What the Telegraph and others do not understand about their Corbyn Ad Hominems …
For two years now, we have enjoyed a litany of sorry non-stories from the right-wing press. The format is always the same; ‘Jeremy Corbyn once visited the same supermarket as a fellow who was a driver for a guy who knew someone who claimed that they went to a meeting that Yasser Arafat also attended …’ or ‘Jeremy Corbyn didn’t fully button his fly at an official banquet in a clear attempt to insult the queen.’
Today his popularity continues to show an upward trajectory, whilst Theresa May’s popularity continues to tank. Labour are now 5-8 points ahead in most polling. The personal attacks aren’t working. And they aren’t working because they generally imply an association with terrorists or ‘bad people’, or suggest an overt and intentional disrespect on his part, which would, were it true, as reported, clearly be at odds with his actual actions and long held convictions in over 30 years of political life. He has in fact, if anything, facilitated the smears by his own honesty and integrity by actually providing respectful answers and explanations, to questions which were actually ill advised to ask, since there are few, if any real skeletons in Corbyn’s cupboard.
I recall a Telegraph smear article which headlined ‘Corbyn’s £3million State Funded Salary and Pension’. The figure was arrived at by adding up his income as an MP, over 30 years, and his Pension Rights; a totally meaningless figure except to demonstrate a reality which was entirely at odds with the intention of the headline, to anyone bothering to read beyond it. The fact that people exist who read the Telegraph, Sun, Express or whatever, and who are fundamentally ill disposed towards Corbyn is irrelevant to the mission to discredit him … it is preaching to the choir, so to speak. No, the intention has to be to bring more and more into the fold of ‘Corbyn Haters’, and as such the strategy has been a dismal failure. The reason is clear; there aren’t enough stupid people. Or at least there aren’t enough, who are stupid enough, who don’t already vote Tory.
We expect our politicians to evade, misdirect, or lie. Or perhaps all three, as of habit. So when Jeremy Corbyn is asked ‘would you push the nuclear button?’ and answers honestly, it ISN’T a slam dunk win for the fearmongering right. What many people see in such a situation is a man of integrity; an honest man who is prepared to lay bare for scrutiny his core beliefs. Not another of the self-serving, disingenuous, arrogant, supercilious clones who fill the benches on both sides of the house. We may not all agree with him, but many can respect his taking the hard choice, as opposed to simply ‘dissembling’. And that, after all, as many people have endlessly stated, is what they want from a politician.
Corbyn is also attacked frequently as weak on defence. Setting aside the irony that the hawkish Conservative Party have in government reduced the defence budget in real terms by an average of 0.5% for each year in office over the past 40 years, (ONS figures) Jeremy Corbyn is, by his own admission, not a pacifist. He subscribes to the view that ‘all war is a failure of diplomacy’, recognising that as a matter of last resort, incertain circumstances, the military option is necessary. But even on the basis of circumstance and priority, like many people, he has concluded that £150-200bn cost of Trident replacement is profligate. Only this month, the UN adopted a treaty banning nuclear weapons. And we have for decades been signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yes, he is a unilateralist. However, what Corbyn also demonstrates is a respect for the democratic process, and has clearly stated that so long as the Labour Party supports Trident through votes at conference, then that is the policy which will prevail.
There is another obvious incongruity between the painting of Jeremy Corbyn as a pacifist and appeaser, and at the same time a supporter of terrorism. The IRA loving, Hamas loving, terrorist sympathiser argument dissolves the moment Corbyn demonstrates his 30 years of active attempts at conflict resolution, involving talking through issues to search for common ground, and ultimately solutions. Yes, so far as Thatcher was concerned, he supported a ‘South African terrorist … one Nelson Mandela’. Yes, he opposed her ‘crimes against humanity Chilean dictator friend Pinochet … (subsequently arrested and indicted but died before trial). But what defines the man is his personal anti-war, anti-violence, CND supporting and pro unilateral disarmament personal position. Not the ideal credentials for someone against which you hope to orchestrate a smear campaign as a lover of ‘men of violence’. The clear truth is far more credible and obvious to all but the most intellectually challenged.
Jeremy Corbyn has presented an almost unique challenge for the normal personality assassination favoured by the media to undermine credibility or destroy careers. He’s a decent bloke. He finds time for people; to engage with and empathise with the common man. He has many of the virtues and of course faults, as do we all, and that is the point. The more people recognise and support the broad tenets of what is sometimes pejoratively described as ‘Corbynism’, the more people treat the attack as ‘personal’. As an assault on their own beliefs and core values, which sets them even more against the media narrative. The right-wing press and media is rapidly becoming no more than an echo chamber, with broad but often vague criticism typifying their anti-Corbyn rhetoric. There is no evidence that the sometimes hyperbolic demonization is having any effect whatsoever beyond reinforcing already held prejudices and opinions. There is every indication however, that the attacks galvanize a reflexive support, especially given the often extreme lack of balance or genuine credibility. It might reasonably be expected, the strategy, having a clear lack of traction, that some change of emphasis or direction would be a more fruitful enterprise. It is not in the interests of the left to suggest the form this change might take, but for the moment, and for as long as the current approach continues, the effect is more likely to be to further reinforce the perception that the constant ad hominems are a sign of a lack of imagination, if not actual desperation.