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Anatomy of a Propaganda Campaign: Jeremy Corbyn’s Political Assassination


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Source: Monthly Review

Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the British Labour Party, was subjected to a concerted propaganda campaign by the British right-wing military-industrial establishment, which regarded him as a threat to its interests. This article will first flesh out the individual components of this campaign and second dissect how it was amplified by the British mainstream media.

The propaganda scholar Alex Carey remarked in his classic Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty: “Domestic propaganda is propaganda directed, not outwards to control or deflect the purposes of some external enemy in wartime, but inwards to control and deflect the purposes of the domestic electorate in a democratic country in the interests of privileged segments of that society.” As Corbyn pointed out, he was not the threat. The real “threat” was the general public who would have used Corbyn as a political representative to bring services back into common ownership, moderately raise taxes on the wealthy, properly fund social security, and to some degree curtail British militarism abroad.1

Corbyn won the first round of the leadership election of the Labour Party in 2015 by a margin that even outshone that of former Labour leader and prime minister Tony Blair in 1994. Under Corbyn, the Labour Party increased its membership by 354,000 people (between 2015 and 2018)—an unprecedented growth. Countering this democratic drive required systematic propaganda. Political allies spoke of “the biggest character assassination of any British politician in history” while even conservative journalists noted the “thousands of hatchet jobs conducted against him in the press and wider media” leading to the “carefully planned and brutally executed political assassination” of Corbyn.2

Much has been written about Corbyn—his treatment by media, political opponents, and (supposed) allies, as well as his own failures as a politician, notably his refusal to take a clear position on Brexit and mount a counteroffensive against propaganda by pro-Israel lobby groups and individuals who portrayed sections of the Labour movement as anti-Semitic.3

The subject of Corbyn’s “political assassination” is worth studying because insufficient attention has been paid to the wider societal interests behind the drive against Corbyn, the role of the media in lending ideological support to these interests, and the ramifications of the ending of Corbynism. In fact, with the election victory in December 2019 of Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson, British politics has seen a further shift to the right. Since the defeat of Corbyn, public smears against social democrats, socialists, peace activists, and antiracist campaigners have intensified.

An organic and consistently anti-Corbyn narrative emerged from the shared agenda of discrete elements within the British establishment, then was multiplied by the mainstream media. The propaganda campaign against Corbyn thus must be seen in the context of the restoration of the British right and a wider ideological attack by the military-industrial establishment—including banking, finance, corporate power, intelligence services, mass media, and the Ministry of Defence—against civil rights, peace, and justice movements.

This is precisely the purpose for which modern propaganda techniques have been developed. As Carey notes, propaganda depicts interventionist politicians (that is, social-democratic or socialist politicians who prefer to constrain the power of vested interests in favor of broader societal interests) as evil, subversive, and a threat to so-called national security. Such propaganda also stokes hyper-nationalist discourses and “anticommunist” sentiments.

A Dark Thread

Corbyn spoke of a “golden thread” running through the Labour Party’s history: from the Diggers and Levellers of the seventeenth-century English Civil War, who campaigned against corruption in Parliament, to the nineteenth-century Chartists who laid the groundwork for universal male suffrage in the United Kingdom. Labour, said Corbyn, continues this grassroots, working-class tradition into the present, bringing Britain its once revered National Health Service, social security system, and a raft of progressive legislation, from equal pay to gender rights.4 The struggle continues.

But Britain’s entrenched, monarchic Conservative (Tory) establishment chokes the public mind with its own dark threads of propaganda. The first notable case against Labour was the Zinoviev Letter, which scuppered Labour’s chances at the 1924 general election. The letter was forged by the secret services, handed to the Tories, and then leaked to the press barons. An early example of such propaganda, the absurd letter was supposed to have been written by the eponymous Bolshevik, supposedly endorsing the Labour Party to stoke civil unrest in Britain. The lies worked and contributed to Labour’s electoral defeat.5

Corbyn came to lead the Labour Party in 2015. It was a time of concern for the U.S. and entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) establishment. Donald Trump, who went on to win the Republican nomination and, tragically, the presidency, sent rhetorical signals that NATO would no longer be a tool of U.S. global dominance.6 (In reality, Trump continued to bolster NATO on Russia’s borders.) Not only had the U.S. establishment risked empowering Russia by rhetorically undermining NATO, one of the closest U.S. allies (read: lapdogs), the United Kingdom, was also about to be led by a prominent figure in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (even though Labour’s manifesto retained the costly and bellicose Trident nuclear system) and the Stop the War Coalition (even though Corbyn offered a free vote on bombing Syria).7

Just as the establishment sought to link Labour to the “revolutionary” Bolsheviks in 1924, a pro-NATO think tank funded by the British taxpayer via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, entitled the Integrity Initiative, sought to mobilize “clusters” of anti-Russia, pro-NATO journalists. Affiliates of the Integrity Initiative used mainstream media to smear academics who questioned the U.S.-led dirty war in Syria.8

These “clusters” also framed Corbyn. For example, using a familiar Integrity Initiative term, the former Tory defense secretary, Liam Fox, smeared Corbyn as one of Soviet Russia’s “useful idiot[s].” But the mainstream media shared the Integrity Initiative’s broad agenda and never countered Fox’s claim; for instance, they never reported that Fox had to resign many years earlier because he had allegedly compromised national security by hiring his friend Adam Werritty.9

Democracy? What Democracy?

Like the NATO networks, the British military establishment also targeted Corbyn. Again, there are historic parallels. The British public is conditioned via the education system, propaganda regime, and general culture to believe that the country operates as a democracy in which the general public chooses the government.

The reality is that Britain, unlike the republics of France or the United States, for example, is a constitutional monarchy without a written constitution, meaning that the Crown rules with potential absolute power via mechanisms that occasionally override Parliament, namely the royal prerogative.10

The fact that the military, secret services, police, courts, and even governments are “His” or “Her Majesty’s” means that, on the basis of prerogative powers, permission can potentially be given for these entities to act outside legal norms, because the law belongs to the Crown. (Today, this would likely occur only in the name of the monarch because prerogative powers are realized by government ministers, and in the cases when the monarch would be personally acting, it would very likely be at the direction of ministers.)11

In the mid–2000s, for example, judges of the High Court decided that the Chagossians (who lived on the Chagos Islands) were entitled to return to sixty-five of their islands, decades after the British had expelled them (in the 1960s and ’70s) to make way for a U.S. military base. Royal prerogative powers were invoked by the government to overturn the High Court decision and keep the islanders from returning (according to the BBC, Corbyn “has been a long-standing supporter” of the Chagossians). There were no legal repercussions for this violation of national and international law (depriving British “subjects” of their land and breaching the UN Charter). The monarchy, and the powers awarded to government ministers in her name, is therefore more than just a tourist attraction.12

During the 1960s, MI5 and the CIA’s chief of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, spied on Labour PM Harold Wilson because elements in those agencies believed Wilson to be a Soviet agent or a blackmail risk. The real risk was that Wilson’s policies modestly redistributed wealth.

In 1968, the industrialist Cecil King plotted to replace Wilson with an Oswald Mosley-type fascist figure. King favored Lord Mountbatten, then a recently retired chief of the defense staff and uncle of Prince Philip, some of whose family members had been associated with members of the German Nazis.13

In the 1970s, former British special forces officers trained a secret, UK-based antileft guerrilla network called Column 88, consisting of neo-Nazis, that would kick into action in the event of a Soviet invasion. But it also existed to battle striking workers and intimidate the left. Prominent left MP Tony Benn, for instance, feared that a Column 88-type entity would murder him on behalf of MI6.14

When Wilson was elected again as prime minister in the 1970s, MI5 ran a propaganda campaign (code-named Clockwork Orange) against him. The founder of the Special Air Service David Stirling, the former intelligence officer Brian Crozier, and private militias linked to financiers deliberated Wilson’s removal, allegedly with the tacit support of the Queen Mother (Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon). It is perhaps an indicative side story that in the 1930s, according to historian Karina Urbach, Bowes-Lyon did not seem to mind being close to the Duke of Coburg, “a particularly ardent Nazi.” In a comment for the Guardian, Urbach described Coburg as an Anglo-German Duke, an old Etonian, who in the 1920s “had first supported a right-wing terrorist organization in Germany and then helped Hitler into power.”15

In 1974, the army unannouncedly seized Heathrow Airport to signal to Wilson their unilateral power. In 1976, Wilson resigned as prime minister. According to Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, five weeks after his resignation, Wilson “summoned two BBC journalists to tell them, secretly, of the plot” against him.16

The Corbyn Plot

Fast forward to 2015. An unnamed, senior serving general was widely quoted in the media saying that the Ministry of Defence could stage a mutiny if Corbyn downgraded the United Kingdom’s nuclear capabilities, left NATO, or reduced the capacities of the armed forces. A couple of months later, the BBC platformed the chief of the defense staff, general Sir Nicholas Houghton, donned in full uniform and medals, saying that Corbyn’s antinuclear stance (again, the Labour manifesto protected Trident) would weaken Britain’s “credibility.”17

In October 2017, former MI5 director Stella Rimington claimed that some of Corbyn’s grassroots supporters, Momentum, were on her organization’s watchlist in bygone decades. A year later, former MI6 director Sir Richard Dearlove said that he was “troubled” by Corbyn’s political associations. Fearing a snap election in 2018, MI6 summoned Corbyn to its headquarters. An unnamed source said that “the time had come for Mr Corbyn to become acquainted with the workings of the intelligence establishment.”18

In April 2019, members of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, were seen using an image of Corbyn for target practice. The Ministry of Defence issued statements condemning the actions. The soldiers were disciplined but allowed to stay in the army. Tim Collins, former colonel Royal Irish, responded by calling Corbyn “an out and out Marxist. He abhors the Army. He’s an IRA sympathizer.” Shortly before the December 2019 general election, Dearlove described Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday newspaper as a “present danger to our country.”19

Mainstream Media Amplifiers

Despite the Internet and the availability of alternative news, the mainstream legacy media still constitute the most powerful source for news in terms of audience reach. The British media is owned and controlled by a handful of giant corporations and special interests and, like the political spectrum, has moved sharply to the right in recent years, not least due to newsroom cuts, downsizing, and ideological pressure.20

As John Pilger has commented: “Most ‘mainstream’ journalism has been integrated into corporate and so-called national security systems that rule the West, especially in the United States and Britain. When I was working in what was known as ‘Fleet Street,’ the press was conservative but there were spaces for different, dissenting work, and a certain range of views. This was even encouraged. Today the spaces have closed, and the best journalists write online, or in foreign publications, or in a new samizdat, or not at all.”21

The media consequently amplified the propaganda advanced by power elites. An extensive investigation by Matt Kennard revealed how elements from UK “security” sectors had primed the news media about an alleged Corbyn threat. After Corbyn came into office as Labour leader in September 2015, “officials in the UK military and intelligence establishment,” including former and current members of the army, navy, and special forces, as well as MI5, MI6, and an ex-senior civil servant, “have been sources for at least 34 major national media stories that cast Jeremy Corbyn as a danger to British security.” Such stories were floated about every six weeks, with “significant spikes in frequency during the 2017 and 2019 general election campaigns.” According to Kennard’s report, not only did virtually “every story [appear] in four papers—the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Daily Mail, or the Sun”—but “there is a strong suggestion that, for some stories, intelligence officials have themselves provided secret documents to journalists as part of what appears to be a campaign.” As Kennard’s study further demonstrates, right-wing newspapers acted like an echo chamber for UK military-intelligence agencies influencing other national print news media, which often disseminated the stories in sync with announcements by Conservative ministers. “Our research also found 440 articles in the UK press since September 2015 specifically mentioning Corbyn as a ‘threat to national security,’” the report stated.22

During Corbyn’s time as leader of the Labour Party between 2015 and 2019, media discourses closely aligned with the outlined elite discourse. Academic studies have, in fact, further corroborated the ideological bias of the British mainstream media across the political spectrum when reporting on Corbyn and the Labour Party.

A study by the Media Reform Coalition assessed how the British press reported on Corbyn during his first week as the new leader of the Labour Party in September 2015. The quantitative content study “found that out of a total of 494 news, comment and editorial pieces, 60% (296 articles) were negative, with only 13% positive stories (65 articles) and 27% taking a neutral stance (133 articles).” The study also showed how the press carried the propaganda memes depicting Corbyn as unhinged, authoritarian, and dangerous to society. For example, the study found that the bulk of the coverage represented “Corbyn, the left and/or Labour as detached from reality, out of touch with ‘real’ people, whether they are middle class or working class.” At the same time, a significant amount of the reporting highlighted “the danger posed by the left, or ‘loony left,’ and the notion that socialism is anti-democratic.” Unsurprisingly, the right-wing sector of the press portrayed Corbyn as a “threat to national security” while advancing “questions of patriotism.” Another theme of the right-wing press focused “on extremism or terrorism and Corbyn as an enemy of the UK,” suggesting that the allies of Corbyn might want “to start a civil war or overturn the structures of a decent or pragmatic society.” The study concluded that the picture painted by the press “underplayed Corbyn’s popular support in the country, as well as the rise in Labour membership.”23

A study of the London School of Economics and Political Science assessed how the British press reported on Corbyn between September 1 and November 1, 2015. According to the report, “Corbyn was represented unfairly by the British press through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy.” The following themes emerged from the study: Corbyn’s own voice was often excluded “in the reporting on him and sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him and his positions”; Corbyn was “systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has been”; and the press questionably and “repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.” In fact, the study called these tactics delegitimization through association—a well-known propaganda device. Delegitimization through association means that Corbyn was discredited by way of “describing his ideas as mad or crazy, and himself as a terrorist friend and a dangerous, even sinister, individual.” Such reporting has serious implications for democracy, as the British public was not given “a fair opportunity to form their own judgements about the leader of the country’s main opposition.”24

Anti-Semitism

A 2016 study by Justin Schlosberg from Birbeck, University of London, also published by the Media Reform Coalition, looked at British online and television news media coverage of the Labour Party between June 27 and July 6, 2016, after a range of shadow cabinet resignations (465 online news reports from eight organizations, and 40 prime time television news bulletins on BBC One and ITV). The study found that “The BBC evening news bulletins gave nearly twice as much unchallenged airtime to sources critical of Corbyn compared to those that supported him,” while ITV “gave considerably more equal attention to opposing voices.” The newspapers under study “favoured sources opposed to Corbyn’s leadership along with associated issues” and even the supposedly “Labour-supporting Guardian and Mirror newspapers had both declared an official editorial position calling for Corbyn to resign” (it should be noted that especially the Guardian newspaper played an important role in the campaign against Corbyn). A further qualitative analysis found that “the Labour leadership and its supporters were persistently talked about in terms that emphasised hostility, intransigence and extreme positions.” Even when coverage appeared to be more even-handed, “pro-Corbyn sources were, in most cases, responding to attacks and critiques by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party” and this “suggested an underlying editorial slant that is out of step with at least the spirit of the Broadcasting Code and the BBC’s own guidelines on news impartiality and balance.”25

An important part of the media handling of Corbyn related to the widely reported controversy about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Available evidence showed that there was anti-Semitism and racism in the Labour Party on the same (if not on a slightly lower) scale as there was anti-Semitism and racism in the Conservative Party and the general British population. Anti-Semitism is, of course, an important problem that should be dealt with in a thorough and comprehensive way. Yet, the media were hardly interested in actually reporting on the societal implications of anti-Semitism and how it similarly affected other political parties and society. The media also ignored Corbyn’s record as an antiracist campaigner who has fought against racism and anti-Semitism for decades. Instead, the media advanced a selective campaign of shaming, singling out Corbyn’s Labour Party as uniquely anti-Semitic.26

In Bad News For Labour: Antisemitism, the Party & Public Belief, Greg Philo and Mike Berry wrote that “a search of eight national newspapers shows that from 15 June 2015 to 31 March 2019, there had been 5497 stories on the subject of Corbyn, antisemitism and the Labour Party.” Moreover, “the issue was also extensively featured on television and in new and social media.” Bad News For Labour aimed to contextualize media reporting with public perceptions of the issue by linking media discourse to a national poll and focus group surveys. Though there were arguably a range of factors at play that may explain public perception of the issue, including failures of the Labour Party, it could have been crucial that media discourse gave “the impression of a party ‘riddled’ with antisemitism.” A striking finding of the book was that “on average people believed that a third of Labour Party members had been reported for antisemitism,” while “the actual figure was far less than 1 per cent.” This “huge disparity between public perception and the actual number of reported cases,” the authors concluded, “must make this one of the worst public relations disasters that has been recorded.”27 David Broder provided a further assessment of the issue:

Yet for all the headlines about “mounting anti-Semitism” in Labour, we are rarely given any sense of its scale. Data released by the party in February 2019 showed it had received 1,106 specific complaints of anti-Semitism since April 2018, of which just 673 regarded actual Labour members. The party membership stands at over half a million: the allegations, even if they were true, concern around 0.1 percent of the total.28

A significant number of the media stories about anti-Semitism, Corbyn, and the Labour Party also entailed disinformation. For a study published in September 2018, Justin Schlosberg and Laura Laker investigated 250 news items from major UK online and television providers for the Media Reform Coalition. The study identified “29 examples of false statements or claims,” some of which were “made by anchors or correspondents themselves,” and “six of them surfacing on BBC television news programmes, and eight on theguardian.com.” Moreover, the study found a “further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated value-based assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification.” The research concluded that “a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.” Additionally, there was “overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labour’s code of conduct were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1.” On top of that, “nearly half of Guardian reports on the controversy surrounding Labour’s code of conduct featured no quoted sources defending the party or leadership.”29

The 2017 And 2019 Elections

Other studies shed light on how Corbyn and the Labour Party were portrayed during the general elections in 2017 and 2019. In 2017, the Conservative then prime minister Theresa May had called a snap election in which the Conservative Party lost thirteen seats in Parliament while the Labour Party gained thirty. This surprising outcome resulted in a minority Conservative government and sent shockwaves across the British establishment, which feared a potential future election victory by Corbyn. In another snap election held in December 2019, due to a Brexit deadlock in Parliament, the Conservative Party, led by the then Prime Minister Johnson (who was elected by his party after May’s resignation in July 2019), won a landslide victory with an eighty-seat majority in Parliament. Overall, the Conservative Party gained forty-eight seats and the Labour Party lost sixty seats.

Corbyn arguably damaged Labour in the polls by refusing to take a clear position on Brexit, failing to counter the selective and misrepresented claims of anti-Semitism, and not sacking those in his party who were publicly attacking him.30 Meanwhile, the media assault continued.

The 2017 and 2019 election outcomes correlated with media reporting patterns. As the election studies by a team of researchers from Loughborough University suggested, reporting of Corbyn and the Labour Party was more negative during the 2019 election campaign compared to 2017. This is particularly true for the press. According to the study, “press hostility to Labour in 2019 was more than double the levels identified in 2017,” while “negative coverage of the Conservatives halved.” Furthermore, in the last week of the 2019 election campaign, the press provided the Conservative Party with a propaganda boost, manifest in “the highest levels of newspaper negativity towards the Labour party.” Professor David Deacon of the Loughborough team commented in a press release: “Our results show that Labour may have had a rough ride in the 2017 General Election, but it paled by comparison with the 2019 campaign.”31

Overall, British television provided more balanced coverage during both elections. For instance, the Loughborough research suggested that, in the 2017 election, Conservative sources obtained the greatest prominence in televised reporting, albeit only slightly higher than Labour sources. In the 2019 election, the picture was roughly similar. For example, in the first week of the campaign, “TV coverage of the Conservative Party and Labour was close to parity (33 percent versus 32 percent).”32

Yet, significantly, formal quantitative balance of sources and quotations in media coverage is not an indicator of fair or accurate reporting. In fact, despite the inclusion of a roughly equal number of voices by both major parties during the 2019 election cycle, television coverage was still weighted against Corbyn and the Labour Party.

Television reporting does not necessarily disentangle the accuracy of the statements made by quoted politicians. Research has shown that there were major disparities between the number of misleading statements different parties made during the 2019 election campaign. For example, an investigation by Carlotta Dotto assessing political party advertisements on Facebook over the course of four days (December 1 to December 4, 2019) found that some 88 percent (5,952) of the most widely promoted ads (6,749) by the Conservative Party featured claims about the National Health Service, income tax cuts, and the Labour Party, and were labeled misleading by the fact-checking organization Full Fact. In contrast, only 6.7 percent of Labour Party ads were labeled misleading by Full Fact.33

Post-Election Analysis

If these data are an indication of the accuracy of official public campaign messaging, it is likely that a similar disparity of misleading statements by both major parties was also present in supposedly balanced television broadcasts. This has been further corroborated by anecdotal evidence. For instance, media scholars Ivor Gaber and Caroline Fisher argued that political parties would be expected to impose their frames on the news media, while “the use of ‘strategic lying’ in the 2019 UK general election by the Conservatives took this to a new level.” Dawn Foster observed the matter as follows: “Ordinarily, political strategists might work on ‘spin’: how best to frame figures and news stories to fit a particular narrative. In the 2019 election, that approach has gone out the window. Instead, the Conservatives just lie. Ministers on TV will flatly deny the accepted understanding of how numbers work, bombard journalists with bald falsehoods, and repeat verbatim smears about the Labour leadership.” “Labour was responsible for some misleading claims,” Gaber and Fisher conclude, while, “overall, the vast majority of campaign lies were disseminated by the Conservative Party.”34

Translated to television reporting, this could mean that though both parties broadly obtained similar space in reporting, a significantly larger number of Conservative spokespersons used this space to transmit inaccurate information to the public. Yet, unsurprisingly, the media treated Labour’s and Corbyn’s policies with suspicion.

Television reporting was also biased in content selection. Assessing the various issues covered on television during the 2019 election, the Loughborough research indicated that Brexit, the topic favored by the Conservative Party, dominated the television agenda and “tended to align most closely with the Conservatives’ Brexit agenda.”35

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published harsh critiques of the election manifestos released by the Labour and Conservative Party. An analysis by Justin Schlosberg, who also discussed the research by Loughborough University, further showed that, on British television, the response of the Institute for Fiscal Studies “to Labour was covered 15 times in the two days following its manifesto launch compared to just once in the two days following the Conservative manifesto launch.” The same piece highlighted how the media disproportionately pointed to dissident voices within both parties:

Early on in the campaign, former Labour MP Ian Austin made headlines in endorsing the Conservative Party, so much so that during the first week of the campaign he was the sixth most prominent politician featured on television, more than both Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon, as well as most other cabinet and shadow cabinet figures (according to the Loughborough University research). In contrast, television news programmes barely covered Ken Clarke—a far more recognisable figure from the Conservatives—who made a similar announcement (at a similar time) that he would not be voting for the Tories.36

In addition, “during the first two weeks of the campaign, there were almost identical pairs of stories involving two Conservative candidates and two Labour candidates who were suspended or forced to resign over alleged antisemitic comments made on social media.” Yet, “the Labour candidates were three times more likely to be mentioned” on television.37

What all of this means is that, though television news technically reported an equal number of statements by Labour and Conservative Party spokespersons, they emphasized negative contexts when referring to Corbyn and the Labour Party but remained “neutral” when reporting on Johnson and the Conservative Party. This process of negative association has been further dissected by the meticulous textual studies of the British media monitoring organization Media Lens. In their latest book, Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality, David Edwards and David Cromwell of Media Lens documented in forensic detail how “senior corporate media figures have virtually queued up to smear Corbyn.” In this regard, they concluded that “it was absolutely vital that [Corbyn’s] moral virtues be ignored and in fact his reputation be destroyed, so that voters might be returned to their ‘apathy and non-involvement.’”38

It should also be noted that opinion polls indicated how the liberal media in particular might have influenced swing votes in the 2019 election. As political scientist Jeremy Gilbert has argued, “it is a myth that the largest bloc of votes that Labour lost [in the 2019 election] was from ‘traditional working class’ voters who switched to the Tories.” While Corbyn lost working-class voters due to his stance on Brexit, Gilbert suggested that “the more surprising and more numerically significant demographic change was in fact the number of voters in their 40s and early 50s who supported Labour in 2017, and whose votes went in large numbers to the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens in 2019.” Though a combination of factors influenced the voting decision of this block, such as their strong pro-Remain stance in the Brexit referendum and their consequent dissatisfaction with Corbyn’s Brexit balancing act (Corbyn’s middle-ground position on Brexit backfired in both directions), these voters were “heavily influenced by mainstream legacy media” like the BBC and the Guardian. Gilbert summarized the issue thus:

Labour lost votes in all directions. And it apparently lost most votes among middle-class, educated, centrist-leaning voters who could not be persuaded to accept a compromise on Brexit in order to prevent a Johnson landslide. It must also be suspected that, contrary to my own expectations, such voters were also heavily influenced by the constant media propaganda around Labour’s supposed “anti-semitism.” This discourse was always intended in part to alienate cosmopolitan and socially liberal voters from Labour, and sadly it seems to have helped in doing that.39

Taking the Risk Out of Democracy

It is widely accepted that any functioning democracy requires an electoral process independent of partisan political influence and biased mass communication. In fact, an academia-media-think tank complex has poured out study after study on alleged Russian meddling in Western electoral processes. Yet, hardly any studies have been produced to assess how special interests influenced the British electoral process to prevent a Corbyn-led government. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn, the Labour Party, or their political programs, our analysis shows that British politics has been lacking a level playing field. As Kennard remarked: “The intelligence services and the military are supposed to abide by the ‘constitutional principle’ of non-involvement in political affairs. But the numerous instances of serving national security officials briefing against Corbyn in the media raises questions about whether this principle has been upheld.” Propaganda agencies did everything they could to prevent the British public from making up their own mind about the political changes proposed by Corbynism. In the words of Carey: propaganda has been used to take the risk of a more genuine public agenda out of democracy. Corbyn’s program was not radical. On the political compass of the 1980s, Corbyn would have been classified as a progressive social democrat. Today, such a political platform is not tolerable for the special interests that dominate our society because it aims to redistribute some wealth and mitigate the excesses of Western imperialism. The farcical campaign against Corbyn has had tragical outcomes. The Labour movement has been severely splintered in the face of a resurging right; the conservative government led by Johnson has gotten away with the most grotesque policies on issues such as COVID-19, Brexit, and health care; and Labour has lost its last tooth as an opposition force and retransformed into a Tory-light party, further narrowing the political consensus in Britain.40 A new world is waiting to be born.

Notes

  1. Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 1; Matthew Smith, “Labour Economic Policies Are Popular, So Why Aren’t Labour?,” YouGov, November 12, 2019; Matthew Smith, “Jeremy Corbyn Is on the Right Side of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy: Except for the Falklands,” YouGov, May 30, 2017.
  2. Rowena Mason, “Labour Leadership: Jeremy Corbyn Elected with Huge Mandate,” Guardian, September 12, 2015; Paul Whiteley, Monica Poletti, Paul Webb, and Tim Bale, “Oh Jeremy Corbyn! Why Did Labour Party Membership Soar After the 2015 General Election?,” British Journal of Politics and International Relation 21, no. 1 (2019): 80–98; Rachael Swindon, “Sir Unelectable? Fourteen Points Behind the Worst Government in Living Memory,” Rachael Swindon (blog), April 7, 2021; Peter Oborne and David Hearst, “The Killing of Jeremy Corbyn,” Middle East Eye, June 5, 2020.
  3. See Jamie Stern-Weiner, “Jeremy Corbyn Hasn’t Got an ‘Antisemitism Problem’: His Opponents Do,” openDemocracy, April 27, 2016.
  4. Jeremy Corbyn’s Speech to Annual Conference 2016,” Labour Policy Forum, September 28, 2016.
  5. See Richard Norton-Taylor, “Zinoviev Letter Was Dirty Trick by MI6,” Guardian, February 4, 1999; Howard Becker, “The Nature and Consequences of Black Propaganda,” American Sociological Review 14, no. 2 (1949): 221–35.
  6. Cassandra Vinograd, “Donald Trump Remarks on NATO Trigger Alarm Bells in Europe,” NBC News, July 21, 2016.
  7. For the Many, Not the Few: The Labour Party Manifesto 2017 (London: Labour Party, 2017); Patrick Wintour and Rowena Mason, “Syria Airstrikes: Jeremy Corbyn Gives Labour MPs Free Vote,” Guardian, November 30, 2015.
  8. Tom Coburg, “The Real Lesson from the Russia Report Is That Interference in UK Democracy Is Far Closer to Home,” Canary, July 21, 2020; Mark Curtis, “Twitter and the Smearing of Corbyn and Assange: A Research Note on the ‘Integrity Initiative,’” Mark Curtis, December 28, 2018; Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, and Piers Robinson, “Briefing Note on the Integrity Initiative,” Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media, December 21, 2018; Georgie Keate, Dominic Kennedy, Krystina Shveda, and Deborah Haynes, “Apologists for Assad Working in British Universities,” Times, April 14, 2018; Tim Anderson, The Dirty War on Syria: Washington, Regime Change and Resistance (Montréal: Global Research Publishers, 2016).
  9. Curtis, “Twitter and the Smearing of Corbyn and Assange”; Steven Swinford, “Liam Fox: Jeremy Corbyn Was ‘Useful Idiot’ to Russia During Cold War and Undermined National Security,” Telegraph, February 25, 2018; Integrity Initiative, Twitter post, 8:54 am, September 30, 2018; “Liam Fox Resigns Over Links with His Friend Adam Werritty,” BBC News, 2011; Allegra Stratton, Nick Hopkins, and Rupert Neate, “Liam Fox Quits as Defence Secretary,” Guardian, October 14, 2011.
  10. The Role of the Monarchy,” Royal Family, accessed December 21, 2021; Gail Barlett and Michael Everett, “The Royal Prerogative” (Briefing Paper 03861, House of Commons Library, 2017), 1–34.
  11. Thomas Poole, “United Kingdom: The Royal Prerogative,” International Journal of Constitutional Law 8, no. 1 (2010): 146–55.
  12. Chagos Islanders Cannot Return Home, Says Supreme Court,” BBC News, June 29, 2016; Poole, “United Kingdom.”
  13. Paul Dwyer, The Plot Against Harold Wilson (London: BBC, 2006), available on YouTube; “The Crown: Was Harold Wilson Suspected of Being a Soviet Spy?,” BBC News, December 14, 2019; Patrick Sawer, “Revealed: Full Extent of Lord Mountbatten’s Role in ’68 Plot Against Harold Wilson,” Telegraph, August 17, 2019; Richard Sanders, Secret History: Prince Philip—The Plot to Make a King (London: Blakeway Production for Channel 4, 2015), available on Daily Motion; Ross Clark, “Prince Philip: A Patriot with Nazis in the Family and German Connections,” Sunday Times, April 11, 2021.
  14. Peter Barberis, John McHugh, and Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations (London and New York: Pinter, 2000), 181; Phil Tinline, “1979: Britain in Meltdown,” HistoryExtra, April 18, 2019.
  15. See Rachel Borrill, “Former Officer’s Case Strengthened,” Irish Times, October 10, 1996; Paul Vallely, “The Airey Neave Files,” Independent, February 22, 2002; Colin Richardson, “Labour Has Lost the Plot,” Guardian, April 3, 2006;” Karina Urbach, “Behind the Infant Queen’s Gesture Lies a Dark History of Aristocratic Nazi Links,” Guardian, July 19, 2015.
  16. James Wharton, “Tanks on the Runway,” BFBS/Forces Net, March 1, 2021; “British Army at Heathrow Airport: Anti-Terror Drill or Rehearsal for Anti-Wilson Coup? | 1974,” YouTube video, posted by Adeyinka Makinde, July 29, 2019; Jonathan Freedland, “Enough of This Cover-Up: The Wilson Plot Was Our Watergate,” Guardian, March 15, 2006.
  17. See, for example, Caroline Mortimer, “British Army ‘Could Stage Mutiny Under Corbyn,’ Says Senior Serving General,” Independent, September 20, 2015; “Corbyn Accuses Defence Chief of Political Bias in Nuclear Row,” BBC, November 8, 2015.
  18. Gordon Rayner, Hannah Furness, and Steve Bird, “Jeremy Corbyn Advisers ‘Were on MI5 Lists’ Claims Dame Stella Rimington,” Telegraph, October 13, 2017; Francis Elliott, “Former Head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove ‘Troubled’ by Corbyn,” Sunday Times, October 7, 2018; Charlotte Neal, “Jeremy Corbyn ‘Meets MI6 as Brexit Negotiations Spark Snap Election Fears,’” Daily Mirror, November 10, 2018.
  19. Paratroopers Who Used Corbyn Picture for Target Practice Avoid Sacking,” BFBS/Forces Net, July 3, 2019; Conrad Duncan, “Soldiers Who Used Photo of Jeremy Corbyn for Target Practice Disciplined but Not Sacked, MoD Says,” Independent, July 5, 2019; “A Very British Institution: The UK Military and the Far-Right,” redfish, November 8, 2019; Sir Richard Dearlove, “Don’t Even Think of Handing Jeremy Corbyn the Keys to Number 10,” Mail on Sunday, November 23, 2019.
  20. Natalie Fenton, Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg, and Lina Dencik, The Media Manifesto (Cambridge: Polity, 2020). See also Jigsaw Research, News Consumption in the UK: 2020 (London: Ofcom, 2020), 19; Who Owns the UK Media? (London: Media Reform Coalition, 2021).
  21. Richard Phillips, “John Pilger Discusses His ‘The Power of the Documentary’ Film Festival,” World Socialist Website, December 3, 2018.
  22. Matt Kennard, “How the UK Military and Intelligence Establishment Is Working to Stop Jeremy Corbyn Becoming Prime Minister,” Daily Maverick, December 4, 2019.
  23. Corbyn’s First Week: Negative Agenda Setting in the Press (London: Media Reform Coalition, 2016), 2, 6–7.
  24. Bart Cammaerts, Brooks DeCillia, João Magalhães, and César Jimenez-Martínez, Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From Watchdog to Attackdog (London: London School of Economics and Political Science, 2016), 8–11; Nick Couldry and Bart Cammaerts, foreword to Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press, 1.
  25. See Justin Schlosberg, Should He Stay or Should He Go? Television and Online News Coverage of the Labour Party in Crisis (London: Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London, 2016), 4. For the Guardian’s role in the campaign against Corbyn, see Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, “How the UK Security Services Neutralised the Country’s Leading Liberal Newspaper,” Daily Maverick, September 11, 2019.
  26. Harvey Goldstein, “Uses and Abuses of Statistical Evidence: How Much Antisemitism Is There in the British Labour Party?,” Radical Statistics Newsletter 124 (2019): 4–11; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, “Antisemitism on the Left, Yes—but Tories Have Their Own Problems with Both Jews and Muslims,” inews, April 24, 2018; Keith Flett, “Jeremy Corbyn Has a Long and Honourable Record of Opposing Fascism, Racism and Anti-Semitism,” Morning Star; “Letter: We Stand with Jeremy Corbyn—Just as He Always Stood with Us,” Red Pepper, December 10, 2019; Joseph Finlay, “Jeremy Corbyn Is an Anti-Racist, Not an Anti-Semite,” Jewish News, March 26, 2018; Andrew Feinstein, “Jeremy Corbyn Is the Most Anti-Racist MP Serving in Parliament,” Camden New Journal, November 5, 2020.
  27. Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman, and David Miller, eds., Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party, and Public Belief (London: Pluto, 2019), vii–viii, 1–2.
  28. David Broder, “How Labour Became ‘Antisemitic’: An Interview with Greg Philo,” Jacobin, May 10, 2019.
  29. Justin Schlosberg and Laura Laker, Labour, Antisemitism and the News: A Disinformation Paradigm (London: Media Reform Coalition, 2018), 2.
  30. Jamie Stern-Weiner, “Jeremy Corbyn Hasn’t Got an ‘Antisemitism Problem’: His Opponents Do,” openDemocracy, April 27, 2016.
  31. For the 2017 election, see Dominic Wring, Roger Mortimore, and Simon Atkinson, eds., Political Communication in Britain: Campaigning, Media and Polling in the 2017 General Election (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019); “General Election 2017: Discover What’s Making the Media Headlines,” Loughborough University, May 15, 2017. For the 2019 election, see “General Election 2019,” Loughborough University; David Deacon, Jackie Goode, David Smith, Dominic Wring, John Downey, and Cristian Vaccari, “Report 5: 7 November–11 December 2019,” Loughborough University, 2019; “Press Hostility to Labour Reaches New Levels in 2019 Election Campaign,” press release 19/236, Loughborough University, December 19, 2019.
  32. David Deacon, John Downey, David Smith, James Stanyer, and Dominic Wring, “A Tale of Two Parties: Press and Television Coverage of the Campaign,” in Political Communication in Britain, 27–28; David Deacon, Jackie Goode, David Smith, Dominic Wring, John Downey, Cristian Vaccari, “Report 1: 7 November–13 November 2019,” Loughborough University, 2019.
  33. Carlotta Dotto, “Thousands of Misleading Conservative Ads Side-Step Scrutiny Thanks to Facebook Policy,” First Draft, December 6, 2019.
  34. Ivor Gaber and Caroline Fisher, “‘Strategic Lying’: The Case of Brexit and the 2019 UK Election,” International Journal of Press/Politics (2021): 9; Dawn Foster, “Something Frightening Is Happening in British Politics,” Jacobin, November 12, 2019.
  35. David Deacon, Jackie Goode, David Smith, Dominic Wring, John Downey, and Cristian Vaccari, “Report 4: 7 November–4 December 2019,” Loughborough University, 2019.
  36. Justin Schlosberg, “Where’s the Impartiality? #GenElec2019,” Media Reform Coalition, December 3, 2019.
  37. Schlosberg, “Where’s the Impartiality?”
  38. David Edwards and David Cromwell, Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality (London: Pluto, 2018), 22, 28.
  39. Jeremy Gilbert, “It Was the Centrist Dads Who Lost It,” openDemocracy, January 13, 2020.
  40. Kennard, “How the UK Military and Intelligence Establishment”; Ian Sinclair and Rupert Read, A Timeline of the Plague Year: A Comprehensive Record of the UK Government’s Response to the Coronavirus Crisis (Mountain View: Creative Commons, 2021); Thomas Colson, “ Brexit Has Been a Disaster for Britain as Collapsing European Trade Puts UK Firms Out of Business,” Business Insider, March 31, 2021; Caroline Molloy, “The Terrifying Truth About Those Deciding the Future of the NHS,” openDemocracy, December 19, 2020.

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