So Labour has chosen its leader. The party formed little more than a hundred years ago by the people, for the people, quite possibly returned to its roots. I say New Labour is dead; long live the Labour Party.
I’d recently suggested on Broad Left Blogging that Labour could only hope to win back the disenchanted voters it had lost by convincing them that the New Labour project was completely dead – which essentially meant having Ed Miliband lead the party. They’ve taken that step. In the same blog, I also wrote that the propaganda on Ed Miliband would, if anything, boost him. My view was that the more they continue to portray him as “Forrest Gump,” the more we’ll root for this underdog (and he was certainly an underdog at the start of the Labour leadership contest). Likewise, the mostly right-wing corporate media christening of him as “Red Ed” will probably do for him what the “socialist” tag did for Barack Obama in his presidential campaign. People are not, naturally, ultra right-wingers in support of the free market capitalist mob (what I like to call “market Bolsheviks” – as coined by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine).
The “red top” tabloid newspapers are already preparing their headlines for the weeks ahead, the months ahead, and for the next five years. #1 rag The Sun – like its Sunday sister, the disgraced News of the World – is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a man who has reaped incredible rewards from pro-deregulation Conservatives and who now, in return, again puts the full force of his media machine to work in portraying the Tories as competent and Labour as incompetent. It is already evident to me that the coming strategy for the press is in these key story themes with which they will pummel the public over the head with, right until 2015:
- As Labour Party leaders are chosen by a) party members, b) party MPs, and c) the unions, and Ed Miliband’s union support helped push him to victory, he must then be a puppet for the unions and will afford them too much power that could lead to another “Winter of Discontent”
- Unions do not represent workers or the people; they are run by “union barons” who chomp on cigars and enjoy the thrill of a strike to increase their own wages, not those of their colleagues
- If Ed Miliband is not New Labour, then he must be exactly like the Labour Party of old, which means, for example, eternal opposition leader Neil Kinnock and even “lefty loonies” like Michael Foot; nothing good has ever come from Labour
- Ed Miliband’s mentors can, arguably, be identified as lefty Tony Benn, and the unpopular Gordon Brown – not a good background of influence for this 40 year-old Labour leader
- In addition, Ed Miliband wrote the last Labour manifesto going into a general election in which they then suffered a massive defeat
You’ll be reading stories like those a lot for the next five years. Of course, it doesn’t matter that those arguments are completely flawed rubbish; they’ll be running them anyway, despite the fact that:
- If Labour was formed by the labour movement little more than a century ago to represent the working class mass majority who were getting screwed over by the big business bosses, then why shouldn’t the unions have a significant deciding choice in who leads that party? After all, the unions are the labour workforce; they are the people. Who else should get to choose – businessmen? Baroness Warsi? How about we let Tories have a vote? Hey, in fact, let’s just ask David Cameron who he’d prefer to lead them, eh?
- Let’s not forget that the union votes are the only votes that actually get to come from outside the party: it’s ridiculous to think that every voting union member is a Labour supporter. This is about as democratic as you get these days. Let’s see the Tories have their leader chosen by council estate occupants.
- The “Winter of Discontent” came about not because of Labour’s links with the unions, but because those links were broken: after the great Jack Jones had left his post as General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (now Unite), his successor Moss Evans’ failure to successfully negotiate with James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1978 arguably led to the “Winter of Discontent.” Yes, folks: it was Labour who butted heads with the unions at that time.
- The fact that Ed Miliband wrote Labour’s manifesto for Gordon Brown is more of a credit than a criticism, considering he adapted it for a leadership he didn’t necessarily wholeheartedly agree with. In fact, Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, and Peter Mandelson had significant influence over how it was written – as evidence by how much Ed has expressed difference of opinion to the New Labour manifesto he was deployed to create for them.
- Ed Miliband himself rightly smiles and shrugs off the claims that if he’s not New Labour then every decision he makes will hark back to any mistakes made before the New Labour project. This is the most clever move by the media: the argument absolutely must be framed within the binary perspective of “New Labour or Lefty Loonies” – no other view must possibly be allowed to be had.
But where will these facts emerge? In your morning paper? On the nightly news? Not likely. The unwritten rules in corporate pressrooms will be reinforced by editors at the mercy of their media barons. They will include:
What you can’t block, simply skew. The press propaganda strategy is that in order to stop Labour appealing to the public and threatening the current Conservative project of mass privatisation under the excuse of militant deficit reduction, reporting absolutely must marginalise any Labour talk of progressive politics such as taxing the banks, improving public services, green energy and investment, getting people back to work, enhancing living conditions, better housing, and so on. These messages – if they can’t be blocked from striking a chord with the public – must be perverted and distorted, because they are inherently populist, thus dangerous to corporate interests.
Disconnect the people from anything with their interests at heart. Another strategy – and likely to be a crucial one in the coming months – is that, as public services are scrapped, and workers strike to save their jobs (as they did in the 1980s), unions must be completely portrayed as at the mercy of militant “union barons” (a term you’ll be hearing more and more in the press from now on). As with 1980s propaganda discrediting the honourable coalminers of communities like the one I grew up in, corporate press success lies in, incredibly, not only discrediting the unions but actually diminishing faith and trust in them – in other words, essentially disconnecting the people from themselves and their own interests, even. It’s important that, at the end of the day, the Tories continue to scrap almost anything not making profits for those who support their party, and at the same time remove workers’ rights even further so that people are at the mercy of big business. The crusade of militant deficit reduction is a key smokescreen for these motives.
Rewrite history. Under no circumstances must people be allowed to remember Clement Attlee’s remarkable success as Labour Prime Minister following Churchill’s departure, Keynesian economics, the creation of the National Health Service, the welfare state, or even Harold Wilson’s refusal to take the country to war in Vietnam. People must only be allowed to think that Labour means thuggish “union barons” unilaterally deciding to strike for the sake of it, and incompetent economic management – and never remember what the Tories did to the country in the 1980s or that they first deregulated the banks and allowed them to run amok, devastating the British economy in the first place.
This is how you successfully scare the people into condoning the very thing that harms them – in this case, the ConDem coalition itself. But will it work? Will the ConDems be condoned?
My hunch remains that in the end it won’t matter. People are far more savvy than we’re led to believe, and ultimately – as people lose their jobs and then their eligibility for welfare benefits as well – the approval ratings of this coalition government (already only on par with those of Labour) will plummet before it is ripped apart, Con from Dem, and exploited by a Labour leader who comes across as approachable, diplomatic, and maybe even worthy of a “Red Ed” tag that will only appeal more and more to a public clamouring for a saviour from this devastating cash-and-carry capitalist coalition. He became leader with less campaign funding than his brother, and won “without the media.” It will take more than the propaganda this time. It will take another Falklands to save the Tories. David Cameron has five years in which to find one. His time starts…now.