Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a Labour member, supporter or voter. I have not voted Labour in a General Election since 1997 when Tony Blair came to power. Most elections, I have flitted between Lib-Dem and Green; this year I became a member of the Green Party of England and Wales but feel a Lib-Dem at heart.
Anyway, this post is not about my political views – or anybody else’s for that matter. It’s about dirty tricks in election campaigns, specifically when a party that has just suffered an election defeat nearly tears itself apart in choosing a new leader. Typically, between the election defeat and the announcement of a new leader the petty recriminations begin, the mud starts flying and the opponents attempt to do all they can to discredit people who would ordinarily be their compatriots and largely fuelled on by the media mouthpieces for the party.
Since I became politically aware in my early 20s, I’ve noticed both major parties in this country go through this same process. With the Blair landslide in 1997, the fallout of Blair appointing Brown as leader in 2008/9 and now in light of Miliband’s failure not only to overturn a Tory-Lib coalition into a Labour government, but also how the party dissolved into petty recriminations about who was to blame. It happened to the Tories in 1997. John Major resigned, they appointed right wing Christian Iain Duncan Smith and promptly dumped him before he was able to fight an election as leader. They had a crisis of identity, appointed centrist William Hague who lost in 2001 to be replaced by Thatcherite Michael Howard who was always going to lose in 2005, then replaced by none other than David Cameron (our present PM) who entered into coalition in 2010.
Then it was Labour’s Turn
It happened with Labour – practically unelectable in the 1980s they seemed to get back onto an electable footing with John Smith who sadly died on the job before he was able to fight an election. His replacement was Tony Blair and the rest is history. Personally, I would say The Labour Party was unsure of itself after 2010 and went for a lazy option – not only choosing the wrong Miliband, but choosing from within the Blair-Brown mould that had won elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005, but of which most people had become tired. Again, the media still supported this right wing element of the left wing party. The electorate (and the media) blamed Blair and Brown for banking deregulation that led to recklessness, the housing crisis, political correctness and many other things – not all entirely unjustified. Some even questioned why such two men would ever have joined Labour in the first place when their core philosophy is much closer to the Tories.
But I digress.
It’s now 2015 and in steps Jeremy Corbyn, a truly left-wing leader in the old-fashioned sense – we were warned by the media, by Tony Blair and by now people representing the old Blair-Brown regime of Liz Kendall, interim leader Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. Even Tony Blair himself came out to say how bad he would be for the party (clearly, few people were swayed by Blair). If there was ever a party on the brink of civil war, Labour seemed it thanks to the sort of language used by these three leadership candidates and the media that poured scorn on Corbyn.
Yet On Saturday 12th September 2015, this man who was supposed to be a disaster waiting to happen for Labour, became the party leader by an unexpected landslide victory. Time will tell how whether and how much the 21st century will tolerate what is a truly socialist leader. But there are issues that need to be addressed – the systematic privatisation of the NHS, the disastrous privatisation of our railways and the pending disaster that is the privatisation of Royal Mail.
Media Malevolence and the Liberal Elite
Most of his opponents with in The Labour Party said he would make the party “unelectable”. Liz Kendall said that electing Corbyn would be “a resignation letter” for future elections and took a side swipe at Yvette Cooper in the process saying a vote for Cooper would be “letting Jeremy Corbyn in”. Burnham said it would make the party “The party of protests”. Several members of the Blair-Brownite group have said they would resign from the party, they would not serve Corbyn and there was even a suggestion of an attempted coup as early as possible.
Yet win, he did and here we have a lesson for all parties involved including the media – if you treat your electorate with contempt and use dirty tricks to this extent, they will turn around and bite you. Cooper, Kendall and Burnham (and their supporters in Ed Miliband and Tony Blair) have been hit with a heavy dose of hubris with Corbyn having such a large margin of victory. I’m sure the other three leadership candidates especially will be asking themselves about their own future and whether they would want to stay in a Labour Party returning to its roots, roots with which they presumably have never seen eye to eye.
When Satire is No Longer Obvious
We have to ask ourselves whether we need this sort of language. It’s never really been a part of British politics until the last 20 years or so – we’ve always had a tradition of allowing only the satirists to sink to this level (and seeing it in the spirit in which it was intended), but never the politicians themselves.
But now we blur the lines between media commentary and the outrageous claims in satire. It then does not take long for politicians themselves to use that sort of hyperbole. They become strident when backed by powerful media barons who are dangerously close to bringing our democracy into disrepute. When we blur the line between politics and those satirising politics, we have a problem.
In that, I feel we are becoming too much like our American cousins where both major parties use fear-mongering, hyperbole and dirty tricks against the other. The Dems are unashamed anti-American, anti-capitalist commies who want illegal immigrants to flood in by the million; in contrast, the GOP are gun-totin’, misogynistic anarcho-capitalists who all think the planet is only 6000 years old, right? At least, that’s how it seems from the outside.