Jeremy Corbyn was never going to get an easy ride from the right-wing press. It all got worse when his campaign gathered momentum and shot him into the leaders office; tales of a dystopian British future under his rule didn’t take long to surface. In his speech to Labour party conference yesterday he took this issue head on, and calmly exposed this kind of ridiculous type coverage for what it is. Obliging as ever, the rightwing media then took it upon themselves to prove Corbyn's point, and responded in a predictably hysterical fashion.
The Mail decided to rehash the line of attack they used on Ed Miliband, in a very impartial piece headlined "Red Jez: Corbyn tells Labour critics he is the boss but rambling speech has nothing on immigration or the deficit". Meanwhile, The Express gifted the Tory press team with the headline: “Corbyn: Scrap our nuclear weaponry & don't bomb jihadists - but I'm no threat to Britain” – a message broadly in line with the Corbyn smear campaign kicked off at CCHQ a fortnight ago. And as The Independent's Jon Stone pointed out, The Telegraph's front page told us all we needed to know about its mature, rational stance on Corbyn.
When a picture choice says more about your newspaper than the story it is illustrating pic.twitter.com/UlvrfMSSEq— Jon Stone (@joncstone) September 29, 2015
But Corbyn’s policies will be spun in this hysterical way by these papers no matter what he says. The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express are a gaggle of papers with an agenda that has little in common with Corbyn’s or the Labour party’s. They will always be on the attack. Though it might seem risky to take the press on, Labour’s leader was right to do so.
If you think he was unwise to criticise the media, then just cast your mind back over the last couple of months. It's hard to forget the startling dystopian tale that The Mail published this Summer, in which Britain collapses under Prime Minister Corbyn. In another piece, they also warned their readers that the Labour leader was after some of the most vulnerable people in society – CEOs and business owners. “Watch out!" it said. "Corbyn targets ‘EVERY’ organisation in Britain as he vows to cut ‘ludicrous’ salaries paid to company bosses”. What the paper actually meant to say was that Corbyn said he wanted to look at huge pay gaps between the lowest and highest earning employees in UK companies.
And it isn’t just The Mail. This laughably partisan sentiment has been reflected throughout the other right-wing titles. Earlier this month The Times thought it appropriate to describe Corbyn’s bike as “Chairman Mao-style” (which Corbyn rightfully laughed at in his conference speech), while in August The Telegraph decided that Corbyn had some sort of plan that involved turning the UK into Zimbabwe.
Once you take this all into account, it's clear that Corbyn was never going to get these papers on side yesterday. In a speech primarily pitched to his supporters, rationally pointing out the glaring inaccuracies in such stories was an obvious win.
Although none of this is to say that the media isn’t important. Many of the low- and middle-income earners tht Corbyn needs to connect with know him through the media, which means that well-constructed, broad-based messages are essential. It's an inconvenient truth, but the Left needs to accept that social media and activism aren't enough on their own, and that Corbyn needs to engage with the media. To his credit, he has started to do this in the last couple of weeks – recent engagements with The New Statesman and Andrew Marr have proven that he can be a charismatic interviewee. But it still stands – if the press are going to continue to attack him with absurd scare stories, then why shouldn't he address them head on? It’s a fine balancing act, but if his team wants to succeed, it’s one they’ll have to pull off.