Tag Archives: elections

The media mincer

Jim Grant looks back at the Labour leadership’s attempts to conciliate the media

One of the benefits of receiving dozens of emails from various layers of the Labour Party during this election campaign is a clear sense of the leadership’s overall pitch to its own members.

The impression you get is of a siege mentality, particularly in relation to the media. Thus a mass email with Jeremy Corbyn’s name all over it the morning after the leaders debate, noting that £100,000 had been raised after the performance. “If we’re going to take on the billionaire media and Boris Johnson’s billionaire backers, it’s going to take more than that,” the Dear Leader wisely noted. At the manifesto launch, Corbyn openly challenged the bourgeois media to do its worst.

This attitude is welcome and appropriate, of course, and, as I write, the possibility is not excluded that it will ‘work’ and cause a dramatic upset. There is a real danger, however, that it is too little, and far too late – at least to make much difference to the result of the December 12 election, or to the shape of the government that emerges from it.

For the Corbyn leadership’s attitude to the bourgeois media has been conciliatory and occasionally cringe-inducing. We have sat through far too many attempts to appear ‘responsible’, when it comes to the economy, promises to ‘balance the budget’, apologies for their more hair-raising bits of past leftism.

On the other hand we have had attempts to ingratiate, rather than detoxify, of which Corbyn’s appearance on The last leg in a full-length, snowy-white pimp coat is the most striking; but more generally the Corbyn movement has attempted to make use of ‘non-traditional’ outlets of various sorts, from social media in general to encouraging an ecosystem of Labour-supporting news sites of varying quality (Skwawkbox, The Canary and so on). Corbyn and McDonnell even showed up in the football magazine When Saturday Comes, to promote their football-related manifesto pledges and make awkward banter about their Arsenal and Liverpool commitments.

It must be said that this strategy has not, in the end, succeeded in seriously threatening the mainstream media narrative. The recent absurd non-scandal about whether Corbyn watches the queen’s Christmas message or not is a case in point: if he does not, he is hardly alone in the Britain of 2019, so why even respond to such frivolous questions? But, even if he had demanded the ITV presenters stick to serious matters, it would have been pitched as his being ‘evasive’. The Skwawkbox-type operations will denounce this absurd deviousness on the part of the mainstream media, but they are nonetheless dragged into treating such absurdities seriously by responding to them.

The clearest example, however, is the hysteria over the Labour Party’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ problem. Though the agenda issues ultimately from the US state department and – concurrently – an Israeli establishment facing a pile-up of bad PR from small matters like the collective punishment of Gazans and unending far-right governments, it is the media that retails the lies. And lies they are: despite years of dragnet-fishing, even Jesus could not feed so many hungry hacks with such a meagre catch of actual anti-Semites.

Throughout this sorry saga, Corbyn and co have capitulated again and again. These lies have never been denounced. Natural justice was left in smoking ruins, for the sake of looking sufficiently penitent before the degenerate persons in the press gallery. There might have been a rationale for justifying this if capitulating had actually worked, and the sting had been drawn from the issue of Zionism and by extension Corbyn’s state-loyalism. It might then have gone down in the history books like other dishonourable compromises, like the mouths Nye Bevan stuffed with gold to get the national health service set up. Instead, lies gave way to grovelling, and grovelling to new lies; and ally after ally was thrown under the bus. It did not work. It was worse than a crime – it was a mistake, as was once said of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.


This all goes back to the contradictions at the heart of the Corbyn moment, and thus to the beginning of his run at the leadership four and a half years ago. A complacent Labour right helped put him on the ballot to make the whole affair seem more democratic – they had already taken steps to turn leadership elections into something resembling American primaries. This turned out to be an epic tactical blunder, and years of pent-up frustration – fuelled by anger at the manifestly unjust aftermath of the financial crisis that saw the elite shake out fine, while the rest of us suffered – spilled into a spontaneous mass movement.

This presented the British labour movement with a historic opportunity, but it did so at a moment of profound weakness. The radical left was divided between the remnants of the various Marxist grouplets and the even-more-fissile identity politics that tended to replace them. Union membership was at a low ebb. The local Labour Party organisations, into which these new members were thrust, were in disarray after decades of bureaucratic obstruction. The leadership now belonged to the left, but the machine and the parliamentary party to the right, and so life at the grassroots was choked off by the desperate police actions of the old guard. In Labour Party Marxists, we called – indeed, starting before the Corbyn movement – for the democratic transformation of the Labour Party, but the priority for everyone else was a Labour government with Corbyn in No10, with the result that this institutional disrepair has never been addressed seriously.

One aspect of that disrepair – and a very long-standing one – is the weakness of our own media. The Labour Party itself has made apparently no efforts on this front at all – the exhortations of the campaigning office into our inbox will have to do. The papers and wider output of the far left are increasingly dominated by delusional cheerleading for ephemeral protest movements, often of very dubious politics (wide-eyed enthusiasm for the protests in Hong Kong and les gilets jaunes in France, despite the obvious participation of the far right, spring to mind). The closest thing to a bright spot is probably the Morning Star, which has improved in quality – admittedly from a very poor starting position – but it is hamstrung by its absolute unwillingness to criticise the Labour leadership at all, even when it contradicts other deeply held convictions of the Star and its Communist Party of Britain, such as over Brexit.

The shiny new Corbynista outlets are not a long-term solution to this problem, because they are over-fitted to this situation. The refusal to confront the question of the party and the labour movement’s domination by the bureaucracy means working around or outside of such structures, and in effect means the multiplication of fiefdoms. The most striking example of this is not a media outlet, but Momentum – or, to give it its proper name, Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd – proprietor: J Lansman. Yet it is equally true of The Canary, Skwawkbox and co, which are basically beholden to one or another member of King Jeremy’s court in completely opaque and unaccountable ways.

Social media is not the answer either, because Facebook and Twitter are no less in enemy hands than The Daily Telegraph; moreover, it is plain that the ‘wild west’ era of content on these platforms is coming to an end, and moral panics over the far right (and even genocide in Myanmar) are the thin end of a wedge that implies far more pervasive policing of content and subservience to the state.

In truth, the bourgeois news media is having a sticky moment. It is broadly untrusted. Quality of output is way down after decades of cost-cutting exercises; hastily rewritten wire copy and industrially extruded clickbait predominate. The most partisan outlets within it do better – the Daily Mail and Fox News, sure, but The Guardian reached profitability recently on the back of an unending drive for donations and, while it is hardly our idea of a leftwing paper, it is more so than any of its competitors – but only within its immediate target markets. Various attempts at cordons sanitaires around ‘unacceptable’ political outcomes – Corbyn, Brexit, Trump – have failed. The backlash against social media companies, meanwhile, is also in full swing.

In theory, this is a promising situation for the workers’ movement to build up its own organs of mass communication. Unlike the bourgeois media, workers’ media are dependent neither on advertisers nor state largesse; they thrive, if thrive they do, on the creative energy of our movement’s partisans in service of our goals and each other. In a vibrant, democratic movement, the possibilities are very great to supplant bourgeois sources as the media of first resort; and there is no reason why we should stop merely at the level of publications. After all, the structure of the new internet platforms – as this paper has argued repeatedly – is determined no less by capitalist political economy. We should take seriously, for example, this question: what would a search engine that did not ultimately make money by advertising brokerage look like?

Just as Corbyn and co took for granted the structure of the Labour Party, and left the right in charge of its little power bases for far too long, so it refused to denounce the structurally necessary lies of the media. Whatever the December 12 result turned out to be, that was an error in the long-term view, and it remains for us to correct it.

Labour NEC stitch-up: Are you called Jon?

first published as a letter in the Weekly Worker

Just when I thought Momentum nationally had become a mere online presence (which tells its 30,000 members and vast number of supporters how to vote at conference and at election time, and constantly asks for money), I received an email asking me if I would “like to be considered to be a candidate” for one of the new additional posts created on Labour’s national executive committee.

The email dropped in my inbox on October 2 at 2.38pm, giving a deadline of “Wednesday October 4 at 12pm”. Not that I was seriously considering throwing my hat in the ring, but less than two days was clearly not a lot of time. But how interesting that Jon Lansman, who took away all decision-making powers from Momentum members in a coup in January this year, should engage in such a quasi-democratic exercise, I thought.

It was via the Huffington Post on October 9 that Momentum members were eventually informed of its outcome: Yes, Jon Lansman had been chosen by Momentum as an NEC candidate. A day later ‘Team Momentum’ managed to inform some (but not all) of its members how this decision was – apparently – made: a total of 48 applications were received, which were examined by “a panel of [national coordinating group] officers”, who then “interviewed seven candidates”, before settling on four that are now being sent “for recommendation to the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA)”. All within four days.

The well-informed Huffington Post writes: “Momentum issued an email to members recently asking for nominations for its NEC ‘slate’ and it is understood that Lansman was the popular choice among many.” Was he now? And how exactly did that work? Popular among whom? The 48 who nominated themselves? Clearly not. There was no other way for Momentum members to make any nominations other than self-nominations or express any opinions on the matter. Maybe they mean ‘popular among the people working in Momentum’s office, being on Jon Lansman’s payroll and all that …’  A meme was quickly doing the rounds, showing as first “criterium” on the application form the question: ‘Are you called Jon?’ 

Some Momentum members might have actually believed that Lansman was serious about introducing ‘one member, one vote’ digital decision-making when he abolished all democratic structures and imposed his own constitution on the organisation back in January. And maybe he does occasionally feel the pressure to make it look as if Momentum is a democratic, members-led organisation. But, in reality, all this has only served to remind many on the left what an undemocratic shell of an organisation it really is.

As if to stress the point, Team Momentum sent out another email on October 10, this time to Derbyshire Momentum: the steering committee is informed that they are no longer allowed to use the Momentum name, because they were “no longer a verified group” (though members there have emails showing how they were in fact “recognised” a few months ago).

After the January coup, Lansman loyalists in Derby – unhappy with the critical positions adopted by what was until this week ‘Momentum Derbyshire’ – set up a second group in the area. But why this move now? To understand that, you need to look at the other three Momentum names being put forward to the CLGA: they include “Cecile Wright, vice chair of Momentum, a co-founder of the Labour Black Network and a professor of Sociology at Nottingham”. And, as it happens, a member of the Momentum group in Derby.

Cecile Wright was very happy to quickly step into the post of Momentum vice-chair after Lansman demoted Jackie Walker when she was suspended from the Labour Party on false charges of anti-Semitism. Cecile (with Christine Shawcroft) also took up posts as directors of the Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd company on the day of the coup, January 10 2017. Of course, Lansman remains firmly in control of the most precious possession of Momentum: its vast database of over 300,000 Corbyn supporters.

This will make him almost a shoo-in for the NEC post. The CLGA list has never been chosen democratically and everything has undoubtedly been fixed a very long time ago – I predict that both Lansman and Wright will be on it!

Needless to say, as a Marxist in the Labour Party, I am less than happy with this process – not to mention the selection of Lansman himself. Not only has he made his disdain for any kind of democratic decision-making absolutely clear. But, worse, in the current civil war in the Labour Party, he has chosen to side with all those who maliciously label any criticism of Israel ‘anti-Semitic’.

He has thrown Jackie Walker under the bus, has called on Ken Livingstone to resign and is one of the main people behind the party’s new poisonous ‘compromise’ formulation on anti-Semitism. He has joined Jeremy Corbyn in the mistaken belief that this might actually calm the saboteurs. But that is a dangerous illusion: the witch-hunters’ appetite clearly grows with the eating. Lansman might be a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn (for now). But he is a very poor choice for the NEC indeed.

June 8: ‘It feels like a victory’

The seismic shock of the June 8 election result continues to resonate. Corbyn’s Labour confounded the pundits (including, it must be said, this publication which anticipated a bad defeat for Corbyn and immediate post-election clamour from the treacherous right wing for his head on a plate). Party activists around the country have been taking a well-earned rest, sinking a few pints and swapping election campaign ‘war stories’. Comrades tell us that a recurring sentiment being voiced by many runs along the lines of, ‘I know we lost; but it feels like a victory!

Indeed. LPM bulletin sends its congratulations to the comrades who worked so hard to produce this tremendous result.

Unfortunately – but unsurprisingly – these congratulations cannot be extended to large sections of the Labour Party apparatus. Reports emerging today confirm the experiences of LPM comrades from a number of constituencies (see the report from the Sheffield Hallam constituency, where former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was ousted). The online bulletin, Skwawkbox, alleges that:

Labour’s HQ, in complete contrast to the aggressive, energetic campaign of the party’s leader, mandated a purely defensive strategy for this election – and cost Labour the keys to 10 Downing Street.

The Blairites at headquarters – national and in many regions – presumably either not believing Labour could win seats from the Tories, or in some cases even hoping for a poor result, decided to circle the wagons around existing seats, particularly favouring those occupied by so-called ‘centrists’.

This meant that – at the instigation of senior HQ figures and right-wing NEC members – almost no resources were made available for the fight to win Tory-held marginals or even to defend Labour-held ones. [Marginals are] seats with a majority of below 3,000.

If this is accurate and we have no doubt that it is, then heads must role – in particular, Skwawkbox targets Blairite Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, who told voters to support the Tories to weaken the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon (an expulsion letter should be in the post soon, we suggest) and Ian McNicol, “for helping for failing to stop the saboteurs”. In our view, that would be just for starters …

Skwawkbox is a well-informed outlet that has grown from 5,000 viewings last October to 267,000 in March. It’s run by a Unite union activist from Liverpool, and the quality and frequency of the material he features strongly suggests he has some very high level contacts in the Corbyn office and Unite. So, perhaps this uncompromising post reflects a dramatic hardening of attitude towards the saboteurs by Corbyn, McDonnell and McCluskey? It’s long overdue.

This tremendous surge to Labour will give the left a breathing space. As will be the fact that there are about half a dozen new MPs now who are firmly in the Corbyn camp, including Sheffield Hallam’s Jared O’Mara, Emma Dent Coad in Kensington, Chris Williams in Derby North etc. But we can be certain that the truce won’t last. The majority of Labour MPs remain deeply hostile to Corbyn and – by extension – to the vast bulk of the mass membership of the party, most of who joined in a series of ‘Corbyn surges’. A June 9 statement from Momentum (Greenwich) notes the “veritable army of young … Momentum supporters campaigning to ensure the election of Labour MPs (some of whom could not disguise their hostility to us).” Encouragingly, it also sets the priority of “recruiting to active membership of the Labour Party Jeremy’s new electoral ‘army’” and “[urges] Momentum supporters to consider nominating for ward and constituency positions and as delegates to the National Party Conference.”

Quite right, comrades, but that process needs to climb higher! The new political complexion of the overwhelmingly majority of the party in the country must be reflected in its parliamentary line-up. Like many others, we underestimated the strength of Labour’s June 8 showing – but the tasks we have repeatedly identified as the key to transforming Labour into a genuinely socialist, democratic organisation remain on the agenda:

  1. Fight for rule changes. All elected Labour representatives must be subject to one-member, one-vote mandatory reselection. MPs must be brought under democratic control – from above, by the NEC; from below by the CLPs. We need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be rolled back. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, etc, must go.
  2. Scrap the despicable compliance unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell). The compliance unit operates in the murk, it violates natural justice, it routinely leaks to our enemies in the capitalist media.
  3. The stultifying inertia imposed on Momentum has proved to be an own goal. Jon Lansman has proved to be a competent autocrat. He blocked all Momentum attempts to oppose the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smears, he did nothing to get Momentum to fight the 2016 purge of leftwing supporters of Corbyn. It is now impossible to transform it into a democratic organisation, or one that can educate, activate and empower the rank-and-file membership. So, there is an urgent need for the left to organise with a view of establishing a worthwhile alternative.
  4. Securing new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. The FBU has reaffiliated. Matt Wrack at last came to his senses and took the lead in reversing the disaffiliation policy. But what about the RMT? And what about the NUT? Then there is PCS, where the question was not even discussed at this year’s conference.
  5. Every constituency, ward and other such basic unit must be won and rebuilt by the left. Our membership has grown from 200,000 in May 2015 to over 525,000 today. Surely during and after the election campaign we can get to a million. However, the left must convince the sea of new members, and returnees, to attend meetings … and break the stultifying grip of the right. Elect officers who support genuine socialism. Elect officers who are committed to transforming our wards and constituencies into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action. As such, our basic units would be well placed to hold councillors and MPs to account.
  6. Our goal should be to transform the Labour Party, so that, in the words of Keir Hardie, it can “organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”. We need rule changes to once again permit left, communist and revolutionary parties to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only strengthen us as a federal party. Today affiliated organisations include the Fabians, Christians on the left, the Cooperative Party … the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Business. Allow the SWP, SPEW, CPGB, Left Unity, the Morning Star’s CPB, etc, to join our ranks.
  7. Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder. A particularly potent weapon here is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker.
  8. We must establish our own press, radio and TV. Relying on the favours of the capitalist press, radio and TV is a game for fools. True, it worked splendidly for Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. But, as Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband found to their cost, to live by the mainstream media is to die by the mainstream media.
  9. Programmatically, we should adopt a new clause four. Not a return to the old, 1918, version, but a commitment to working class rule and a society which aims for a stateless, classless, moneyless society, which embodies the principle, ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’.