LONDON (Labour Buzz) - The leaked report from the Labour party understandably caused shock and outrage. However, the casual reaction from some parts of the press hints at something more sinister; a tolerance of abuse, misogyny, and racism…under the right circumstances.
Social media has been a blaze with revelations from the leaked report. MPs have been venting their rage, the party has launched an investigation into an investigation and General Secretary Jennie Formby has felt the need to write to members warning them against sharing any of the details in the report or risk being sued.
The media, though, with a few exceptions have been relatively silent. Sky News broke the story, the Guardian mentioned it a few times and the Independent carried a few columns. On the BBC, however, barely a whisper, which is odd given how excited they got about other news stories such as the angle of Jeremy Corbyn’s bow, the straightness of his tie and his apparent reluctance to trigger nuclear Armageddon.
When the media did give it their attention, their takes were curious to say the least. Politics Home decided that the true victims here were the people named in the report and ran a bizarre interview with Peter Mandelson who tried to defend the actions of the staff. It should be noted that Politics Home was previously owned by Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft.
Others took the line of ‘why focus on this when there’s this Coronavirus thing going on?’ Despite spending 24 hours a day lockdown, some find it impossible to simultaneously worry about a virus while also thinking racism and bullying are bad.
There are two possible explanations for this attitude, and both of them should concern everyone. The first is the old issue of bias against Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn’s team in particular. We’ve covered this extensively in the past, but the backlog of evidence is damning.
In 2016, a report from the Independent found that 75% of press coverage misrepresented Corbyn. Ridicule, character assassination and outright lies are routinely reported as hard facts. The Sun and Express continually linked Corbyn with terrorism.
In 2018 the founder of the Good Law Project, Jolyon Maugham, claimed to have received messages from a journalist at the BBC that the corporation showed ‘coded negative imagery’ of Corbyn.
The unverified text read like something which could have come out of this Labour report.
“I fundamentally think the problem for reporters is that there are taboos about the fundamental critique of Corbyn: he’s a very stupid man ill equipped for the complexity of his job; he’s an old man who doesn’t have the vigour required to learn the necessary skills. It would be shocking to see those things written out plainly so it’s all transmitted in code.”
This is the crux of the matter. Many in the press agree with some of the leaked messages in the report. They may have even made similar comments themselves. As such, they are willing to overlook gross instances of bullying, racism and misogyny, all because they don’t agree with the politics of the targets.
The most serious problem for the press, though, is that this report counters the main narrative they themselves have been pushing for many years. It appears to prove many of the complaints made by Corbyn’s biggest supporters, that there was a coordinated plot to thwart Labour’s chances in the 2017 and 2019 elections, assuming the report is truthful.
One senior member wrote that the unexpected 2017 result was “opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years.”
Given the fact that Labour were just a couple of thousand votes away from forming a potential coalition government in 2017, lead by Corbyn, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that their efforts helped keep the Conservatives remain in power.
The report also casts serious doubt about the reliability of evidence given by staffers to BBC’s Panorama program. Many of those people named directly in the report have been praised by journalists and politicians for their courage. However, the report not only questions their reliability but suggests they themselves were complicit for many of the accusations they made. At Labour Buzz we think its important not to make any pre-determined judgements, the investigations must be impartial and accurate.
This situation and others, forces us to question the due diligence of the makers of BBC’s Panorama, especially as it was made by a fervent critic of Jeremy Corbyn, John Ware, who himself has been accused of Islamophobia. The BBC has a duty to maintain impartiality. It appears to have failed catastrophically here.
This takes us into a second and even more sinister explanation. The content of the messages expose hostility to BAME members and women in particular. Clive Lewis is described as the ‘biggest c*** of them all; Diane Abbot is an ‘angry woman’ and ‘repulsive’ while suggestions are made that Dawn Butler used accusations of racism to gain a promotion to the front bench.
Another report in 2018 from LabourToo activists about the sexual harassment experienced by women within the Labour party, also shone a light on the toxic attitude towards women from senior members and staffers.
By rights, these allegations should be sickening for any progressive-thinking journalist. That they pass with so little comment suggests it’s not only political parties which have this problem, but also the media.
The silence from the press suggests they share some of these attitudes. It’s telling that, after finding Diane Abbot crying in the toilets after being subjected to a sustained campaign of online abuse, their first instinct was to tell a journalist. Aside from lacking basic human decency, it reveals an expectation that a prominent journalist would collude in further victimising someone who has been subject to racist and sexist abuse.
The report reveals a serious blind spot within the media and a latent hostility to left wing politics, especially those who dare to be black and dare to be female. Despite the outpouring of abuse targeting the likes of Diane Abbot, progressive journalists often appear unphased. Indeed, when one Amber Rudd did something very unusual and expressed support for a political opponent targeted by abuse, the media focused on her unfortunate use of language rather than the fact that she had managed something they could not: to express support for a political opponent targeted by abuse.
Media bias is nothing new, but whether its antisemitism, racism, sexism or transphobia, the media reserves its outrage for those who sit in their own political camp and who often looked remarkably similar to themselves.
(Reporting and writing by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O’Sullivan)