Operation Ridicule: the Character Assassination of Jeremy Corbyn

With just over a week passing since Jeremy Corbyn won one of the greatest against the odds political victories, you might be forgiven for expecting at least a couple of days of begrudging praise, particularly from those who wrote his campaign off so early in the race. Instead, the much beloved political commentariat immediately pointed out that Corbyn’s honeymoon, that they had no intention of letting happen, could be the shortest ever. Corbyn was barely allocated time to look in the mirror and look upon the scale of what he had accomplished before the insults came riding in, First Class.

What is most interesting, however, is the direction in which the tirades are coming from. They are indeed coming from all the places you might expect. The right-wing press are in a rabid frenzy, they’re the Tazmanian Devil with even deeper held grudges. Front pages are dedicated to manipulating and misrepresenting any positions he holds. ‘Corbyn: Abolish the army’ and ‘Corbyn snubs queen and country’ were some of the first to come out. The Daily Mail and The Sun in particular are both on furious rampages; the rest of the clan not far behind. It is certainly debatable whether mitigating or transcending this cohort of right-wing media bullies is possible, or even worth it.

Corbyn was immediately slammed by The Sun, in an article that was later labelled false by its quoted expert, for being a republican hypocrite – ‘Corbyn WILL join privy council and kiss Queen’s hand for £6.2million,’ that headline read. Just hours later, Corbyn was being savaged for upholding his republican principles by not singing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain service. This time it was ‘National disgrace!’ The tail end of last week was Corbyn being outcast by the same groups for ‘snubbing’ an invite to the Rugby; he was actually at a meeting with constituents, discussing the housing crisis, but there you go. The savaging continued and base level X Factor patriotism was treated as an arbiter of governing principle.

Corbyn is under no circumstances going to get a fair hearing from this shade of the media. Ed Miliband, a much more ‘moderate’ candidate, was destroyed as bacon sandwich eating lunatic ‘Red Ed’ and his dead father was exhumed in print. ‘The man who hated Britain’ was a refugee who came to Britain and fought the Nazis on behalf of the allies. The fever of these people knows know limits and sucking the poison out of these people is impossible. The right-wing press’ attacks are so blindly furious that they no longer make sense.

But beyond the right-wing press, it was The Guardian and The Observer from which hordes and hordes of articles criticising Corbyn rained down as soon as the election was over. Other, formerly respectable ‘liberal’ outlets like the Telegraph were not backwards in coming forwards, either. The media, across the spectrum, had begun ushering Corbyn’s neck into their pre-prepared noose from minute one.

What’s wholly perturbing, though not astonishing, is the nature of the abuse. It’s personal. Numerous interviews, comments and pieces have referred to Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance and personal life. People appearing on TV to defend him have been few and far between. Those that are allowed on TV are usually young, and young people and their views are held with particular contempt across mainstream media. Young people fit into the media’s ‘naïve’ representation of left wing views. Overwhelmingly putting young people in the corner for Corbyn plays nicely into the ‘unelectable’ theorem. This is how young, ‘idealistic’ opponents to the Vietnam War were treated in the 60’s and later in the UK Uncut and Occupy movements. This feels similar. Besmirching appearance and character is the first stepping stone across a stream trying to flow in the other direction.

The liberal press attacks have been maintained with impressive consistency. The Guardian who thrive on a reputation of ‘speaking truth to power’ and protecting the vulnerable have proved themselves to be nothing more than a conduit for establishment rank closing. Guardian columnists, liberal paragons, defenders of the free world, appear more petrified than anyone. They have a striking similarity with the remaining twisted Blairite faction of the Labour party; they love the idea of social justice, until there’s a possibility it might creep too high on the agenda.

Suzanne Moore, Michael White, Rafael Behr, Polly Toynbee, Matthew D’ancona and others from The Guardian have ridiculed Corbyn in campaign and then in victory. Gatekeeper of dictionaries, Will Self, appeared on Channel 4 News to dismiss Corbyn as an ‘impossibility’ and Matthew Parris of The Times dismissed him as a ‘bear in the living room’ who might ‘put his claws through the furniture.’ Corbyn’s policy arguments are a danger to the establishment because they have the potential to at least change the narrative, and the possibility of them being heard and liked further afield is inconceivable. Therefore criticise him before his mouth has opened, to speak or to sing.

In The Guardian, Matthew D’ancona writes immediately after victory that Corbyn is a ‘laundry bag with a beard’ and then offers a perverse version of praise, calling him a ‘cuddly tribune of the people.’ Corbyn even gets a telling off from Suzanne Moore for having the audacity to win an election, launching an utterly bizarre attempt at an identity smear. Horrified at no women being victorious in any of the Labour elections, she refers to the movement as ‘brocialism’ and says ‘the excitement of hearing what some more middle aged white guys think the future entails means I won’t have to be guzzling beta blockers.’ Corbyn should be less male and have less ideas than he did, maybe that would make Suzanne happy.

Allison Pearson of The Telegraph writes ‘Jeremy Corbyn looked like a scruffy teenager, dragged out of his bedroom’ and resembles a ‘dreary bearded fellow who takes pictures of manhole covers as a hobby, doesn’t drink alcohol or eat meat and wears shorts teamed with long dark socks… Eauw.’ Andy McSmith of the Independent follows a similar line of attack: ‘He [Corbyn] is like an adolescent with a head full of ideas who is not in the least bit interested in how his cherished principles impact on the outside world.’

Sathnam Sanghera of The Times then joins in the choir: ‘Employees waste a third of their working week worrying about what a bad boss may or may not say, and that half of us have left a job “to get away from” a manager. Though this week I’ve mainly been thinking about the problem through the prism of Jeremy Corbyn.’ – that article runs under the headline: ‘Corbyn has the traits of bosses who make life a living hell for staff.’ And Phillip Collins of The Times need not be left out; he says ‘to observe Mr Corbyn is an encounter with my adolescent self. I remember bucking the system by ignoring the headmaster’s orders to do up the top button.’

Corbyn is patronised from every point of a compass. His supporters treated as children who’ve been allowed to use a chip pan. ‘Let them have their moment, they’ll get burnt,’ is the mantra that seeps down from a political and media class that have found out for once that the standard trajectory is not one that everyone in this country wishes to be a passenger on. Whether this means electoral victory is imminent is irrelevant. The media and establishment have been manipulative kidnappers; some people have now taken the blindfold off to see where they are, and they don’t like it.

The important point is that the criticism from such liberals reinforces an opinion that he must not be taken seriously. So talk about his dress sense, or his bicycle, the fact he doesn’t portend the continuation of a system of hysterical fawning over an unelected deity, or that he is simply a teenager who needs to go back to school. Camilla Clarke of the Independent is another, referring to Jeremy Corbyn as ‘an awkward teenager being forced to go to church by his parents.’

Susie Boniface (Fleetstreet Fox), who claims to have ‘got my politics from Old Labour grandparents’, is horrified by Corbyn. ‘He’s about as effective at getting thing done as Mr. Bean having a nervous breakdown,’ Boniface writes. Just days after his historic victory, it was actually his victory margin that came under scrupulous scrutiny. Almost 60% in a four-horse race was just not convincing enough. Boniface adds: ‘Amazing how often hopey-changey hokum is bought and sold, yet never gets delivered,’ before adding the flourish: ‘[Corbyn] is the one who looks like Albert Steptoe.’ Political writing almost as serious as Sam Coates at The Telegraph describing Corbyn as using a ‘Chairman Mao-style bicycle.’

On this subject, Noam Chomsky says: “What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimetre beyond that.”

The election of Corbyn has reaffirmed that for the political and media establishment there are acceptable opinions and there are unacceptable opinions. Corbyn holds many of the latter. Their mission is simple: to kill him off before any serious policy debate can take place. By any means necessary.

Tom Colclough is a journalist from Sheffield, England. His interests are the Middle East and giving words back their meaning. You can follow him on Twitter @tommy_colc or email him at tcolclough.tc@googlemail.com.