Sunday 1 April 2018

The Cloying Desperation of the Tory Press

Like many people, I'm a member of some Facebook groups. These include the recently famous We Support Jeremy Corbyn, a gathering of some 69,000 users and the subject of a double Sunday Times and BBC News splash. Riddle me this. Because some people have posted on there comments ranging from the unconscious to the overtly anti-semitic, and despite their being challenged for doing so, does that make me an anti-Jewish racist as well? As it happens, I'm also a member of another group going by the name of British Politics. It's something of a cesspit, as well as a magnet for white supremacists, racists and Islamophobes. Does that mean I hate Muslims? And then many years ago, my mates and I used to regularly frequent a pub that was the known haunt of local BNP activists (this was before their suited-not-booted makeover under Nick Griffin). Does that mean I'm fash?

We can all play this stupid, silly guilt-by-association game, and deploying it to attack Jeremy Corbyn is a cloyingly desperate move. If this was such a massive big deal in the public interest, which is what the hacks would claim (among whom is the celebrated "Shippers"), then why have Murdoch's scribbling little helpers sat on it until it could be deployed for maximum effect? You don't need to be the brain of Britain to realise this is a deliberate political ploy designed to talk up Labour's anti-semitism issues and drive the news agenda for at least another day.

Tim Bale in his The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron makes a useful three-fold characterisation of the Tory party. There is the parliamentary party which, unsurprisingly, comprises the party in Parliament. I.e. The MPs (the action and shenanigans here are the main focus of his history). Then we have the party-in-the-country, or the thinning ranks of the voluntary party. Here are the activists, the members, and anyone daft enough to have ever paid a sub to drink in their local Association bar. And then we have his most important innovation: the party-in-the-media. Here, the small ecology of editorial offices and right wing commentators are considered as much a part of the Tory party as the 1922 Committee. Formally separate, certainly, but thanks to the influence it holds over leading party cadres, it is an organic constituent of it. Therefore expecting the right wing press to give Labour a fair hearing over anything is like supposing the Conservative Party proper ceases politicking for its, well, politics. It behoves the left, especially those tipping toward the centre, to come to grips with what the right wing press is. It is not a conspiracy nor a few bad apples, it's a structural relationship that has persisted over a long period of time, and one marked by special access, off the record briefings, and underpinned by private ownership of the press. This demands we have a media strategy to deal with it, and the nous to acknowledge that on no account should the Labour Party ever consider kowtowing to them.

There is something more than party politics going on here as well. Day after day the power of social media grows and the press are locked in long-term decline without the means to arrest, let alone reverse their crumbling influence. Talking up the dark side of social media, particularly the companies who have eaten into the advertising market at their expense add a few more dirges to the cacophonous mood music that it's all sinister and represents a threat - even if it means trashing the once-fine reputation of your paper. For example, from an aggregate of groups weighing in at 400,000 members (minus a few tens of thousands for overlapping subscriptions, etc.), The Times front page could only rustle up three dodgy examples - after a "two month investigation". That said, there are likely to be more. Why? Because anyone can post in a group. Take all the Corbyn-supporting groups that exist out there. How many posts and comments do you suppose that involves per day? We're talking thousands upon thousands. Search hard enough and you might even find a couple who think Dan Hodges is a great writer, for example.

"Dodgy" Facebook groups are a foil to attack Corbyn in defence of their party and class interests, but raising the pitch on social media abuse and goings-ons is designed to cater for their immediate commercial concerns. We all know how much value was wiped from Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica allegations, which suits the press fine. The more toxic Facebook is, the more likely companies will want to shower their advertising spend on them. Though it is ironic how the comments on articles for The Mail and friends are much worse than anything you'd find in a Corbyn supporting group. For example, even The Times's own Facebook page is, as Dan Hancox puts it, "a shitshow of anti-semitism, Holocaust denial and grim whataboutery". Are they going to do anything about it?

None of this is to minimise what we have to do in Labour. Our party does, after all, operate in the sewer of bourgeois politics and can't help but imbibe the effluent of its surroundings from time to time. But the Tory party, whether in its the formal guise of the present government or the network in command of Britain's most influential opinion-forming machines, when they resort to such desperate measures, you know we have them on the run.


Boffy said...

There is also another reason for them using the Corbyn and social media attack line at this very minute. It is that they know that ahead of the local elections, Corbyn Labour does very well on social media whereas the Labour Right and Tories do very badly. They also know that Corbyn has had a bad habit of buckling under pressure to them - on Republicanism, Trident, and so on - which leaves him looking both guilty and weak.

They wanted to get Shawcroft out and Izzard in, and succeeded. They wanted to get Corbyn off social media, and have succeeded. Corbyn and his supporters have dawdled over taking on the right in the party, and they are paying the cost. They should have moved quickly and decisively against the right in the PLP, Council Chambers and bureaucracy months ago. The Right would and will have no such qualms.

The other reason or rather part of the strategy is the Tories calling of the anti-Semitism debate on April 17th, which shows their confidence that Corbyn will again be thrown on to the defensive. But, why? We know that it is and has always been the Tories and the rest of the establishment that is the cesspit within which anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, xenophobia and bigotry have been bred over the centuries.

It was Churchill who was a renowned anti-Semite, and talked about "the Aryan blood winning out", who wanted to have Gandhi, bound hand and foot, and trampled at the gates of Delhi by a large elephant ridden by the Viceroy, and who proposed using poison gas against Kurdish tribes to spread terror amongst them, and who spoke of his hatred for Indians, and when they were staving due to British policy in 1943, spoke only about the plague working "merrily" to cull the population!

It is the Tory press such as the Mail that supported the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, and supported Mosley. It is the Tory Party that has had a revolving door with fascist groups like the NF and BNP, and so on. As I've linked to in my blog, UNITE have provided a dossier on recent instances of racism and anti-Semitism in the Tory Party.

With half a million LP members, it should not be hard to trawl Tory facebook and other social media activity, to put together a huge amount of material of Tory associations with fascists, racists and anti-Semites before the April 17th debate. Its another reason why the Right are trying to tie Corbyn and his supporters up with playing defence.

But my dad was a good footballer, Captain of the Staffordshire Schoolboys in the 1930's, and he always used to say, "The best form of defence is attack". Time for Jeremy and the half million Labour supporters to go on the attack, there is an open goal in front of us.

Polly Rodwell said...

Superb and I fully agree that it's time to fight back! Strength of character will win out in the end:already even moderates are seeing through the smear campaign

Robert said...

In these days of instant media some people do tweet and retweet lazy anti Semitic tropes without necessarily realising they're doing it.

I confess I couldn't see much wrong with the mural until it was pointed out to me.