FEAR, LOATHING, RAGE… and DESPAIR
October 19, 2015 § 6 Comments
‘A threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security’ – David Cameron on Jeremy Corbyn.
Deploying doublespeak with inventive enthusiasm, the Tories have learned a lot from Orwell’s 1984, and they’ve found fresh inspiration in the language of their opponents (hence they are now the defenders of ‘working people’, they are concerned with ‘social justice’ and they are legislating for a ‘living wage’). This cosmetic terminology packages an agenda designed to further impoverish and disempower the poorest. Simultaneously, they aim to project the dire consequences of their policies onto the opposition, as in the instance above. At his party conference Cameron elaborated by calling Corbyn Britain-hating.
This week, with the state visit of the Chinese president, mega-celebrations will take place up and down the land. According to Xi Jinping’s advance press, Britain is now China’s best friend. The soon to be feted economic alliance (on this scale a first with any Western country) will give the validity of recognition to a brutal dictatorship that denies its people basic human rights and has built its new-found and unevenly distributed wealth on low pay, long hours and harsh employment conditions.
As part of the deal we can expect the announcement that China will be contracted to design and build a new nuclear power plant at Bradwell in Essex. Similar contracts will likely follow for Hinkley Point and Sizewell. To the alarm of cyber experts and opposition politicians Cameron has brushed aside warnings about the security implications of allowing Chinese control of such fragile and potentially dangerous installations. So much for national security.
Will construction depend on steel imported from China just as the British steel industry is being wound down? This question, from trade unions, remains unanswered. Numerous other deals are envisaged: Chinese investment in telecoms, healthcare, high-speed rail. Who will benefit from them? How will the workforce be managed? China’s unprecedented entry into the British economy comes just as the Tories are legislating to impose severe restrictions on the right to strike, indeed to criminalise aspects of trade union activism. We already have one glaring example of what we might fear: Greek workers in the port of Piraeus have lost trade union bargaining rights and work longer hours for less pay since the Chinese took it over.
It’s worth asking how much China as a new boss in Britain represents the shape of things to come. We’ve had signals. A casual observation made by health secretary Jeremy Hunt (then more forcefully reiterated at the Tory party conference) that ‘the UK must become as hard-working as China’ conveys more than a hint of what the Tories are planning.
When I think of the scope this government has to carry us into a nightmare future of ever diminishing rights and greater inequalities it makes me shudder. They are only at the start of a five-year term. A month ago I was exhilarated by Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour Party leadership. Those of us who supported him foresaw worse to come after a campaign where he was attacked and vilified from within his own party, and widely derided by the media. Corbyn himself gives every evidence that he is strong enough to withstand this unrelenting treatment, but it is damagingly corrosive. Many in the Parliamentary Labour Party want him to fail and in these first few weeks of his leadership we’ve seen divisions made public even from inside his shadow cabinet. Few allowances are made for his inexperience as a frontbencher. With the British press so vehemently against him, Corbyn and his team will need to be strategic and better organised if they are to hold onto their mandate. We supporters anticipated antagonism, but the reality is almost overwhelming.
Optimism is bound to fluctuate. I’m speaking for myself here, but probably not just myself, although many activists and supporters are maybe more steadfast. To be optimistic you need energy, and I was tired and already dispirited when I picked up Paul Myerscough’s LRB article ‘Corbyn in the Media’. By the time I’d read it my hopes for the success of Corbyn’s leadership were shaken.
This is a good piece of journalism. It’s not anti-Corbyn (although the London Review of Books did publish a shameful anti-Corbyn article during the leadership campaign). You can read it here:
The right-wing press has been savage in attacking Corbyn, but any of his supporters following the coverage throughout and since the leadership campaign will be well aware that ferocity has not been confined to the Daily Mail and its ilk. Many Guardian readers expressed their anger about how that paper aligned itself against Corbyn, and it still does. Myerscough’s examination comes with a sharp indictment of The Guardian’s reluctance to engage with Corbyn’s popularity while repeatedly casting slurs on the man and his competence (and insulting its own readers). The New Statesman has showed a similar disdain, unworthy of a magazine that once was a platform for left debate.
It is however the BBC that Myerscough identifies as the most serious threat to a fair, impartial view of the political scene. Impartiality is meant to be built in to the BBC’s workings, but in practice its notions of balance have narrowed intensely towards the right, quite flagrantly excluding Corbynites from the spectrum. Myerscough’s description of its political culture reveals some unsavoury little connections, specifically from Newsnight and Today: Evan Davis, part of the team that devised the poll tax; Chris Cook: former adviser to David Willetts; Nick Robinson: former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association.
We’ve read them, we’ve heard them, and we’ve known that they’re on the side of everything we deplore. But faced with the hard details of how the media establishment constitutes a closed world of hostility to everything left of Labour’s Blairite right-wing is depressing. I can’t abide Today and I rarely watch Newsnight any more. There is always Channel 4 News. But the BBC is massively influential; it carries international weight and it sets the tone and limits of discussion. Imperceptibly, it can normalise a politics that is morally disgraceful. Jeremy Hunt’s comments on the need to emulate the model of Chinese industry were shocking enough, yet what I found just as shocking was a BBC radio interview with Hunt where this statement went unchallenged and unremarked by the interviewer.
Never in my memory have we had a government so much to be feared for its threats to our freedoms and the nation’s well-being. Never has the media unleashed so much loathing on those who seek to oppose that government democratically. During the Thatcher years I used to swear a lot at the news on television, but the bastards I had in mind were the politicians. Now I’m also enraged by the broadcasters and journalists who make it easy for them.
I’ve recovered from my despondency. Sometimes it’s good to be shaken, to confront the unthinkable, the bad that might easily become worse. If we don’t have that measure we underestimate what we’re up against. A small surge of despair can have its uses. It reminds us how much is at stake.