Context Presumably Isn’t Everything: Misrepresenting Corbyn in Barrow

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September 17, 2015 by James Crossley

Jeremy Corbyn is significant in a place like Barrow-in-Furness for more than the usual reasons. Trident submarines are built in Barrow and Corbyn is against the renewal of Trident. It will be no surprise that the local paper, Evening Mail, will reflect concerns in Barrow and surrounding areas about Trident and employment. However, the latest piece by Louise Allonby goes for much more about Corbyn and brings together most of the recent media attacks. These attacks have been challenged, discredited or answered but not in the Evening Mail piece.

Let’s take Allonby’s article point-by-point:

It’s all very democratic and inclusive apparently, unlike the undemocratic and uninclusive government we had foisted upon us as a result of millions of us openly and democratically giving that government a mandate in May – but that’s an evil, Tory government, Comrade Corbyn and his cronies will tell us. So it’s not democratic at all. Comrade Corbyn’s appointment is, though. So that’s OK.

Who exactly is Allonby arguing with? She claims ‘Corbyn and his cronies’. But there is no reference to Corbyn calling the government ‘evil’ or implying that they do not hold an electoral mandate. But, even if we did use such evidence, by Allonby’s own logic and sarcasm, is there presumably no possibility of labelling an elected government ‘evil’ while remaining democratic?

The next example is more familiar to anyone following the recent news:

And what has this new dawn of inclusive, democratic politics given us thus far? A shambolic first few days as Corbyn cobbled together his shadow cabinet – in which every top job has been given to a white, middle-aged male. Add hypocritical to shambolic.

This has been answered with the claim that to think of the so-called Four Great Offices of State is somewhat nineteenth century, that health and education deserves to be taken far more seriously in the twenty-first century, and that there is no evidence that in terms of pay or say that there will be four dominant males. Now, you can believe that or not but it is an answer to the assumption that the grand old offices are the ‘top jobs’. But then the article goes on to say something notably different:

The “new era” of politics which Mr Corbyn harps on about is nothing of the sort – as his white male-dominated shadow cabinet so clearly demonstrates. (my bold)

So, we have shifted from ‘top jobs’ to ‘white male-dominated shadow cabinet’ which ‘so clearly demonstrates’ nothing new. However, Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet includes more women than men, which is until now unheard of in parliamentary politics. Why not include this information? Why not something on how Corbyn’s policies affect women, perhaps in comparison with government policies?

And then there is John McDonnell, the other figure to receive particularly close scrutiny:

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is a man who has praised the IRA, talked about assassinating Margaret Thatcher and wants to tax millions of us practically out of existence. His economic “policies” are entirely ludicrous.

McDonnell has also responded about the IRA issue:

[T]his was 13 years ago, at a time when the peace process was extremely fragile. Some of us had to go out and sell that peace process. And we were worried at that stage about if elements in the IRA or the Republican movement thought they were going to be humiliated and defeated, they’d be a major split. And in that way the bombings and the military campaign would continue on. So some of us had to go out there—and I might not have chosen the right words—and explain to them that they could stand down with dignity, that they weren’t being defeated, they were standing down, they could put their weapons aside (and I was saying that to both sides). Now I know as a result of that I got attacked but it worked. And if it saved one life, it was worth it’ (1:29-2:17).

Again, he might have been right, he might have been wrong, but it is not as simple as Allonby’s characterisation. What would Allonby have done in McDonnell’s positon? As for him wanting ‘to tax millions of us practically out of existence’, here’s what McDonnell said:

I’m not particularly interested in tax on income. What I’m concerned about at the moment is organisations that are walking away and literally laughing to the bank, those that are not paying their taxes (0:54-1:00)

This looks like Allonby has not got McDonnell right, unless, of course, she is a part of the super-rich (‘us’). Allonby’s criticism of his economic “policies” (her scare quotes) being ‘entirely ludicrous’ is obviously not the most thoroughgoing examination (no evidence is given) but it is worth recalling that the economists like the 40-plus who wrote to the Guardian (and who were not all supporters of Corbyn), Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have been more sympathetic with the economic policies associated with Corbyn (and, by implication, McDonnell). Concerning Corbyn and the Labour leadership contest, Krugman claimed:

First, it’s really important to understand that the austerity policies of the current government are not, as much of the British press portrays them, the only responsible answer to a fiscal crisis…the whole austerian ideology is based on fantasy economics, while it’s actually the anti-austerians who are basing their views on the best evidence from modern macroeconomic theory and evidence. Nonetheless, all the contenders for Labour leadership other than Mr. Corbyn have chosen to accept the austerian ideology in full, including accepting false claims that Labour was fiscally irresponsible and that this irresponsibility caused the crisis. (see also here)

Krugman is a professor of economics and Nobel winner (like Joseph Stiglitz). While not wanting to rely on authority, would Allonby claim his thinking, or indeed the thinking of 40-plus economists, is ‘entirely ludicrous’? Would she give reasons why? Again, McDonnell and Corbynomics may or may not be ‘entirely ludicrous’ but this is not a judgment that reflects all economic thinking.

And then there is the ‘abolish the armed forced’ claim, listed among other familiar claims:

Corbyn himself wants to scrap Trident, take us out of Nato, abolish the armed forces, abolish the monarchy and nationalise or renationalise everything he can. If it wasn’t so utterly bonkers, it would be funny.

The Sun, of course, pushed the line that Corbyn will ‘abolish the armed forces’. Here is what Corbyn actually said:

A measurement of a society’s happiness and prosperity and success is not war, not weapons, not prison, not unemployment. The measurement is education, health, inspiration, high levels of employment and not going to war around the world to steal the natural resources of others to enrich the already wealthy western society. Our message today is in memory of those that were so tragically and brutally and horribly killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and all those that suffered the health defects and disfigurement of nuclear testing over the past 60 years. No more nuclear weapons. No more nuclear wars. No more wars. A world of peace. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their Armed Forces did what Costa Rica have done and abolished their Army, and took pride in the fact they don’t have an Army. And that their country is near the top of the global peace index. Surely that is the way we should be going forward.

As for the others, plenty of people want to scrap Trident and abolish the monarchy. Plenty don’t to but those who do share Corbyn’s views are ‘utterly bonkers’ presumably because Allonby says so?

Allonby has more to say on nationalisation:

Take nationalisation. Many of us remember the 1970s: we remember the constant strikes bringing services to a halt; and we remember the blackouts, the petrol rationing, the Spanish practices of the unions – and we remember the British Leyland Austin Allegro. Corbyn wants to return to all that. He just loves the thought of big government controlling everything.

This is not exactly what Corbyn actually said on nationalisation, as he too is critical of post-war nationalism and top-down organisation:

I believe in public ownership, but I have never favoured the remote nationalised model that prevailed in the post-war era. Like a majority of the population and a majority of even Tory voters, I want the railways back in public ownership. But public control should mean just that, not simply state control: so we should have passengers, rail workers and government too, co-operatively running the railways to ensure they are run in our interests and not for private profit.

Finally, there is the issue of the press. According to Allonby:

And I’d put money on him harbouring a dream in which he is able to nationalise – and control – the British press. Have you noticed how much he seems to despise it? His rambling acceptance speech on Saturday contained a ridiculous attack on the press; and he bizarrely refused to answer entirely legitimate questions from a Sky news reporter during the appointment of his shadow cabinet.

“These people are bothering me,” he whinged to one of his acolytes. Tough, Comrade Corbyn, that’s what a free press should do: question its political leaders. This isn’t China.

Here is what is deemed a ‘ridiculous attack on the press’ from Corbyn’s speech (here at 3:23-3:48, 11:00-11:43):

But I also thanked him [Ed Miliband] for the way in which he stood up to the abuse that he received by much of our media and the dignity he showed when his late father, the great Ralph Miliband was so brutally abused by some of our media.

I also say a huge thankyou to all of my widest family, all of them, because they’ve been through the most appalling levels of abuse from some of our media over the past three months. It’s been intrusive, it’s been abusive, it’s been simply wrong. And I say to journalists, ‘Attack public political figures, say, make criticisms of them, that’s ok, that is what politics is about. But, please, don’t attack people who didn’t ask to be put in the limelight, merely want to get on with their lives. Leave them alone, leave them alone in all circumstances.’

Is it, then, unreasonable to criticise the press for intruding on family members who have no public role or slurring someone’s dead father? For this is the only thing Corbyn criticised them for in his speech referenced by Allonby. It is easy to call attacks on the press ‘ridiculous’ when they are decontextualized. It is not so easy when the press have been going for family members. Contrary to Allonby’s claim, Corbyn quite openly said the press should be questioning its political leaders in the very speech Allonby cites (‘Attack public political figures, say, make criticisms of them, that’s ok, that is what politics is about’). And what is wrong with not answering the press if you do not want to? Should people be forced to do so? Should the previous Leader of the Opposition not have stood up to media abuse?

Or should such people know their place and do and say precisely what the press expects of them?

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2 thoughts on “Context Presumably Isn’t Everything: Misrepresenting Corbyn in Barrow

  1. Thanks for consistently calling out the bullshit. I have been increasingly upset with the way practically all media outlets have treated, and continue to treat, Corbyn. But, as had been pointed out by others, the fight was won through grassroots efforts, through social media and the like, so I suppose this is what should be expected for the near future.

    But, that is alarming if we want to see a Labour win in the future, if we want to see a PM that represents the people. I suppose either something will have to shift in the larger media, or the grassroots effort will have to spread much larger than it has, and go beyond social media.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the million dollar question. social media worked for the Labour leadership election but will no doubt need to be much bigger to go any further. There’s little hope of winning over the mainstream media. It will take a huge effort…

      Liked by 1 person

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