Our free and fearless press has nothing to report on the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. But the press, as nature itself, abhors a vacuum, and so has rushed to fill it - mostly with uninformed, speculative and pejorative garbage, so no change there, then. Sadly, some in and around Labour are, perhaps inadvertently, playing the press’ game by engaging in leadership arguments of their own.
Now, it is not for Zelo Street to tell Labour members what to do, or not to do, but some of the arguments are only going to help the Tories and their cheerleaders, who will be watching eagerly for any sign of disunity. Already today we have the Murdoch Times - whose editor John Witherow has overseen some of the most vicious and unprincipled hackery of recent times - trying to stir it up over the party’s post-election discussions.
Today’s front page article, “Labour anger at ‘arrogant’ Miliband’s inquest role” consists of no more than Andrew Adonis whinging, plus a Tweet from Ben Bradshaw. The rest of the article is culled from anonymous “sources”. It’s nothing more than knocking copy. But it shows the level at which the right-wing press is operating right now.
You think I jest on this subject? The increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph has run the headline “Labour leadership frontrunner Rebecca Long-Bailey said she would like to rule party with ‘iron fist’”. How did they make this deduction? In a 2015 interview, she “said she had no control over other members when presented with criticism of her predecessors, Ian Stewart and Hazel Blears”. And? Do go on.
She went on “I can’t rule it with an iron fist, much as I’d love to … It’s up to councillors and politicians to be accountable”. Or, to put it another way, Tenuous Maximus. Which brings us to some of the ideological purity froth which is now being generated across those social media platforms. The kind being used to insult and discredit leadership candidates.
Whenever Jess Phillips or Yvette Cooper is mentioned, out come the howls of “Blairite”. Never “Brownite”, you’ll notice. Always “Blairite”. Which has become a term of abuse intended to shut down discussion. And, d’you know, I couldn’t give a flying foxtrot whether someone conforms to that stereotype. Nor should anyone have any truck with the idea that only those who were wholly loyal to Jeremy Corbyn for the last four years get to stand.
That last appears intended to take out Keir Starmer. And it’s a sad reflection of how something that was an obsession of those on the right has been picked up elsewhere: only those of ideologically pure thought being allowed into the contest. I have news for those thinking along those lines: the electorate couldn’t give a stuff about your purity test.
Were there any chance of that happening, they wouldn’t have elected a congenital liar and serial adulterer as Prime Minister, not even with the press pack behind him. The electorate needs to be shown someone prepared to lead, to express their leadership in straightforward terms, to inspire that electorate to identify with that leader and their message, and have their party united behind them. That is all.
In the meantime, as Tories and the press scrape the barrel in their search for anything to beat up on Labour, the message is straightforward: don’t do their dirty work for them. They want to see a party out of touch with reality, and scrapping among itself. Don’t let them in.
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