After two years of being repeatedly told by the establishment that Jeremy Corbyn is "unelectable," recent polls and the trajectory of his popularity have revealed he’s just the opposite. But what changed so radically? Mostly, the endless smears from the mainstream media and anti-Corbyn MPs lost their effect when the Labor leader was able, during the campaign, to convey his message directly to the people. The incessantly trotted out "unelectable" trope turned out to be "fake news," and fake news cannot indefinitely patch over the injustices impacting people’s daily lives. In an era of unfathomable inequality, Corbyn’s economics-centred, unapologetic Left Wing populism turned out to be just what the public had been craving.
Since being elected leader, Corbyn faced a barrage of attacks, more so than previous Labour leaders. The London School of Economics found that 74% of newspaper articles on Corbyn did not include his views or had represented his views out of context. Over two-thirds of editorials were critical or antagonistic. Anti-Corbyn bias extended to public broadcasters with the BBC Trust finally admitting what thousands of ordinary people had been screaming for months, that Laura Kuenssberg’s reporting on Corbyn breached impartiality and accuracy guidelines. This coincided with mainstream media giving a platform to campaigns discrediting pro-Corbyn figures and even vilifying ordinary Labour members.
In a bizarre spectacle that would provide textbook training to any aspiring schoolyard bully, we saw media commentator after commentator, MP after MP, pile on to the ‘Corbyn must go’ bandwagon. In true bullying fashion, the target was singled out and held to different standards from other politicians, every minor slip up exaggerated, every anti-Corbyn lie repeated as gospel, every success ignored.
These mirror media coverage of America’s Bernie Sanders. The Washington Post for instance, posted 16 negative articles on Sanders in one day. A Harvard analysis found that Sanders received a third of the coverage Clinton received, and less than Trump and other Republican candidates who were polling far less than Bernie.
It was not only the usual suspects in the Right Wing press who attacked Corbyn, but also many liberal outlets. Those of us who’ve supported Corbyn from the start know that when arguing with a liberal Corbyn-hater, a rational debate is almost impossible. For them, attacking Corbyn over his policies is unfeasible given the Western world’s popular opinion has been moving solidly to the economic Left (alongside jerks to the Right on social issues like migration). Trump won partly on pro-working class rhetoric. More importantly, polls show that democratic socialist and banks-breaking-up economic warrior Bernie Sanders continues to be the most popular thing in American politics.
Even Corbyn’s most meticulous critics conceded that his positions on returning public utilities into the people’s hands, saving the NHS, an actually liveable living wage, workers’ rights, and investment in the economy rather than cuts, were radically popular with ordinary people. The public even supported Corbyn’s breaking of the rules of Right Wing political correctness to dare suggest that terrorist attacks like Manchester, by someone trained in Libya (which became a terrorist breeding ground after Cameron’s regime-change war) and was part of the group ISIS (which formed in Iraq after Blair’s regime-change war), may just be partially due to foreign policy and regime-change wars. Instead of swallowing the absurd Corbyn-as-terror-apologist tripe, the Manchester and London Bridge attacks actually made people draw the links between foreign interventions and domestic terror that Corbyn, foreign affairs and intelligence experts had all agreed for decades.
Without policy grounding, the anti-Corbyn arguments retreated to ad hominem attacks. These were supremely weak, however, given that Corbyn had the ideal profile for our current historical moment, including the traits that made Sanders popular: An outsider at a time when people are beyond tired of establishment insiders; Pilloried by the elite and undermined by his party’s establishment, yet carried by people-power; Packing out town squares with supporters, swelling party membership to 500,000 plus; Scruffy and unpolished at a time when slick, talking-points-driven robots are well past their use-by date; Integrity and consistent morals for over 30 years in an era where trust in politics is at an all time low; Offers radical change when people are sick of choosing the slightly lesser of two evils; An indomitable fighter for the underdog at a time when billionaires rack up the tax cuts while Daniel Blakes queue in their thousands at food banks.
Failing on the ad hominems, the only refuge from which left to denigrate Corbyn was the inscrutably vague mainstream media mantra of ‘unelectability’. Why unelectable? “Because he’s not popular, can’t possibly win”. In short, Corbyn was apparently unelectable because he was…well, unelectable.
Truth Revealed during Campaign
Hostile media coverage, hand-in-hand with the constant undermining, leadership challenges and leaking by neo-liberal Labour MPs, saw Corbyn’s poll numbers decline rapidly after he was elected leader. Once the General Election campaign began, however, the proportion of information people gained directly from each political party, free from media filtering, grew. The public was finally able to get an intelligible view of the real Jeremy Corbyn.
Visibility of his actual policies became even clearer when Labour released its manifesto that was as groundbreakingly specific and practical, as it was pro-poor. The Tories then released their own, finally revealing their pro-rich agenda without media mollycoddling. Simultaneously, the polls started changing.
At the start of the campaign in April, the Conservatives held a massive 24 point lead. This dropped to 19 points in early May and a mere 5 points by 26 May. By 4 June, even after the Manchester attack – something that usually favours the Right Winger or incumbent – the lead had vaporised to 1 point. Just before the election, most projections had Corbyn receiving a larger vote share than Ed Miliband or Gordon Brown, neither of whom were called unelectable. Again, this mirrors Sanders’ rise with his popularity growing the more people learned about him. At best one might say that, like with Bernie and Trump, the establishment got it wrong on Corbyn. At worst, the polls suggest that the oft repeated, nebulous label of ‘unelectability’ was not an objective assessment, but a partisan wish.
The media’s anti-Corbyn bias harmed people’s democratic right to an informed choice at this election and raises questions of concentrations of media ownership. In the UK, just five enormous corporations control 80% of the newspaper market, including online. Claims that there isn’t any anti-Corbyn bias from corporations, whose interests are diametrically opposed to the most pro-poor Labour leader in decades, could be either based in ignorance or disingenuous, but they are definitely fake news. The handful of media outlets willing to cover the bias should be applauded for their bravery.
Corbyn’s achievements in this election are monumental; a few more weeks of campaigning would most likely have seen a Labour win. Direct communication with the public during the campaign finally allowed the Labour Leader to throw off the yoke of fake news, slung over him by all quarters of the establishment, from New Labour MPs to liberal media pundits. Corbyn’s admirable performance despite this was due to the very thing that drove the vehement antipathy against him; the thing that makes him the man for our time: he fights for poor people.