There is no Labour member doubting the catastrophic defeat on Thursday 12th December, which resulted in their worst result since the 1930s. In the immediate days after, the UK media establishment, a wealth of Labour members and even MPs have once again resumed the onslaught of abuse directed towards Jeremy Corbyn, blaming the party’s leadership for its disastrous demise. If only it was that simple.
In 2017, the Labour Party under Corbyn gained 30 seats across the UK and enjoyed a 9.5% increase in the vote share. The Conservatives, under Theresa May, lost 13 seats and saw their vote share increase by just 5.5%. The 2017 election followed two years of Labour leadership under Corbyn; some might say ‘Corbyn-mania’ was at its peak when the 2017 election was called.
If Corbyn’s personality, lack of leadership, opposition to nuclear destruction, advocation for justice, reducing inequality and creating a more equal society for all, was so thoroughly detested by members, MPs and the general public – then how can we explain the monumental success of the 2017 election?
Corbyn is fundamentally not to blame – and to blame Labour’s defeat solely on the leader itself merely ridicules the amount of support and engagement under Corbyn as leader. Just as the Labour Party has (wrongly) ignored the needs of Leave voters, members and Labour MPs cannot point the finger at Corbyn for failures of the election, when the support for him as leader, and the type of politics he conveys is so important to many. We must take this seriously. And with his resignation, the danger is that those supporters will look elsewhere.
Labour faced defeat on Thursday 12th not because of Jeremy Corbyn but due to a combination of the electorate becoming consumed by Brexit and the UK media establishment’s bias towards the Conservative Party. People seem to forget that Boris Johnson was a former journalist and had the hands of many in his pockets during his election campaign.
People scoff at this argument and claim it is a line of defence which ignores the reality of Corbyn’s ‘failure’ of leadership. But it was a reality during this election campaign, and one that is once again brushed under the carpet by national broadcasters and print media. People seem to be too afraid to call it out, and to also recognise the real impact it had on voters.
In 2018, Newsnight featured an image of Jeremy Corbyn wearing a cap that likened him to the Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. After forty eight complaints from the public, the BBC still proclaimed the image was “impartial and fair”.
The BBC’s leading political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, embodies the thriving anti-Labour bias that was threaded through the BBC’s coverage of this election. In January 2017, during an interview with Jeremy Corbyn, Kuenssberg inaccurately represented Corbyn’s view on shoot-to-kill policy. During this election, Kuenssberg continued to elude to BBC bias when calling the rebranding of the Tories Twitter page as fact checking “daft” to her Twitter audience of over 1 million.
Perhaps the most fundamental error, which the BBC continues to deny, was Kuenssberg’s release of postal vote information before the election results came out, claiming they painted a “grim” picture for Labour. Biased or not, Kuenssberg, for all her buttering up by the BBC, is an inherently flawed journalist for which the BBC continues to lack responsibility. Following her comments on Twitter, the Electoral Commission stated, “It may be an offence to communicate any information obtained at postal vote opening sessions, including about votes cast, before a poll has closed.”
But again – the BBC defended her position.
Tabloid media, the most popular form of news, are even more to blame. The Sun, marketed as Britain’s best newspaper, has over 9.86 million print readers and reaches over 29 million online. Tabloids have persistently drawn on the association between Corbyn and terrorism. A study by the Independent from 2016 found that between 15-20% of Corbyn coverage by the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express or the Sun, associated him with the IRA, Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah terrorism. And over one fifth of their articles deem him as a public danger.
Not to mention the unequal scrutiny of Boris Johnson compared to Jeremy Corbyn. Whilst Corbyn was getting a grilling from Andrew Neil in this election, Johnson was pictured on the 6 o’clock news, discussing the best way to put jam on a scone.
Let’s face it – the media in this country is broken and is inflicting misrepresentation onto the general public who blindly believe it. As a history graduate, I have been conditioned to question every source and the author of information. This is something that needs to be encouraged among the public, but the standard of the media needs to improve to allow this. Additionally, the range of leading UK journalists who write our news needs to widen to fully represent our society.
Four years ago, Brexit was not even on the horizon and the public lived their lives blissfully unaware of what was to unfold. Brexit did dominate this election, as Johnson repeated “get Brexit done” to every criticism of promulgating austerity, rising homelessness and unemployment. Corbyn as a leader cannot be blamed for the engulfing effect that Brexit has had on the general public. If anything, with Labour’s manifesto, he aimed to move the political debate on from Brexit stagnation.
Mainstream media during the run up to the election appeared to be addicted to proclaiming that Labour’s Brexit policy was unclear, and Johnson continued this pattern during TV debates, claiming that Corbyn’s impartiality would be an obstacle to getting Brexit done. Labour’s policy was very clear – it was a People’s Vote for both Leavers and Remainers. However, it should have leaned more towards respecting the Leave result of 2016 which is where the party – failed. Note: not the leader.