onto predict, it would all be downhill from here.

A front page of the Times carried the negative narrative based in the main on unnamed sources.

The Corbyn naysayers were once again out in force, being given free rein across the airwaves and newspaper columns to attack the Labour leadership.

It took Labour MP and shadow spokesperson on International Development Barry Gardiner to introduce some semblance of reality, pointing out on Peston  that Labour had won 2,350 seats, up 77, the Tories had won 1,332 seats, down 33, the Liberal Democrats won 536 seats, up 75, whilst UKIP held just three seats - down 123 seats.

An objective observer might have thought that Labour gains, a Liberal Democrat revival and the wipe out of UKIP was the story, not a manufactured narrative that it was all a disaster for Corbyn’s Labour – an account no doubt concocted long before a vote was cast.

What is evident from the coverage of Corbyn and Labour is that there is a whole new brand of fake news underway.

The amount of exposure given to Corbyn critics is extraordinary. There are now a group of what could be called anti-Corbyn correspondents, like Dan Hodges, who has virtually cornered the market since his fall from Labour Party eminence. Another is Mathew D’Ancona, who treats Guardian and Evening Standard readers, to regular anti-Corbyn diatribes. And Tony Blair's old spin doctor Alistair Campbell is never slow to stick the knife in.

The assault on Corbyn really is unprecedented. Labour leaders from whatever part of the party always have a hard time from the media but the assault on Corbyn is surreal at times. There have been the accusations that he was a Czech spy, heavy criticism of his grown up stance in calling for evidence of Russian involvement in the Salisbury events and the effort to personalise the anti-semitism accusations on Corbyn, rather than setting in the context of being a party problem.

The media treads a thin line between truth and lies. The mainstream often veer toward the official side of things, siding with the establishment to such a degree in many cases that they become virtual propagandists. Truth telling and holding elected people and institutions to account is often in short supply, though, it is what the public expects from the media.

Too much propaganda leads to discreditation in the long run, which translates in the end to people not buying those news products. It is usually at this point that owners wake up to what is going on. When the bottom line is hit, things have to change.

It seems no coincidence that newspapers and other media sources have plummeted in popularity over recent years, as they have increasingly moved away from the people toward creating the self-serving narratives of a small elite. There is a growing disconnect with more and more people.

The personalised attacks on Corbyn and the Labour leadership need to stop. Politics is about how the country is run, it really is too important to be reduced to the genre of an episode of X-factor. Let’s get rid of the witch hunts, the ludicrous allegations and personal denigration and get back to things that really effect the lives of UK citizen.

*Published in Morning Star - 7/5/2018 - The media treads a thin line between truth and lies

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