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THREE years ago this week, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in a landslide victory that shook the Establishment. There has been constant press hostility ever since.
Over the summer as Labour colleagues discussed the IHRA definition and examples of anti-semitism, some in the right-wing media even sought to hijack that important discussion for their own political ends.
The right-wing press — no champions of equality and anti-racism — ran wild headlines.
Take The Sun, for example. One of its “The Sun Says” editorials referred to “the Jew-hating racism of Corbyn and his goons” and “Corbyn and his rancid wrecking crew.”
The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh also wrote a piece entitled “Jeremy Corbyn has done us all a favour by coming out as a genuine lifelong racist and proving he is unfit to be PM.”
Unfortunately, Tony Blair also joined the media frenzy against the Labour leader. With Labour at 41 per cent in the polls, he thought now was the best time to set out his test for when a new “progressive, moderate” party might need to emerge.
Blair’s political aims are all too clear. His key statement on his approach to a Corbyn-led Labour Party was made way back when it first became apparent that Corbyn was set be elected as Labour leader in 2015.
It was then that Blair said: “Let me make my position clear: I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it … Even if you did [win] it wouldn’t be right because it wouldn’t take the country forward, it would take it backwards. That’s why it’s not the right thing to do.”
Despite the increase in Labour’s vote at last year’s general election being the highest since the 1945 Attlee landslide, and despite two resounding mandates for Corbyn from members, Blair seems to have not changed his mind on the desirability of a socialist-led Labour government.
Of course, the press leapt on Blair’s remarks as a way of presenting the party as unelectable.
Much of the right-wing press also had unquestioning coverage of remarks by Lord Sacks that Corbyn was guilty of “the most offensive statement by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 Rivers of Blood speech.”
In his column in the Daily Mail, Dan Hodges said that people were right to say that Lord Sacks’s comparison between Corbyn and Powell was “ill-judged” — but because, in Dan Hodges’ view, Corbyn is “far, far worse.”
A media interested in objective coverage could easily have recalled the history of racist statements and policies by governments in Britain.
As home secretary, Theresa May had “Go Home” vans touring estates as part of the “hostile environment” for migrants. We now know how that hostility affected black British citizens who were part of the Windrush generation. Some had their benefits stopped or medical treatment denied. Others, unbelievably, were even deported.
The press seems to have forgotten how Boris Johnson labelled black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.” Or his recent attention-seeking and cruel comments about Muslim women that have even reportedly led to incidents of Muslim women being mocked and abused in the street.
This selective amnesia was also applied to the hateful remarks by prime minister David Cameron who talked in animalistic imagery of “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean.”
I will never forget being in the House of Commons Chamber when Cameron’s liberal mask slipped as he sneered and scoffed at the fact that Corbyn had “met a bunch of migrants” in the Calais refugee camp.
Of course, going further back, Margaret Thatcher, as prime minister, stoked up fear and hatred, saying: “People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.” At the same time Young Conservatives were proudly wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Hang Nelson Mandela and all ANC Terrorists” in opposition to one of the world’s greatest anti-racists.
On so many of these issues and many others, Corbyn has been at the forefront of the fight for justice and equality for many decades.
Few politicians have sided with the voiceless and oppressed for so long.
It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time when few spoke out as the press was demonising minorities — lesbian and gays, the Irish community, the black community among many others — in a daily dose of hate.
But Corbyn did speak out against those press smears, against racism and anti-semitism and for the humanitarian values of equality and respect. He continues to do so now.
Interestingly, I recently read an interview with Corbyn about his response on hearing Powell’s speech. Corbyn was volunteering in Jamaica at the time.
He recalls: “When I came back to Britain and I was living again in Shropshire, I became the secretary of the Shropshire campaign against racism and I got involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the ‘Stop the 72’ campaign against the then Immigration Act which was a pernicious piece of legislation.” That is the kind of man he is.
But all this is conveniently and studiously ignored by the right-wing media in an attempt to justify increasingly outlandish claims about Corbyn.
During the attempt in 2016 to oust Corbyn, there was talk of his opponents seeking to “break him as a man” in order to achieve their goal of his removal. Since the start of the year, some in the press appear to be pursuing such a strategy again.
Perhaps they believe that, if they can persuade enough people with their pernicious pretence that renowned anti-racist Corbyn is in fact “a genuine lifelong racist,” then that would destroy his well-deserved reputation as a champion of equality, which is so central to his appeal.
Perhaps they hope it will destroy his will to effectively resist the huge pressures that the Establishment has brought to bear over the past three years in a blatant attempt to try to defeat socialist policies that would help transfer power and wealth back to working people and their families.
But there’s some bad news for anybody who has ever wanted to “break him as a man.” Corbyn won't be broken. Not least because our movement isn’t about Corbyn alone.
It’s about well over half a million Labour members and many millions of people the length and breadth of the country who want to fight the Tories in order to defeat them and then build a Britain that works for the many not the few.
We can be proud that, far from being “institutionally racist,” Labour is an anti-racist, socialist party led by an anti-racist socialist leader.
With unity of purpose, we can turn that into an anti-racist, socialist government led by an anti-racist socialist prime minister — Jeremy Corbyn.
From a media owned by billionaires we have come to expect biased coverage, but Blair and company shouldn’t be acting as if it’s their historic duty to prevent a socialist Labour government.
They should turn their fire on the Tories. The rest of us will continue doing so, as we side with the millions of people who are currently being held back and are crying out for a government for the many not the few.
Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary and MP for Leeds East. This column appears fortnightly.
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