Jeremy Corbyn: stamina to withstand media attacks
- Category: Media Ethics
Coming to terms with the trials and tribulations of leading the Labour Party is proving a steep learning curve for Jeremy Corby, but he has had plenty of training for the media onslaught that he is having to endure.
I know from personal experience as a former BBC political correspondent that Corbyn’s durability under fire should not be underestimated.
His criticism in his acceptance speech of the unacceptable level of media intrusion being experienced by politicians was heartfelt – and something of a premonition given that five days later he was subjected to a frenzy of revelations about his relationship in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary.
But Corbyn has remained steadfast and resolute for the last 30 years in the face of sustained denigration at the hands of Conservative-supporting newspapers and their erstwhile allies in New Labour.
He showed during the closing stages of the leadership election, as the vitriol increased, that he had no intention of rising to the news media’s bait, or of engaging in the kind of counter briefing that was conducted by the supporters of his opponents.
My confidence in his ability to continue withstanding negative publicity, and his refusal to engage in personal abuse, comes from our shared experiences.
In the mid-1990s, as Tony Blair and his acolytes, tightened their grip on the Parliamentary Labour Party my reports for BBC radio and television were frequently refuted and ridiculed because I had taken the trouble to seek out dissenting voices.
Often at weekends a free thinker like Corbyn was the only Labour MP prepared to go on air to challenge the Blairite line. Either at his home in North London or at party events, he was happy to be interviewed by me, either on a tape recorder, or by a camera crew for television news.
Such was the collective anger of the ruling triumvirate of New Labour spin doctors – Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and Charlie Whelan – that I had succeeded in finding a Labour MP to speak out that they tended to adopt a consistent line when rubbishing my reporting.
I was informed subsequently by fellow broadcasters and political correspondents working for newspapers that they had been told to ignore my reports as there was no basis for the story lines that I had pursued. Often the Blairite rebuttal had left no room for doubt.
“That report by Nick Jones has no substance…yet again it’s just him and Jeremy Corbyn…and it’s totally unrepresentative of Labour thinking.” Whelan’s ripostes were usually more forthright: “As usual it’s a load of bollocks from Nick Jones…and who’s Corbyn anyway.”
My experiences in the 1990s have relevance today because they hark back to an era when Blair and the New Labour machine were closing down the opportunities for expressing dissent at party conferences, the very mechanisms for debate and decision making that Corbyn and his allies are hoping to re-establish.
What was so notable during the leadership contest was that numerous left-wing groupings kept a low profile and refrained from action that might have distracted attention from the momentum that built up behind Corbyn.
Likewise with the trade union movement that saw in Corbyn a chance to rebuild their previous role in contributing to Labour’s policy-making processes.
If he does succeed in widening the opportunities for debate within the party, Corbyn will have provided space for the dissenting voices of the future.
His turbulent first week as leader was only to be expected, but he confounded his critics with some neat political footwork, quickly upping the proportion of women in his front-bench team, and retreating from confrontation on contentious issues such as the forthcoming European Union referendum and the renewal of Trident.
Corbyn and his closest colleague, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, want to be able to pick and choose the moments they make a stand rather than have their battles dictated to them by news media’s agenda.
The initial furore of the Blairites has subsided. They realise that Corbyn’s mandate has given him the opportunity to refashion Labour policy and its decision-making procedures.
There is unlikely to be any lessening of the blitz of negative news stories, but Corbyn hasn’t lost his stamina. If he could withstand the combined onslaught of the likes of Mandelson, Campbell and Whelan, he’s is hardly likely to wilt now under the fire of today’s media.