THE decision by Boris Johnson (or his consigliere) to sort the parliamentary Lobby into sheep and goats the better to manage the news agenda has met with a qualified failure.
Political correspondents, still annoyed at the shift of briefings from Parliament to No 10, walked out en bloc when some were refused admittance. Let’s hope this unprecedented display of professional solidarity is an early warning that the media are more inclined to hold the government to account than they were to provide the Labour Party with balanced coverage in recent years.
Don’t hold your breath. The people who get to report on Parliament are, in most cases, highly competent professionals, but they don’t get to occupy these posts without developing a deeply rooted sense of what constitutes the boundaries of acceptable opinion.
This is not to impugn their honesty or journalistic integrity. It is more a function of the power relations that obtain in the monopoly media and a highly sublimated function of the imperative for professional survival. When Andrew Marr challenged Noam Chomsky: “How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are,” Chomsky replied: “I’m not saying you are self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”
We should bear this in mind when reading the various accounts which appear in the bourgeois media of the present negotiations between the European Union and the British government.
At this early stage, much of the coverage shows both sides engaged in a ritual breast-beating, with grandstanding rhetoric by the Brits and the carefully constructed appearance of firm resolve by Michel Barnier.
For a powerful element in the government and among press barons, the language of sovereignty is a cloak for the drive to deregulate as much economic activity as is consistent with a broad trading relationship with as much of the global market as possible.
The formula which most closely meets this criteria is the so-called Canada option. But although the Queen reigns in Canada, it is a long way from Europe. The EU wants more of a level-playing field for British capital in its dealings with the EU markets than it is prepared to accept with more remote North American capital.
There is something of a fake sideshow over state aid to industry. If Jeremy Corbyn was in No 10, the EU negotiators would be making a grand song and dance, but today’s Tories are exceedingly reluctant interventionists and this is unlikely to be either a deal-maker or breaker.
The labour movement is accustomed to viewing the European Court of Justice through the prism of its record of anti-union and anti-worker rulings, but it has a wider role in arbitration. Squeezing the court out of domestic matters is a substantial problem; denying it a role in dispute resolution between British actors and EU interests will run up against powerful pressures.
Perhaps one driver for No 10’s anxieties about the news narrative arises from the tensions that already exist within government and in its dealings with big business and the banks.
Because Britain’s exit leaves a very big hole in the EU budget and narrows the scope of the European Commission’s power, there is a powerful imperative for the EU to do a deal, while some among Britain’s capitalist class see less necessity.
The enhanced sovereignty that Brexit entails gives Labour the opportunity to press working-class priorities on Parliament. Labour needs to take the initiative in arguing for an extension of workers’ rights.
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