The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 20:54

How Labour’s conference exposed the Corbyn character assassination

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

As Jeremy Corbyn made his leadership closing speech on the penultimate day of the Labour Party annual conference, he was bookended by the crowd erupting into thunderous and hearty standing ovations and spontaneous chanting of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn!’

Those brief seconds were symptomatic of the conference mood. Unwavering and robust support for the leader who is on his third Conservative rival, and counting.

It was not all plain sailing, but the Labour leader, as is often the case now, emerged unscathed, much to the dismay of the commentariat.

Indeed, there is an unforgiving approach that comes so naturally to some of the mainstream media when it comes to defaming and besmirching Corbyn. Yet it is peculiarly absent when it comes to, say, challenging Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the reports that during his stint as mayor of London, he and his office allowed an American model to take part in trade missions – against the advice of officials, and with the use of public money.

For the duration of Labour’s conference, the coverage was no different. On the eve of the opening day of the conference, news emerged that Jon Lansman, founder of the grassroots movement Momentum, tabled a last-minute motion at the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) on Friday night calling for deputy leader Tom Watson’s job to be scrapped.

Observers speculated the attempt was motivated by one eye on the future of the party. Should Corbyn lose a general election to Johnson, he would be expected to step down as leader. With Watson as deputy leader, naturally, he would step in as interim, which allegedly, Corbyn supporters wanted to prevent.

That is a cynical take on events. But even if one deals with hypotheticals, such an endeavour would not be farfetched. The role of deputy leader is one that comes with responsibility, dependability, honesty and an obligation to uphold the interests of the party. Concepts that have been arguably anathema to Watson throughout his stint.

Instead, he has irked the party and consciously ruffled feathers from the get-go. He has set up a separate group of centrist MP’s in his own party and called for anti-Semitism complaints to be sent to him personally, implying the current leadership is not dealing with the issue productively. More recently, having reiterated relentlessly that a second referendum should be a priority for the party when that was agreed upon as party policy for an election, he changed his narrative and proclaimed a referendum should precede an election.

The irony was obviously lost on him when in an interview with LBC, Watson expressed concern about the degree to which Lansman was ‘undermining me, Jeremy Corbyn and the party’. What was even more incongruous was his plan to use his speech at the conference to reinforce the message of unity. Judging by his tenure, the notion of unity is foreign to him.

Nonetheless, the motion to topple him did not garner enough support and consequently fell through on Saturday morning. In fact, it was Corbyn’s intervention which defused the situation, when on Saturday he proposed a modification to the role, rather than scrapping it, whereby there would be an election process for two deputies in the future, including one woman, to reflect the diversity in society.

How dare the Labour leader display leadership and interfere in a party spat and alleviate it before presenting an idea that paves the way for greater female representation in politics? It is not a matter that has long been side-lined at all.

But as is now the norm, the headlines were hyperbolised and Corbyn was vilified. A ‘Corbynista’ plot to tighten their grip on power and a carefully orchestrated inside job that Corbyn was apparently well aware of is how it was labelled.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. What followed throughout the conference was the epitome of dishonest narrating.

Conference delegates overwhelmingly passed a motion in favour of abolishing all private schools and integrating them into the state sector. This apace with the intention to withdraw the charitable status and all other public subsidies and tax privileges, including business rate exemptions, is all part of Labour’s plan to dismantle the privileges of a tiny elite.

But the party and particularly its leadership were castigated for the proposal. Education and charity lawyers could be tied up in court for years if Labour abolishes private schools, some outlets reported. ‘Welcome to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Corbyn’ another commentator articulated.

Palpably, addressing a system with exceedingly fatal symptoms, like only 7% of the population being privately educated, yet controlling most of the media, judiciary and parliament, thus curtailing any scope for meritocracy, appears to have been received as an ultra-left wing policy and with rabid resistance.

Yet Michael Gove, the stalwart Conservative and current Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, during his time as education secretary, argued private schools are ‘welfare junkies’ and should be stripped of their charitable status and forced to pay business rates.

‘Children of the rich are not intrinsically more talented and worthy, more gifted and more deserving of celebration than the rest’, he professed.

It appears him and Corbyn are in accord on the topic. But that did not stop one being extensively lambasted for proposing the same idea. So either Gove is also a delirious socialist or the commentariat will malign the Labour leader and his party regardless.

The eagerly anticipated vote on the Brexit motion in the conference and the subsequent reaction sustained the argument that it is indeed the latter.

There were two significant motions voted on to determine Labour’s Brexit policy. One which mirrored Corbyn’s stance, which outlines that should Labour get into power, they will remain neutral on Brexit during an election The other was for the party to unequivocally back remain during any referendum. Observers have long contended that Labour should be a Remain party and there is no appetite for the leadership’s current Brexit stance.

Yet when the opportunity presented itself for the members to have their say, they threw their weight behind Corbyn’s stance, which seeks to appease both sides of the Brexit divide rather than endorse one and alienate the other.

But inevitably, as the results of the votes trickled through, the reporting was deceptive. ‘Delegates reject demands for party to back remain’, one headline read, and the rest adopted a similar tone. Chaotic, farcical and controversial were some of the adjectives employed to shed light on the proceedings. Though such adjectives are better suited to characterize the conference coverage.

In fact, had the motion passed and the party categorically championed campaigning to remain, analysts would have surely reignited the betrayal debate, and suggested it is yet another slap in the face of working-class Labour voters who backed Brexit. A line rinsed and repeated often.

Rather, because members have endorsed the leaders’ option, they are being criticised for being too loyal and ‘cult-like’ in apparently voting for Corbyn rather than the policy they desire.

But this contradicts the line peddled by many observers that ‘people have lost faith’ in the leadership, as traditional voters seek to remedy their alleged political homelessness. This alongside the suggestion that Labour under Corbyn is losing its appeal among students are narratives that have been circulated frequently.

So which one is it?

Are Labour supporters too loyal and will side with Corbyn regardless, or is his support ebbing? Because it cannot be both, and yet both narratives have been adopted interchangeably since Corbyn became Labour leader.

It then indicates that there is indeed character assassination at play among much of the commentariat. Though some will state Corbyn warrants it. After all, he did lie to the queen and suspend parliament unlawfully.

Or was that the current Prime Minister who is always referred to via his first name in a pally and innately over-familiar manner?

Thus in a conference overladen with uplifting and revolutionary pledges, from a Green New Deal to four day weeks to scrapping prescription charges, there was nothing revolutionary about the manner in which the Labour leader was scrutinized as the same roguish approach prevailed.


Photo Credit: Rwendland [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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