Media attacks on the Labour leader as some Marxist Messiah are part of a concerted campaign to attack the personality, not the policies, argues SOLOMON HUGHES
IT’S a switch. For two years the media told us that everybody hated Jeremy Corbyn.
Now, after winning two leadership elections and improving Labour’s position in the general election, some of his critics have decided he is too popular.
Corbyn got a lot of votes. People are singing his name to the tune of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. So that is bad, too.
In June David Blunkett said that Corbyn evoked a “cult of the personality.” Then a Telegraph commentator announced: “Jeremy Corbyn is developing a cult of personality. That is terrifying.”
“For those of us who have not been seduced by the rabbity face of the great new patriarch of the left Jeremy Corbyn, nor by his cronies, the atmosphere in this country since June 8 has been decidedly uncomfortable,” the Telegraph fulminated, because “we don’t like mobs, we distrust leaders who inspire chants and rallies and we despise T-shirts, banners, stickers and mugs with parliamentary party bosses’ faces on them.”
This ignores the fantastic hero worship of Thatcher on the Tory right — an unfortunate fantasy that involved calling her “Mummy.” Or the passion for Blair among some ageing “modernisers,” who like the old “new Labour.” That’s a passion untarnished by all his policies — Iraq War, PFI, student loans — going tits-up.
But Thatcher only got her name chanted in that short popular poem “Maggie Maggie Maggie /Out Out Out,” while wannabe rock star Blair never wowed Glastonbury crowds.
So, something is going on.
Part of the reason for that is that so much official politics already takes place at the level of personality.
For two years we have seen Corbyn character assassination. The press have tried picking on his personality, not his politics.
A week before the election, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland had a big column with the headline: “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown.”
Even in the supposedly Labour-friendly, constructive , policy-oriented Guardian, the attack was all about personality.
Freedland’s column was based on a focus group organised for him by Edelman, the lobbying firm that represents companies like Rupert Murdoch’s News UK.
Freedland looked at the “hard-pressed Labour voters on middling to modest incomes” assembled by Murdoch’s mates through a two-way mirror. He reported all the things they said about Corbyn’s character — a “dope,” “living in the past,” “a joke,” “looking as if he knows less about it than I do.”
This focus on “character“ is typical of the press. Before the election Corbyn was called “about as effective at getting things done as Mr Bean having a nervous breakdown” and a man who “looks like Albert Steptoe,” by the Mirror’s Susie Boniface.
He’s the “dreary bearded fellow who takes pictures of manhole covers as a hobby, doesn’t drink alcohol or eat meat and wears shorts teamed with long dark socks… Eauw,” according to the Telegraph’s Allison Pearson, while in the Guardian Matthew D’Ancona called him a “laundry bag with a beard.”
He rode a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle,” according to The Times and for the Express he was “a neurotic, thin-skinned zealot whose petulance shines through when he is confronted with tough questions.”
Why do the newspapers make their attacks so much about character? Clearly it isn’t because they are any good at judging it. The same papers calling Corbyn a bumbling incompetent said that Theresa May was a “safe pair of hands.” Both judgements were wildly wrong.