Monday, 25 January 2016

Is the Media's Treatment of Jeremy Corbyn Justifiable?

by Oliver Clark

I am not going to lie to you. It is my opinion that Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, is just about the worst possible person to lead Britain into the future. I disagree with the fundamentals of his beliefs, and feel that he is going against some of the basics of public interest, most notably on defence and from a military standpoint, an issue that is more important than ever in a world plagued by the actions of Islamic State. He brands it as a 'new style of politics', whereas I would refer to it as extreme and quite frankly unelectable.

However, the scrutiny that he has faced since his appointment as Labour leader has been called into question on numerous occasions. Is the behaviour of the press defensible? For the record, various quips from the media stating how Corbyn looks like a shabby History supply teacher are not going to be explored in this article. I believe that when you are in a position such as Corbyn's, you must expect such schoolboy jokes from the press, similar to the way in which Cameron is depicted as an Etonian aristocrat who uses £50 notes as toilet paper and has never so much as glanced at a state-school educated person in his life.

At the Battle of Britain memorial ceremony on September 15th, a gathering to remember the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the name of our country, Corbyn stood in silence as the rest of St Paul's Cathedral sang the national anthem. Immediately after the events, Labour released a statement that 'Corbyn would sing at future public events', apparently reprimanding the actions of their new leader mere days after his appointment. Days later on Question Time, Telegraph journalist Tim Stanley, a formerly devout Labour supporter from the age of 15 who has in recent years began to favour David Cameron's Tory government, told a story from his childhood. Stanley refused to sing the national anthem at his school's Prizegiving and was subsequently suspended from school. Now, although he did not feel that Corbyn should be made to sit on the proverbial naughty step of the House of Commons, he stated that 'when you accept that position (leader of the Labour Party), you are elevated to the role of a statesman,... when you are at a public service where people are commemorating the sacrifice of our soldiers during the war, I don't care what your politics are, you sing lustily'. Despite the press ultimately focusing more on the lack of action of Jeremy's vocal chords instead of the proceedings of the service, I believe that it was a foolish way to start his career and the press had the right to challenge his actions so soon after his appointment.

A couple of months later, Corbyn was once again hounded by the press for his apparent lack of respect, this time for not bowing properly in front of the Remembrance memorial. Upon seeing this article, I had to watch the attached clips of Cameron, Corbyn and Tim Farron laying their wreaths. Now, although Corbyn did not bow with the enthusiasm of someone spotting a winning jackpot lottery ticket on the ground, to say that he was at all disrespectful was a non-story. Once again, the press decided to focus on Corbyn's actions instead of the service itself, with the Sun opting for the headline 'Pacifist Corbyn refuses to bow; nod in my name'. You do not have to be a fan of Corbyn to see that this was a highly distasteful choice of headline, demonising Corbyn simply for the angle of his arched back. It is at a time like this that I do feel sympathy for Corbyn, because we knew that whatever he did, newspapers like the Sun would target even the smallest imperfection of his 15 seconds of notability, whether it be a stray hair on his suit or an untied shoelace. It is of more interest to me what headline the Sun would have chosen if Corbyn, instead of bowing, leant back and pulled off a stunt reminiscent of Neo from the Matrix.

Okay, so if this were a football match between Corbyn and the Press, I can say we are standing at a 1-1 draw. However, I'd say this game is only in the opening 10 to 15 minutes. Unfortunately for Corbyn, since these events, things have been far from plain sailing for him, mainly due to the fact that he opposes his own party in a number of key issues. In the early days of 2016, he decided to change things up, reshuffling his cabinet so that shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle, a supporter of the air strikes in Syria (along with 65 other Labour MPs) and a believer in the renewal of Trident, could be replaced with Emily Thornberry, who shares Corbyn's views on both issues. An understandable decision, yet a peculiar one bearing in my Corbyn, as a part of his new brand of Politics, stated that he wished to embrace opposing views within his party. It seems he may have underestimated quite how many people with views different were around, as mere days later three Junior Shadow Ministers would resign from their posts due to Corbyn's views on Trident and Syria.

Perhaps more worrying for Corbyn were the comments made by Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff on a TV show in early November. There is a cross-party consensus that Britain as a nation are in favour of a nuclear deterrent, so when the Leader of the Opposition openly admits that he would never press the button if he were Prime Minister, he has effectively undermined the whole idea of the deterrent. Houghton was criticised by Corbyn and fellow Labour politicians for his comments, where he stated that 'It would worry me if that thought was translated into power as it were... the reason I say this is not based on a personal thing at all, it's purely based on the credibility of deterrence'. If the critics of Houghton are genuinely serious in their comments, dare I ask what is the purpose of the Chief of the Defence Staff? If he is not allowed to publicly comment about an issue such as Trident and Corbyn's comments, when he is the man in charge of the defence and security of our country, what can he actually comment on?

Jeremy Corbyn is a man who believes in himself and his opinions. For that I commend him, because sticking to your own personal views in the clandestine world of politics is becoming increasingly hard to do. However, after the Labour Party came up so short in last year's General Election, with many polls suggesting that their leader and his standpoint was too left wing for the modern Britain, can we blame the press for scrutinising his even more radical decisions? Headlines have been questionable and occasionally scandalous, but with Corbyn's party apparently imploding around him, I hope that the media will not need to make headlines such as those after Remembrance Sunday and instead call Corbyn up on a political standpoint. If 'Red Ed' was too left wing for Britain, what honest hope does Corbyn have in returning Labour to the helm of British politics? 

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