Sometimes things happen with perfect timing, and so it is as we
approach the Green Party of England and Wales referendum on single
leaders or principal speakers in November. Just take a look at the
Liberal Democrats' current fiasco for an example of what happens if you
allow your structures (and eventually your policies) to be determined
by a "mainstream" media discourse rather than long held and
collectively agreed principles and beliefs.
The former Lib Dem leader, Ming Campbell, was subject to a relentless media assault over the question of his age. These constant attacks undermined his position and gave strength to his external and internal enemies. His internal rivals further fuelled the fire by 'briefing' against him. This is the
same man, remember, that much of the MSM (Mainstream media) had
previously lauded as a "sensible option", a "safe pair of hands", a
"responsible, establishment figure". He was contrasted in this
discourse with the "dangerously left wing" Simon Hughes, and the "far
too seriously green" Chris Huhne who contested the leadership with him.
In fact, Hughes is not particularly "left-wing" in any reasonable
description of the political spectrum seen from a global viewpoint -
i.e. beyond the tiny political range of British-media-approved politics
- he is in the tradition of solid liberal "radicalism" and right-wing
social democracy. Likewise, Huhne is an ex-public schoolboy with similar right-wing economic policies to the current neo-liberal favourite for the leadership, Nick Clegg.
Huhne, and presumably any other contenders for the post-Campbell leadership
will now presumably be attacked (by all but those sections of the media
briefly playing at being politically distinct) as "unelectable" and a
"liability". The safe, right-wing,photogenic Nick Clegg - a clone of
David Cameron and the young Tony Blair - will be praised and boosted,
particularly by the powerful Murdoch press. In fact, the Murdoch press
will not be really satisfied until all the main political parties are
led by a white male, early middle aged, heterosexual,neo-liberal with a full head of hair (ideally an ex-public school boy)! Anyone else, except perhaps some blonde haired authoritarian dominatrix in the Thatcher/Merkel
mode, will be made an "electoral liability". Even those sections of the
media playing at being politically distinct will not make too much of the fact that the choice between Huhne and Clegg is not really a choice on anything other than a superficial level. They even went to the same public school.
Once parties accept the logic of "we must have an MSM-friendly leader" the MSM
have them in a blackmail grip. The overwhelmingly reactionary British
print media and the largely liberal-establishment broadcast media will
let you know what they think of your choice. If the leader is not
authoritarian enough to impose policies that back the economicallyneo-liberal status quo (and belief in this economic standpoint is a cornerstone belief common
to both the openly reactionary and liberal establishment media) then
there will be a journalistic feeding frenzy, an attack pack to destroy
that leader in any way they can. The establishment economic "consensus" cannot be challenged under any circumstances. Thus the fortunes of an entire party will rest
on the vulnerability to attack of one individual, who in most cases,
being a politician and only human, will bend with the wind of demands
to be faithful to the status quo or be broken.
John Pilger recently said of journalists in an article
on Michael Moore's latest film that
The few who dig deep into the nature of a liberal ideology that regards itself as superior, yet is responsible for crimes epic in proportion and
generally unrecognised, risk being eased out of the "mainstream",
especially if they are young - a process that a former editor once
described to me as "a sort of gentle defenestration".
None has broken through like Moore, and his detractors are perverse to say he is not a "professional journalist" when the role of the professional
journalist is so often that of zealously, if surreptitiously, serving
the status quo . Without the loyalty of these professionals on the New
York Times and other august (mostly liberal) media institutions "of
record", the criminal invasion of Iraq might not have happened and a
million people would be alive today.
Regimes of the past depended upon church, education and media to instill the
necessary subservience to the interests of the ruling class. In modern
Britain the church is much reduced and weakened and education is a
poorer disciplinarian than ever as it struggles to respond to ever more
complicated demands with limited resources. Therefore, the main burden
of opinion forming, or as it has been termed "manufacturing of consent"
will fall upon the print, broadcast and electronic media.
The media cannot be ignored, but can just about be used by radicals who
have their wits about them (as recently demonstrated by the clever
media management of the climate camp group)if they keep them at arms
length and constantly remind themselves about who owns the MSM, whose agenda it follows and whose interests it ultimately serves.
To allow the media to use you
however, and to be dictated to on "media friendly"
structures (and ultimately "media friendly" policies) is the result of
the height of naivety, an almost touching faith in relative
impartiality and ignorance of how the modern body politic works to
sustain the wealth and power of the already wealthy and powerful. The
owners and controllers of the MSM , whether these are global businesses, wealthy directors or trustees, are not benevolent public servants seeking the truth, neutral in politics and eager for everyone to have
their say. These people are in business for two interlinked reasons -
to make money and to control the agenda. The second objective of course makes the first easier. Now they are not going to allow their mouthpieces to undermine their position, are they?
Of course, this will rarely be as unsubtle a process as directives coming down from on high as to want can be published (though this does happen)- the fig leaf of editorial independence salves the conscience. More subtle
methods are appropriate - once a culture and workforce are established
around a certain worldview, dissenters will only ever be allowed a
niche market, the position of tamed radicals. Any real radicals or
threats to the statusquo will be target number one for demonisation. Woe betide any MSM journalist who consistently thinks otherwise. This is not forgetting that in corners of the media docile "rebels" will be maintained to salve the guilty conscience of sections of middle class readership.
"Look - Johann Hari is publicly advocating a Republic - we must have a free and fair press"
No, day in, day out, the mantra of the MSM, reactionary and liberal alike is "this is how the world is, this is the only economic system possible, there is no alternative - you will be assimilated - resistance is futile!". Few physical chains and restraints are deemed necessary when thought and imagination are so severely shackled on such a basis that a tiny, restricted political spectrum is accepted as all that is possible.
However, all is not lost. It is a remarkable thing, but on questions where the real material interests of ordinary people are directly threatened (think the Poll Tax or union action on pensions or the strong and growing movement to defend the NHS in the UK) media propaganda spectacularly fails to work. In fact the very world-weary scepticism that the MSM tries to promote in relation to leftism is here deployed by the public against the establishment and its media. This shows the way forward - not personality politics, not tailoring policy presentation to the preconceptions of Fleet Street, but real politics of the base
- collective leadership working on the real threats to economic and environmental well being . We will only go forwards as a movement with a base in real life, in the lived experience of ordinary working men and women, children, pensioners, the disabled and the unemployed. We need to be about empowering people to fight back, we do not need to become a PR vehicle resting on a single fallible ego.
The Lib Dems gave in long ago. It is up to the Greens and the broader democratic left, green and workers movement to make a difference in local communities - and build the national and international alliances required for success.
The mould that must be broken is much more than a media-controlled parliamentary circus.
Labels: British Left, British Politics, Elections, Green Left, Green Politics, Media, Polemic, Theory