Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Shameful and shameless – two words that best sum up the post-election reaction of political journalists to the relentless campaign that was pursued by most of the British press to demonise Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Some of my former colleagues were ashamed.

They were aghast at the extent of the vilification printed by newspapers that did all they could before polling day to terrify their readers about the prospect of a Labour government.

By contrast most correspondents and columnists employed by pro-Conservative newspapers were entirely shameless.

They just shrugged their shoulders; they were simply writing what their papers wanted; they had no alternative.

The effectiveness of tabloid propaganda was highlighted in countless Vox pop interviews with voters in constituencies across the so-called Red Wall of seats that Labour lost to the Conservatives in the Midlands, Yorkshire, the north west and north east.

Elderly passers-by in deprived working-class towns frequently repeated the very same words and smears they had been fed for months on end in alarmist headlines about the “terrorists’ friend” who could not be trusted, and who would turn Britain into a Marxist state.

Just as had happened in the EU Referendum, there was sophisticated co-ordination between the attacks mounted by pro-Brexit Tory politicians and their media allies.

Instead of the torrent of scare stories about immigration that we saw in 2016 – backed up by the slogan of Take Back Control – there was endless press denigration of Corbyn which Boris Johnson constantly reinforced with his own personal savaging of the Labour leader.

I had not witnessed the same level of synchronization since the height of the Thatcher era when her political messages integrated so well with vicious press campaigns, as seen during sustained assault on the National Union of Mineworkers during the 1984-85 pit strike.

The Tory tabloids had played the same hand – supporting Brexit and delivering a Corbyn demolition job – during the 2017 general election.

Photographs of Corbyn and McDonnell dredged up from 30 years ago were regularly reprinted under alarmist headlines, but the then Prime Minister Theresa May failed lamentably to follow through the attack lines supplied by the press. Johnson would not repeat her mistake.

In the aftermath of the 2016 vote to Leave and the 2017 election, there was some rowing back by the tabloid press and an acknowledgement, at least by the Daily Mail and Daily Express, that their scare tactics on immigration needed to be scaled down.

Initially Geordie Greig, Paul Dacre’s replacement as Mail editor, did steer a shift towards a more balanced approach but that caution was cast aside after Johnson launched his Get Brexit Done campaign and triggered a December general election.

As the Mail and the Sun went to ever greater extremes in rehashing anti-Corbyn diatribes that had already been recycled several times before there was some limited internal resistance, but it was soon dissipated.

There was to be no letting up in the campaign to help Johnson secure the parliamentary majority he needed to deliver Brexit by the end of January 2020 and that meant the trashing of Corbyn, viler even than that meted out to Michael Foot or Neil Kinnock, would plumb new depths of viciousness.

Illustrations: Mail on Sunday, 8.12.2019; Sun, 9.12.2019; Sun, 11.12.2019.