As UK “reporting” has largely had it for eighteen months, Jeremy Corbyn is every bit as fit to rule Her Majesty’s Government as a corgi. A Trotskyist corgi who favours unfashionable footwear, despises women and is supported only by morons. The anti-austerity politician is not to be trusted, as he doesn’t eat biscuits and conceals his ideology in a beard. It seems possible that he shot Harambe. Oddly, it no longer seems impossible that he will today restore a little political health to his Labour party, one ailing since the time of Gordon Brown.

This morning, I spoke with the UK author and journalist Richard Seymour, whose marvellous book on Corbyn I thoroughly recommend to readers with a soft-spot for bearded, entryist corgis who dislike mediocre biscuits.  Seymour has followed the popular rise of, and concomitant media spite for, the politician and notes that the he has become a slate onto which press projects its various phobias.

“In the (conservative) Telegraph, we read the charge that Corbyn cannot possibly win over comfortable middle-England. In the (“left-wing”) Guardian, we learn how the ordinary, decent salt-of-the-earth working class will not brook this Islington elitist.”

Corbyn has become a sort of floating signifier, says Seymour, who comes to represent whatever the media class despises most that instant. He is hardly a man with particular convictions in press, “but a cipher for every menacing unconscious fantasy people hold”.

The prevalence of contradictory critiques of Corbyn — he is cynical, he is naive; he is out of touch with the real people, he is out of touch with the technocrats — is not just Seymour’s view, but the finding of the London School of Economics. An analysis of media coverage found that the figure was “thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate”. Half of the news stories published on Corbyn bore a hostile tone, while two-thirds of opinion pieces decried him.

He is irrelevant. He is a duffer. He is unelectable, and even if his presence built the largest, and the youngest, political party in Europe, we’re going to keep calling him unelectable until such time as he is.

As it turns out, though, Corbyn is not quite so “unelectable” as the press, and the Parliamentary Labour Party would prefer to think. The party, itself unelected, did a great job of attributing to Corbyn all its own fears, just as press have.

The party, says Seymour, has long been subject to: “processes of erosion and decline, especially in the heartlands. It had lost Scotland, and its hold on the north.” When Labour, and its supporters in the media, said that Corbyn was irrelevant, out-of-touch, lacking in charisma and/or unconvinced that the European troika was really such a good idea for the people, perhaps they were talking about themselves.

As we have seen across the West, many voters have had it up to pussy’s bow with the benign words and malevolent economic policies that have produced a wealth inequality unseen since 1929. Patience with the Third Way has nearly perished and the middle-class is dying, but, the neoliberal consensus remains alive, if unwell, in Western press. 

What, commentators across the world want to know, is wrong with voters who reject politicians who support the status quo? As they have it, Hillary Clinton was defeated not by her refusal to reject policies that produced decades of decline in living standards, but by the ancient cruelty of testosterone. Jean-Luc Melenchon came out of a Gallic nowhere to claim the youth vote not because millennials see sense in socialist policies, but because they are naive about Russia’s evil. And the Greeks. Well. They only rejected the terms of a brutally unserviceable loan because they are lazy and probably can’t count. Those difficult voters who aren’t appeased by the publication of GDP per capita figures! Don’t they understand that they must allow a few in their nation to accumulate wealth at the expense of the many? FFS, people. It brings the average up.

The evidence of this neoliberal nervous breakdown can be detected in all Western media, including our own. But, its symptoms have been clear enough in British accounts of Corbyn that some in the large Millennial age-range, more than half of which rejects the prescriptions of traditional media, have started the social media hashtag #LastMinuteCorbynSmears. Posts like “Corbyn puts the milk in his tea first!” and “Corbyn once looked at me funny!” express the mistrust many young voters now have for a media class that can say nothing about the leader that doesn’t involve his fondness for making jam, growing apples or advancing a Stalinist agenda.

There is a gulf, says Seymour, between what media assert to be true and what voters, particularly those younger, poorer ones on whose action today Corbyn’s future relies, perceive with their senses.

“There’s a growing failure of representation. The ideological power of the print media is breaking down.”

This failure, in my view, is plain. Publications, whether “progressive” or conservative, seem not to understand that a politician’s policies may be of interest to voters. You can bang on for all you’re worth about how Corbyn orders vegan bruschetta, per The Guardian, or wears an ill-fitting cheap suit, per the The Telegraph. But if you fail, just as Corbyn’s Labour Party opponents Angela Eagle and Owen Smith failed, to challenge a politician on policy, all you do is demonstrate evidence of your own fantastic phobias.

If we read the Manifesto, we find a consensus of mild Keynesianism, the sort of politics that would, just thirty years ago, have been considered centrist. If we read press, we find a man who parties with Hamas, bathes in biodynamic jam and endorses indiscriminate bombing of the best British institutions. How long before these media tools acknowledge that many of us care about this hollow sensationalism only in the moment? We might click on it. If there is no substance — and there is so little substance, especially to the claims that Corbyn did not advocate for Remain –we don’t believe it.

This poverty of policy analysis cuts both ways. I mean, I personally enjoy it when Corbyn enjoys a rare moment of positive press, as he did this week in, of all places, Vogue, but style statements aren’t going to win the votes of people who are finding it increasingly hard to survive. It is as foolhardy to be uncritically positive, as it is to be uncritically negative, which the US liberal press might have learnt after devoting so much credulous space to Clinton the Woman, and not Clinton the policy maker.   

There’s still a few hours left for press to throw bruschetta at Corbyn. I wonder if they shall. Or, perhaps they’ll resume an older habit of analysing policy, rather than failing to analyse their own loathing for themselves.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.