Monday, 21 September 2015

All to play for: Corbyn, the media and makings of new movement politics

He's made it handsomely over the line, alarmed the establishment, initiated a new parliamentary politics, and pleased many by refusing to sing an anachronistic dirge about saving a feudal relic.

All of which has been met with relentless waves of media denunciation, political abuse and even the threat of an army coup.

But, hard as they've tried, Jeremy Corbyn is now a political reality. So while the party plots and media smears continue, much of the attack line has shifted towards brooding 'acceptance', a play-along game of sniping and derisory comment coupled with all-knowing 'advice' on the survival chances of the Corbyn project.

And one message seems particularly prominent: that Corbyn 'needs a media strategy', to become 'communication savvy', to hire a spin doctor.

Much of this is intended to showcase the 'superior understanding' Guardian columnists and BBC correspondents have of political life: we may disapprove the Corbyn message, they intimate, but only we understand how it can really be conveyed. The smugness of that certainty is matched only by the paternalistic way in which it's being delivered.

For the Guardian, a paper that's led the assault on Corbyn, and watched in dismay as people-power prevailed, it's also a way of sneaking its way back into public approval.

Thus does Tom Clark, editor of the Guardian's editorial column, try to shroud his paper's hypocrisy by dispensing some 'helpful' advice on the 'imperative need' for a spin doctor:
In every case, too, there are reasons to question the motives of those who were rubbishing him before his landslide win was even announced. And yet, without a practitioner of the dark arts to pour such suspicions into journalists’ ears, such doubts are not being stoked.
And just in case we think the Guardian is tipping just too 'charitably' towards Corbyn, Clark offers this settling caveat:
To be clear, my purpose is not to defend Corbyn’s calls in each case, many of which I don’t agree with, only to point out that he has a right to be heard, which he is thus far failing to exercise, because of his shambolic refusal to play the media game.
Clark argues that to avoid "crashing and burning", Corbyn requires an Alastair Campbell-type spin team to smooth the issues of Europe, the 'lack of women' in his shadow cabinet (an evident untruth), the "trenchant leftist John McDonnell", and how to handle the parliamentary party. Any concern that this may be a return to Blairite spin politics is dismissed by Clark.

The Guardian's Suzanne Moore is no less sneering in talking of Corbyn's supposed lack of media nous and failure to accept the mainstream as the dominant, authentic medium:
What Corbyn needs, beyond obviously a spin doctor and a mini-break, is to surround himself with thinkers. Gosh, some of them may even be female. For he is the exact opposite of the movement he needs to build: young , flexible and networked. He is its temporary caretaker. Sorry, but hating the media, the Tories and austerity are not policies. They are feelings. Thinking, actually thinking anew, is the challenge.
So, for Moore, Corbyn is not only media passĂ©, but an unoriginal thinker. Tell that to his legions of young, inspired followers.

Guardian political editor Patrick Wintour also paints Corbyn as the stubborn idealist, cobbling together appointments with no real media understanding:
Corbyn’s media advisers had gone to his house on Sunday morning to warn him and to talk through his reshuffle. The idea was to agree the details on Sunday and then appear on the BBC Today programme on Monday morning. It was a pretty traditional media plan. But Corbyn objected. He does not like the “mainstream media”; believes its influence overrated and prefers direct personal contact or to use social media. According to one source close to the campaign, he also finds the invasion of his privacy hurtful. He could not, for instance, be persuaded by colleagues to drop three attacks on the press in his victory speech.
For Wintour, any mention of a media that had used every trick and subterfuge to prevent that victory speech seems like some kind of petty indulgence.

So, beyond such 'benign advice', how might a radical-minded Corbyn campaign best play its media hand?

Not by placating the liberal establishment and craving its 'assistance', but through independent argument and advancing its own media voice. It's not the case that any real movement politics, if that's what Corbyn aspires to, must live or die by the mainstream media, even if people like Corbyn still partake in it.

For all their 'authority', so many elite journalists are still evading the most obvious truth: that people are reacting against spin politics. That's precisely why Corbyn got elected. And it's why any such promising politics should resist the temptation to moderate its message and conform to such messengers' prescriptions on how and where to deliver it.

As Media Lens succinctly put it in their latest fine alert piece:
We like the fact that Jeremy Corbyn wears uncool shorts and sandals, that he doesn't look 'prime ministerial' or 'presidential'. We have always reviled Blair's self-assured, Clintonian head-waggle; Obama's all-knowing, fatherly smile. We never understood how anyone could be deceived by Thatcher's sonorous, strident 'sincerity'. We might disagree with Corbyn on any number of issues, but he is at least recognisably human. He seems more like the people we know, less like the people with serious suits and unserious souls who view themselves as 'The Masters of Mankind'.
Despite small pockets of support, serving a vital fig-leaf function, the liberal-left media has shown itself to be massively hostile to anything seriously progressive. In particular, the brutal treatment Corbyn has received from the Guardian and Independent has amounted to little more than a tabloid-style assault.

And now we see the awkward spectre of the Guardian trying to ingratiate itself with the new street mood. It's sister Observer has even gone into seemingly 'humble' mode, giving space to an impressive piece by its own Ed Vulliamy criticising the paper's editorial hostility towards Corbyn and its failure to be on the side of real political progress.

Yet none of this signals real self-reflection. The task is damage repair. As Jonathan Cook puts it in a brilliant analysis of the Guardian/Observer's dark complicity over the spiking of a key exclusive by Vulliamy, confirming that Iraq had no WMD, and their appalling treatment of Corbyn:
Belatedly the two papers are starting to sense their core readership feels betrayed. Vulliamy’s commentary should be seen in that light. It is not a magnanimous gesture by the Observer, or even an indication of its commitment to pluralism. It is one of the early indications of a desperate damage limitation operation. We are likely to see more such “reappraisals” in the coming weeks, as the liberal-left media tries to salvage its image with its core readers.
All of which shows the deep crisis of political and media hegemony Corbyn's election is helping to generate.

The Guardian is still, of course, being used by Corbyn and his supporters as a platform for progressive messages. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has also had a comment piece published there, proclaiming Corbyn's victory.

But that shouldn't mean approval of the Guardian. Interestingly, Iglesias's article was republished at Spain's El Pais, which he regards as the dominant establishment outlet to be challenged. The same applies to the Guardian. And that also means showing that such media are part of the same corporate structure, motivated by profit and market interests.

In this regard, the Guardian understands that it must protect its notional brand image as a 'guiding hand' of the moderate left - or, as Cook puts it, its "undeserved reputation as the left’s moral compass." Thus the latest 'come into our house' advocacy on what 'Jez can't' afford to do.

So, where does that leave the Guardian's very few Corbyn-supporters in advancing this new politics? Why can't Owen Jones, Seumas Milne and George Monbiot be, at least, as open as Vulliamy about the Guardian's line? As Media Lens ask:
What is stopping @SeumasMilne @OwenJones84 @GeorgeMonbiot @MarkSteel from also speaking out? @guardian @independent 
Such enquiries usually go ignored. Yet, these writers understand precisely what's at stake here. Thus, Owen Jones has asserted:
I’ve sometimes been criticised for having a column in a newspaper with an editorial line that is often at variance with my beliefs, or to appearing on the likes of Sky News. But without engaging with the mainstream media it is almost impossible to get a message to the as-yet unpersuaded.

Is this actual criticism from Jones? If so, it's very tame. Nor, notes Amit Singh, responding to Jones, does it fit with the reality of the Corbyn surge: 
This doesn’t seem to be reflective of the way the Corbyn campaign’s success. People looked beyond what they saw as a corrupt mainstream media, dominated by the interests of a very few and voted accordingly.
Jones has also written in My role in the media in months ahead:
 My attitude to writing is conflicted — I don’t particularly enjoy it — but as I see it as a means to reach as broad an audience as possible with these causes and beliefs. That’s why I go on TV and radio, use social media, run a YouTube channel, do talks and meetings across the country, visit sixth forms, or — more leftfield — did a TV show about politics with Joey Essex and spoke at Paloma Faith’s gigs. All I’m interested in is reaching people with political ideas that are otherwise banished.
A seemingly logical argument: more coverage, more influence, the spreading of ideas. But what if, in the process, such writers become so absorbed by the medium, failing to see how it compromises and limits the message?  Are token appearances at the Guardian or Sky really part of a radical new media strategy? What if people like Jones and Corbyn dispensed with the Guardian? What if both the medium and the message were truly independent?  

That's a real work in progress. But Corbyn's arrival, at least, offers the potential for a more dynamic media environment. Correspondents seem shocked and disorientated by his refusal to conform to their usual protocols. Suddenly gone are the easy-fed briefings, the cosy lines of communication.

This is good. Why pander to a media which, however much you reason with it, is intent on killing your character? And why place serious credibility and faith in so many renowned journalists positioned through privilege rather than talent?

Corbyn has shown what he really thinks by walking past and ignoring Sky News - a dignified act which the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, with preposterous exaggeration, likened to a:
perp walk, the footage carrying the same visual grammar as yet another 70s celebrity helping police with their inquiries [sic]. All that was missing was a blanket over his head.
These, remind yourself, are the words of a Guardian executive editor, not a Sun hack.

Corbyn has expressed, in his victory speech, similar disdain for the brutal methods of the Mail, Express and other right-wing press. And he knows he can expect little better from the Times, Telegraph and other 'high-end' establishment outlets.

Here, for example, is Camilla Long of the Times, stretching the pretentiously absurd to its very limits:
I have always wondered what it would be like to watch something truly deranged happen on the political stage, to watch the modern equivalent of Caligula suddenly decide he would like to make his horse a consul.  As the pale white crowds roll up, I realise that Labour is now Caligula and Jeremy Corbyn is that horse. Or, at least, he is an extraordinary half-resuscitated goat who, over the past 60 days, has taken the party back at least one year each day. Today we appear to have reached 1955. 
As tweeted to Long, this is the gosh-gush world of Times 'journalism'. And it's only matched by the Telegraph's spluttering indignation over Corbyn's refusal to join in the national anthem.

But, behind its moral facade, the liberal media is no better. Corbyn's experience with Krishnan Guru Murthy of Channel 4 News shows that any progressive figure can expect the same tabloid-type interrogation.

Still, appearances on such platforms can deliver useful hits. Here's John McDonnell, giving an assured interview on Channel 4 News, with this encouraging comment on utilising independent media:
Interviewed by Paul Mason on the same C4 News edition, Yanis Varoufakis also talks admiringly of Corbyn, on the "cautionary tale" of Syriza's fall, and the need to manage those first moments of exuberance against "the onslaught which will come from an establishment that is not going to give up its privileges very easily."

And here's his supportive advice on how Corbyn should handle the media:
If the message is right, if you are sincere...if you speak to their heart, and address them directly as adults [they] are not going to be terrorised by the media. Don't fear the media. The media can be by-passed.
Mason, noting Varoufakis's previous deep criticism of Labour, asks if it can be redeemed. "Everyone can be redeemed, as long as they do the right thing", he answers, which, for Labour, he believes, means holding to sincere radical positions in its critique of capitalism. That's much smarter counsel than anything offered by Corbyn's liberal-left 'advisers'.

Without shunning the dominant media, Corbyn and other progressives shouldn't be afraid to bypass it, even BBC state media.

Corbyn's cancelling of a 'major appearance' on the Andrew Marr show the morning after his election, choosing instead to attend a charity event at his constituency, was roundly denounced as an infantile snub. But it actually showed his readiness not to become dependent on elite-serving platforms, or succumb to easy set-ups.

The now infamous Panorama hatchet job by John Ware is a prime illustration of calculated smearing and manipulated editing, showing just how deeply embedded such journalists reside within the establishment.

We've also seen the BBC's tabloid-style depictions of John McDonnell, a figure perhaps even more reviled by the establishment than Corbyn.

And, of course, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg's coverage of Corbyn and McDonnell has been particularly relentless in accentuating the negative.

However, Kuenssberg's later interview with Corbyn, in which she asks whether he will kneel before the Queen, as part of Privy Council protocol, does offer some fascinating insight on a politician speaking with unscripted frankness, perplexing and pleasing some even at the BBC.

A last, fleeting moment of the real Corbyn before the media handlers move in? Hopefully not, for this new candid conversational style is, surely, Corbyn's very strength.

The furore over Corbyn failing to sing the national anthem, and reticence over genuflecting to a monarch, tells us much about how even the most decent, principled people get pressured and coerced into conformity.

Despite appearing to retreat over the anthem issue, Corbyn and McDonnell have many radical things to say. Corbyn got elected on that very populist platform. It's profoundly sincere and, because of that, has real street appeal. Why temper or abandon it?

Contrary to what Corbyn's handlers will be telling him, the monarchy issue, and how it stifles the political culture, is important, and shouldn't, as Owen Jones urges, be prudently circumvented. Are we to hang silent on a super-elite family sitting at the apex of the class system, one which allies with despots and acts as a PR agency for the arms industry? And, as Cook says, the threat of an army mutiny now posed by a serving general "puts the ludicrous current confected debate about Corbyn refusing to sing the national anthem in an even more sinister light."

Corbyn's position should simply be: I'm a republican and I have conscientious objections to endorsing an institution built on jingoistic militarism and feudal privilege. Also, why should an atheist/secularist be compelled to sing God Save the Queen?

That kind of quiet assertion should inform his overall approach. The media will hound him for it, but they'll do that anyway. Many people will disagree, but that's expected. At least they're more likely to respect his views, and may be encouraged to think about their actual merits. The point is to openly debate and better inform.

Isn't it time to show real modernity and moral priorities in our politics? Must we always play to the dominant agenda? Whether in advocating constitutional change or economic reform, nothing can ever be achieved without confident conviction in an alternative vision of society, holding to a true radical purpose, free from being told to kowtow and accept establishment 'realities'.

Nor is the Corbyn agenda as fanciful or ephemeral as the establishment would have us believe. Here's an interesting account from Business Insider on how smartly Corbyn is playing his new media hand, and why Cameron and the wider elite should be deeply concerned:
He only talks about facts and policies, he never makes it personal. He refuses to engage with a media that simply wants to entrap him with the kind of soundbites that can be used later in Tory Party YouTube videos. And he tells it like it is, or at least how he sees it. It's enormously refreshing, even if you don't agree with him. And voters love that kind of thing.
Again, like the Yes following in Scotland, so much of that mass appreciation and politicisation has been built on the fertile ground of social media.

The greatest danger for any nascent Corbyn politics now is timidity and incorporation. Look what happened to Syriza, as Varoufakis has testified. Crucially, the success of Corbynism doesn't depend on Corbyn, and certainly not the 'electability' of the Labour Party, but on the coalescing of a true movement politics. Yet, as we've seen in Greece, the opportunities for holding to that project are so easily forfeited at the altar of moderation.

Momentous changes are taking place. People, drained by clone politics and economic subjugation, are restless and energised. The media is under scrutiny and challenge like never before. Nothing progressive was ever won easily or overnight. But we should take heart from what's being achieved against all the odds, against all the resources of a ruthless establishment.

From moderation media to ruling royals, rampant capitalism to parliamentary 'democracy', no form of power and control should be seen as avoidable or unworthy of discussion. There's so much to talk about, so much to challenge, so much to play for, so much to win.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Windsor and Witchell, too long reigning and slavering over us

Ukanian serfdom and its unremitting grovel-speak.

Witchell writes: 
Steadfast. Constant. Dutiful.
These are the words which are used most frequently to describe Queen Elizabeth II, monarch and head of state of the United Kingdom and of her "other realms and territories". Few, I think, would disagree with these characterisations of a widely respected sovereign whose reign has entered the record books.
One day we will live in a modern, grown-up republic of true democratic values, with a fearless media inspiring the political and civic imagination. Until then, we have the monarchy and the BBC.  

Monday, 7 September 2015

Guardian-liberal war agenda - a 'no-fly zone' for criticism

As the crisis for refugees continues, our 'compassion-swept' media have moved seamlessly into familiar 'bomb-to-save' mode. And this goes well beyond the usual suspects. 
Unsurprisingly, the Sun, Mail and other hate press have leapt upon the 'migrant crisis' as a call to war. Thus, could Owen Jones tweet:
The real cowards are politicians who
don't stand up to our thuggish press.
The virulent hypocrisy of the Sun should need no expanding upon. But what of the liberal thuggery of the Guardian, pontificating about saving refugee lives while advocating more bombs? 
This, of course, is all stated in more 'moderated' tones than that shouted by the Sun. But it's message is no less loaded. With the lofty compassion-speak comes the same predictable war-speak
The increase in refugee numbers heading for the EU describes a collapse of hope among millions of Syrians, many displaced in neighbouring countries, that their home will be safe again in their lifetime. To begin restoring that hope will inevitably mean international intervention of some kind. The establishment of credible safe havens and the implementation of a no-fly zone must be on the table for serious consideration.
And while Russia and Iran also get shot-down for backing Assad, not a word is uttered here about the mendacious role of the US/UK, Gulf states and Turkey in fomenting the conflict in Syria. 
Nor, it seems, are the near-identikit column words of Guardian executive editor Jonathan Freedland coincidental:
Of course, this could never be a whole solution. Action for refugees means not only a welcome when they arrive, but also a remedy for the problem that made them leave. The people now running from Syria have concluded that it is literally uninhabitable: it is a place where no one can live. They have come to that conclusion slowly, after four years of murderous violence. To make them think again would require action a thousand miles away from the level of the district council, an international effort to stop not just the killers of Isis but also Bashar al-Assad’s barrel bombs.
That might mean the creation of safe havens and no-fly zones. More trenchant voices say the bombs won’t stop until anti-Assad rebels can fire back with anti-aircraft weaponry. Those wary of military action, which always risks making a hellish situation worse, prefer diplomacy. After the breakthrough on the nuclear issue, could there not be progress with Iran – whose military backing, along with Russia’s, has helped sustain Assad in power, and maintained his killing machine, for so long?
While Jones and others keep their convenient focus on the right-wing press, providing a 'moral' shield for the Guardianista, a fine piece from Adam Johnson helps confirm the deep involvement of the West/Gulf states, and exposes the 'do something' advocates. Specifically, regarding no-fly zones:
A) A no-fly zone would only be applied to Assad because anti-Assad forces don’t have an air force. B)  While it may sound like a simple humanitarian stop gap—and that’s no doubt how it’s being sold—literally every no-fly zone in history has eventually led to regime change. Which is fair enough, but those pushing for one should at least be honest about what this means: the active removal of Assad by foreign forces. Indeed, if one recalls the NATO intervention in Libya was originally sold as a no-fly zone to prevent a potential genocide, but within a matter of weeks, NATO leaders had pivoted to full-on regime change.  
Johnson also rejects claims that this would have prevented the deaths of refugees like little Aylan Kurdi:   
But here again, there’s some serious fudging going on by the Guardian. While there’s no doubt many of the refugees are escaping Assad’s bombing of cities, the boy in question, Aylan Kurdi, wasn’t: He was escaping ISIS and the US bombing of his hometown of Kobani, far from anything the Assad government is doing. A no-fly zone would not have saved his hometown. An absence of fueling jihadists by the United States and the subsequent bombing of said jihadists by the United States? Perhaps.
The suppression of these truths has become all the more vital as the smearing of Corbyn gets used not only to agonise over New Labour's lost 'entitlement', but also, now, as blame for blocking Cameron's efforts to 'liberate' Syria.
Again, as with Libya, the Guardian case for more bombing of Syria is being sneaked under the 'compassion radar'. And little effort is being made to identify and target it.    
Instead, Jones and his peers have helped maintain a kind of 'no-fly zone' around the liberal media, protecting it from critical attack. While their own salvos are directed at the villainous Sun and Mail, 'safe corridors' of opinion are being kept secure for liberal journalists to moralise the case for 'intervention'. A sanctimonious 'cordon sanitaire', likewise, surrounds liberal-hawkish editorials, serving to deflect criticism over the 'bomb-to-protect' agenda.

It's entirely right to denounce your shrieking Sun, but your 'guiding Guardian' needs a closer kind of critical attention. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Understanding Palestinian rights and the ideology of Zionism - an essential piece from Ilan Pappe

I urge people to set a little time aside to read or/and listen to this brilliant interview with Professor Ilan Pappe:

PappĂ© on apartheid, ideology, Chomsky, and the contradictions of “liberal Zionism”

Free from clumsy jargon, Pappe lays out a penetrating set of comments and explanations on Palestinian rights, the driving ideology of Zionist Israel, the contortions of liberal Zionism, the illusion-peddled 'peace process', the contrived narrative of the 'two state solution', the fit between Israel's racist settler colonialism and wider neoliberalism, the applicability of 'apartheid' to Israel, and the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Reflecting many of their current exchanges, Pappe's account is also a vital engagement of Chomsky's formulations - and it's important that it should be read in that spirit of healthy systematic inquiry, of constructive critique rather than criticism

Some examples of Pappe's acute observations:
What lies behind the idea of a two-state solution is: if the Jewish national movement and the Palestinian national movement arrive more or less at the same time to the same place, and were unable to settle the question of to whom the land belongs, and were unable to reconcile, and what was needed was kind of a grown-up in the form of the United States and Britain that would help these two sides to reconcile on the basis of a kind-of American, business-like approach, where you divide the land, you divide the responsibility, and so on. And that is a very wrong way of reading the whole history of Palestine since the arrival of the Zionist movement there in the late nineteenth century until today.  
The two state solution fits so well to the neoliberal paradigm, where you look at Israel and Palestine and you claim that you are using a very sensible measure called partition between two conflicting sides. But you give one side 80% of the land and one side 20% of the land, and you sell it as a fair deal. That is neoliberalism, that is exactly neoliberalism, the idea that economic balance of power determines what equality means. In reality, it is inequality in essence. But again, this new speak of neoliberalism is very, very important.
Overall, a riveting and deeply educational piece for anyone seeking clarification of the core issues and serious positioning on Palestine-Israel.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Guardian and Jones now working hard to 'moderate' Corbyn

As a gloomy Guardian come to accept the 'calamity' of a Corbyn victory, an anguished piece by political correspondent Patrick Wintour provides a useful indication of the next major effort to stifle any Corbyn movement for real change.

Wintour seems, firstly, barely able to believe it has actually 'come to this':   
In a fortnight’s time, if opinion polls and most other available evidence are to be believed, Jeremy Corbyn will be elected leader of the Labour party, placing the most unexpected pressure on the political management skills of a man who has previously run only the planning committee of Haringey council in north London.
We will then have the spectre of Corbyn the 'indulgent amateur' facing the 'real deal' of parliament and the 'wrath' of his party:
Within days of his election on 12 September, he will meet his MPs, only 20 of whom ever truly backed him. Two days later, he will face prime minister’s questions, an event he has watched from the backbenches for the past 32 years. A fortnight later, he faces four days of scrutiny at a traumatised Labour annual conference.
And, following this, the resentful, 'rightful reckoning' of 'Labour's best': 
At some point in this melee, he must appoint a new frontbench that may have lost some of its best talent. He will need to appoint a chief whip who is likely to be told by many Labour MPs that Corbyn is entitled to receive the levels of loyalty he gave previous Labour leaders – none. [Italics added.]
Wintour could have depicted all this as a fresh and exciting new time, a reinvigoration of debate, a first step in sweeping away the old machine politics and elite institutions. 

But this is your dutiful Guardian, always giving 'sensible' lessons on the 'achievable'.

Having apparently failed in its 'stop Corbyn' exercise, the task now for Wintour and the Guardian is containing radical Corbynism. Central to this effort is Owen Jones, lauded by Wintour in his piece as a vital voice of moderation. Mocking 'hard-left' calls for Corbyn to pursue a serious radical agenda, Wintour, instead, hails Jones's more "honest" account of the "challenges" ahead:  
Owen Jones, [Corbyn's] chief media ally, has written an impressively honest piece setting out how hard the challenge facing Corbyn will become. He urges Corbynites to deploy “message discipline”, reach out to the middle income people, the moderates in the Labour party, those opposed to immigration and more broadly to avoid internal confrontations “so that if he is attacked by those determined to undermine his democratically decided leadership they are exposed as the aggressors”. Corbyn should pick his fights with his fellow MPs.
Just as, we must suppose, people like Jones should 'pick their fights' without too much disturbance. The notion of Jones as "chief media ally" here doesn't, of course, include discussion of the Guardian's aggressive assault on Corbyn, or, for Wintour, Jones's own silence over such shameful attacks. But that's just part of the evasive narrative being peddled here. For Jones, as well as the Guardian, it's all about prudent avoidance.     
Another one of the fights Jones is urging Corbyn to avoid is over Britain's membership of Nato:
A Corbyn-led government has to pick its battles, because it already has enough of them. Take NATO: the merits of membership are so far from the mainstream of political debate, it would be pointless and self-defeating to pick a fight over it. Instead, Labour should suggest a more constructive role for Britain within the Alliance.
Yet, in an important counter-analysis, taking wider aim at Jones's moderating voice, John Rees more convincingly insists:
But less NATO is not really possible or acceptable. Neither is ‘less Trident’. Less ‘war on terror’ would be a challenge to the whole centre of British foreign policy. It would be a direct challenge to the British state’s standing in the world, and a breach in the special relationships with the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That is why any threat to the ‘UK’s place in the world’ (including unity with Scotland or membership of the EU, as well as NATO membership) will be treated as an existential threat by the ruling class. And this is why Jeremy Corbyn should hold to the ‘No to NATO’, ‘No War’ positions that he has campaigned for over many years. Owen Jones is completely wrong to urge Jeremy to break his long-standing agreement with the anti-war movement on the NATO issue.
In urging that the Corbyn movement hold to a decisive left agenda, Rees also warns of the mass establishment onslaught still to come after September 12:
We have not yet even seen the forces that were deployed to stop Scotland voting Yes in the referendum.
You can be sure of the Guardian being a keen part of any such upsurge. 

In his fine 2011 article The Dangerous Cult of the Guardian Jonathan Cook writes:
The media – at least the supposedly leftwing component of it – should be cheering on this revolution, if not directly enabling it. And yet, mostly they are trying to co-opt, tame or subvert it. Indeed, progressive broadcasters and writers increasingly use their platforms in the mainstream to discredit and ridicule the harbingers of the new age. A good case study is the Guardian, considered the most leftwing newspaper in Britain and rapidly acquiring cult status in the United States, where many readers tend to assume they are getting access through its pages to unvarnished truth and the full range of critical thinking on the left.
Everything Cook says here confirms what a vital role the Guardian and other liberal-left media are playing in suppressing change. We need only look at its place within the 'corporate reality':
The Guardian, like other mainstream media, is heavily invested – both financially and ideologically – in supporting the current global order. It was once able to exclude and now, in the internet age, must vilify those elements of the left whose ideas risk questioning a system of corporate power and control of which the Guardian is a key institution. The paper’s role, like that of its rightwing cousins, is to limit the imaginative horizons of readers. While there is just enough leftwing debate to make readers believe their paper is pluralistic, the kind of radical perspectives needed to question the very foundations on which the system of Western dominance rests is either unavailable or is ridiculed.
This is the real work of the liberal establishment, serving to circumvent, mitigate, evade, moderate, incorporate, pacify and prevent any potential for serious, radical change.

While journalists like Wintour invoke the 'perils' of a collapsed New Labour, Jones forms part of the adopted vanguard on how to manage it, preaching an 'insiderist' message of system-safe observance. 

Cover-to-cover, you will search in vain for any mention of this kind of Guardian-type service to power in Jones's own The Establishment. Indeed, that kind of selectively narrow indictment - as with the current liberal-left denouncing of the right-wing press over Corbyn - serves as the most welcome establishment diversion, a coveted fig-leaf journalism that helps authenticate and protect the whole carefully arranged system of power.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Mark Steel, alas, blocking debate on liberal media and its attack on Corbyn

Alas, I've been blocked on Twitter by Independent writer and comedian Mark Steel. Ah, well, so it goes. 
It's a shame, as I have great respect for Steel as a journalist and artist. It's all the more disappointing given that my questions and observations to him were offered in a spirit of fair engagement, a civil invitation to debate, albeit in the cursory way debate can ever be conducted on Twitter.

But the subject of such debate is no small matter, concerning the appalling performance of the Independent and Guardian, alongside the right-wing press, in their relentless campaign to smear and demolish Jeremy Corbyn.
Here's the exchange, in response to Steel's Independent piece headlined 'Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be':
Mark Steel @mrmarksteel
My column has arrived, I bring news of Labour jollity

John Hilley @johnwhilley
.@mrmarksteel Love your stuff, but why just right-wing press, ignoring Indy/Guardian's dark part in warning us about the #Corbyn 'disaster'?

Mark Steel @mrmarksteel
@johnwhilley AAAAAAAAAAAGH A) I don't write the headlines B) Do you want me to write an article called 'why this paper is shit'?

John Hilley @johnwhilley
.@mrmarksteel Ok, what about a comment on this headline and the message it sends out? And is the Indy's output on #Corbyn beyond criticism? 
A previous observation was also made in a comment to a retweet:              
It says so much that such a sharp writer fails even to intimate the Indy/Guardian's appalling treatment of
It's worth noting here that while Steel may be correct in saying the title wasn't written by him, whoever did write it at the Indy was only reflecting, quite accurately, the actual media - Telegraph and Mail - Steel himself was targeting in his piece. So if he has an issue with the headline, why not say so?   
Media Lens were also blocked by Steel for posting a few similar civil questions and observations, as in: 
Media Lens @medialens @johnwhilley
@mrmarksteel Fine, but what's to stop you mentioning Guardian alongside the Mail and Telegraph? Has Guardian not been awful?
Media Lens @medialens
@mrmarksteel According to Lexis, you have criticised Guardian a total of 3 times, twice in passing, most recently 2001. Almost faultless?
Ironically, as Media Lens tweeted, Steel can resort to blocking commentators while denouncing Labour's purging of those it deems 'unfit' to vote in the leadership contest:
Media Lens @medialens
Irony: Steel lampooning Labour's blocking of applicants. He blocked us this morning for sending a couple of questions
A deep irony, indeed. 
Sometimes we find ourselves in times of real progressive potential. This is one such promising moment. And, as Jonathan Cook suggests in a fine blog comment, the Corbyn phenomenon is "a prospect terrifying our supposedly liberal media." 
We've seen the massive shift in public politicisation during and after the Scottish independence referendum. Now we're seeing a similar exciting surge of movement politics from the Corbyn campaign. In both cases, and many others, a liberal establishment media, notably the Guardian and Independent, have played a vital part in trying to halt or undermine that progress.
And, as Media Lens have helpfully documented, leading writers and observers can have no excuse for claiming not to see the extent of that 'stop Corbyn' campaign. 
Should we sit back and ignore this? Should we pretend it's all just an attack from the right-wing media? Should we turn a blind-eye to those leftist writers at the Indy and Guardian who, while putting out good articles, are still unwilling to address the kind of hatchet journalism and editorialising the liberal establishment media are engaged in? 
Some argue that we shouldn't 'alienate' those on our own side, or that we're 'expecting too much' of such writers, or that we're 'diverting attention' from 'real enemies' like Cameron and the Tories. Yet, should we simply dismiss how such media serve to contain, dilute and moderate debate on meaningful change, keeping us safely dulled on what's 'achievable'? 
Some say such media are relatively unimportant, that more of the public are exposed to and influenced by tabloid-type media. But that's to dismiss the central role of the liberal media in shaping safely-moderated narratives like 'sensible Labourism'. Hence, the gravitas writers like Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland are treated with.
If anything, beyond what many disregard as virulent Sun/Mail-speak, their kind of 'sober' and 'balanced' viewpoints, as with 'respectable' anti-Corbyn Guardian/Indy editorials and news, carries even more influential weight.  
This requires a more critically challenging view of such media, a realisation that this is not a time for using the Guardian, Indy and other liberal places as an 'opportune platform' for defending Corbynism, but as an opportune moment for highlighting the very forces serving to suffocate it and other promising progressive movements.
This is the very terrain of political action. It's not a time or place to placate, appease or make excuses for such liberal-left media. If we want serious progress, there has to be a real effort to expose and transcend the hegemonic power of the whole establishment media, not some faux pretence and mitigation that it's still a 'useful' space within which serious change can be made. 
It's no big deal to be blocked by big names on the ego-driven Twittersphere. But such actions do help illustrate the deep avoidance of this key issue, and the extent to which even highly-admired journalists will go in evading discussion of it. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Trashing Corbyn, promoting Brown - Guardian's version of morality politics

Another week, another frontline assault on Jeremy Corbyn from the Guardian. It's a measure of the media establishment's panic that the 'Corbyn crisis' has now overtaken even the 'migrant crisis' (never, of course, a 'crisis for migrants') as the most pressing 'Operation Halt'.

Following Blair, Straw, Campbell and Johnson, David Miliband has now been rolled-in to deliver his stark warning over Corbyn. The Blairite rescue convoy now seems like an M20-type stack waiting in turn to denounce the menacing swarm of illegal entryists and system-threatening Corbynistas.

Alongside runs a relentless line of skewed 'copy' from Rowena Mason and other 'political correspondents'. Just how many smears, one wonders, can be crammed into a piece under that cover role? Mason is, of course, well attuned to such chicanery, having plied her trade for many years at the Telegraph.

Following a shameless piece 'covering' the Jewish Chronicle's attack on Corbyn, Mason continued with another deeply-loaded piece 'reporting' Channel 4 News anchor Cathy Newman's own shabby ambushing of Corbyn over the same scurrilous anti-Semitism claims.

If the Guardian, Channel 4 and the rest of our 'enquiring' media had the remotest integrity they would be headlining and exposing such fabrications. Instead, the slurs are 'reported', repeated and allowed to rest as part of a massively-weighted body of 'news' and opinion, supposedly 'balanced' by Corbyn's denials.

The much-hyped 'intervention' of Gordon Brown is a glaring case in point.

The Guardian wasted no time in getting him front-paged, with those all-important smear lines written-up, alongside, by Mason and her associates.

As with the Scottish independence vote, Brown has been wheeled-out as some kind of 'reluctant sage', intended as a more 'respectable' and persuasive figure than Blair or Campbell.

But, as with the Indy vote, and despite such favoured presentation, there's been a notable backlash against Brown's posturing, his fellow Labour 'saviours', and, increasingly, the Guardian itself for its complicit hosting of them.

In response, Guardian regular Suzanne Moore is now crying foul over 'hostile' Corbynites who are 'abusing' those 'daring' to speak out against Corbyn. Keeping up? 

As Moore bewails:
You should be able to express doubt about Corbyn without risking vitriol.
Note the coy use of words here: while an entire media effort to bombard Corbyn with abusive distortion can be reduced to "doubt", responses to it are to be condemned as "vitriol".

Moore goes on:
I am sure Corbyn genuinely does not want to sink to the level of yelling at his opponents, but the specialist subject of some of his supporters is vile abuse. This may just be the modus operandi of social media now, but it is unedifying to see that the mood music of those who would enact the socialist dream involves, at times, screaming at anyone who harbours any doubt about Corbyn. Express the slightest qualm about his potential leadership and you’re apparently a war-mongering moron who feasts on homeless people. Or, if you are Liz Kendall, basically to the right of Iain Duncan Smith.
At the risk of being labelled part of Moore's 'vitriolic pack', this is the most crass hyperbole, a facile sweep of the issues and debate, implying that alleged abuse from "some" on social media is somehow representative of, or particular to, Corbyn supporters.

More specifically, Moore laments that she:
was disturbed by the vitriol poured out against Gordon Brown this weekend, even while I’m aware of his flaws.
Again, note the passive use of "flaws", few of which are actually probed.  Instead, Moore uses her piece to talk-up Brown's 'respectable intervention', stoutly defending his record in office. Yet, amongst these "flaws", she conveniently fails to mention his central part as Treasurer in funding and supporting the war in Iraq.

Perhaps the passage of time has given Brown space for honest, moral reconsideration? Not so, as made abundantly clear in his own evidence to Chilcot, where he reaffirmed his support for Blair's motivations and conduct. This was nowhere to be seen in Moore's gushing account, not deemed one of his "flaws". A safe Guardian oversight, no doubt.

Moore's version of 'morality politics' here reflects the kind of 'bad apple' line the Guardian's executive editor Jonathan Freedland often adopts when seeking to mitigate Israel's criminality, as in denouncing Netanyahu, but staying soft on co-criminals like Livni.

Likewise, Moore assures us, criticism of people like Blair and Campbell is "entirely understandable", but not applicable to Brown, who, we must assume from Moore's apologetic screed, was one of the 'silent waverers', a 'deep-down dove'.

Yet, as noted in his own unambiguous declaration, that was never the case. And if he ever did have 'quieter misgivings', why didn't he declare them before the slaughter and resign in good conscience?

The Guardian's coverage of Brown tells us much about the pernicious cycle of smear and containment. Firstly, there's the eagerly-hosted attacks from people like Blair and Brown, followed by glowing coverage from 'correspondents' like Mason, leading to Moore's kind of rearguard demonisation of those challenging those smears and the 'reporting' of them.

It's more mounting evidence of how the establishment line is crafted and peddled in 'crisis' situations, and the pressing need, in ever-civil manner, to expose, boycott and exit the Guardian.