PSYCHOLOGICAL WEAPONRY #1: NEGATIVE IMAGING
The unrelenting anti-Corbyn spin machine unleashed yet another smear this weekend, seeking to make a scandal out of his attendance at a rally against racism, of all things.
As if this weren’t ridiculous enough, his enemies then used it as an opportunity to link Corbyn to, er, a rape allegation. Made three years ago. Against an individual Corbyn has no relationship with. Who was an officer of the Socialist Workers’ Party. Of which Corbyn is not a member.
The smear merchants would have us believe that the organisers of the rally, Stand up to Racism, are a “front” for the SWP. Therefore, obviously, by speaking at the rally, Corbyn is personally and deliberately endorsing the SWP’s covering up of a rape allegation three years ago. Quite what a “Front” is, exactly, or what the SWP would hope to achieve by pretending NOT to organise an anti-racism rally, I’m not quite sure.
In fact, as is standard practice with left wing campaigns, a number of different organisations were involved in organising the rally — Trade Unions, the Labour Party, Labour MPs, anti-racism campaigners and, yes, the SWP. The co-chair of the event is a prominent member of the Trade Union UNITE and a supporter of Owen Smith during the recent Labour Leadership campaign!
All of this information and more is available on Social Media so I won’t go into any more detail on this particular calumny. What it does expose, though, is one of the most cunning and insidious psychological tricks used by the establishment in its struggle to neutralise Corbyn. This is to take something overwhelmingly positive about him, and try to turn it into a negative, pretty much just by telling everyone it’s negative not positive.
So, Corbyn lends his weight to a high profile anti-racism campaign, and does so in the week the Tories have been indulging in xenophobic dog-whistling. Nothing could be a stronger and less complicated statement of the man’s values — unity in place of division, peace in place of strife, toleration in place of hatred. What a fabulous set of values for the man to be associated with and what a wonderful way to throw the mean, stunted, regressive Tory worldview into stark relief. Of course, as far as the establishment is concerned it really won’t do to have such positive vibes attach themselves to Corbyn. Longer term it really won’t do to have left wing politicians going down in history associated with such values.
The liberal wing of the establishment is similarly unenthusiastic about Corbyn associating himself with such things. Your average dinner party liberal sees Corbyn and his supporters as rather beastly, uncultured and not quite in good taste. It disturbs them, therefore, to see him associating with the same causes they like to, so they rush to put a negative slant on this.
Prior to this latest incident we saw the same dynamic in operation on Corbyn’s support for “Stop the War”. Commentators both conservative and liberal were seriously going round trying to make this organisation and Corbyn’s patronage of it somehow distasteful and menacing, just by virtue of them saying it was. They were all going round tutting and shaking their heads (seriously) about the prospect that Corbyn might attend STW’s Christmas dinner. MPs were briefing Tory journalists with comments like “by attending this dinner Corbyn has shown he has absolutely no regard for the views of the party in Parliament”
Now, quite apart from the ridiculousness of the PLP seeking to dictate how Corbyn spends his Christmas, let’s take a step back and look at the ridiculousness of people getting angry about an organisation called, er Stop the War. Remove the manufactured controversy and you are left with a bunch of people looking down upon the concept of stopping war.
Stop the War came in for the same kind of manufactured outrage today. Asked in a radio interview why they were not campaigning against Russia’s actions in Syria, they replied that they were an organisation dedicated to stopping Britain going to war, not an omnipotent international peace-keeper. In this they were absolutely correct. In fact had they campaigned for action against Putin’s Russia that would take them perilously close to campaigning for war, not against it. Saddam Hussein also ran an unpleasant regime but that does not make those opposed to the Gulf War disreputable. Nevertheless the usual establishment cheerleaders were quick to try and claim that something outrageous had been said. Also to try and gratuitously add Corbyn’s name to the mix. Negative imaging once more: desperately trying to turn a positive cause (peace) into something negative just by declaring it to be negative.
Look at the pattern that emerges here: Corbyn supports an anti-Racism campaign: suddenly people are declaring this to be sinister. Corbyn supports an organisation devoted to stopping war: suddenly people are declaring this to be sinister.
It’s all a clever, if rather desperate, psychological trick to neutralise huge positives about Corbyn by turning them into negatives.
A third area in which this dynamic has come into operation is the smears against Momentum , the organisation set up to build on Corbyn’s first leadership win. The establishment and its cheerleaders were quick to try and portray it as a regressive band of neo-Trotskyite bully boys. “A nasty bunch of thugs” is how I saw it described on the Guardian’s message boards early on into Corbyn’s leadership. In fact there has been no thuggery from Momentum whatsoever. They have committed no violent or threatening acts. Look at any photo of a Momentum event and you will not see shaven headed, bomber jacketed thugs but a nice, friendly, welcoming band of idealists drawn from all ages, genders and social groupings. Channel 4 Dispatches notoriously spent 6 months filming undercover at Momentum and failed to turn up a single instance of thuggery, violence or threatening behaviour.
Momentum and Corbyn’s supporters have countered the “thuggery” narrative vigorously and largely successfully. Many mainstream journalists even gave it grudgingly favourable coverage during this year’s Labour Party conference. Nevertheless the thug narrative was one that for a long time held powerful sway in bien pensant circles.
The motive was identical to that applied to Unite Against Racism and Stop the War — to neutralise what should have been an uncomplicatedly positive point in Corbyn’s favour, namely his ability to inspire and enthuse the grassroots.
As well as being a tactic to damage Corbyn, I think there is a motive behind all this that goes deeper than any one individual. It is not often that a major politician, a party leader, puts things like stopping war or standing against racism at the heart of their agenda. Even if they do they usually hedge it round with qualifications and prevarications, particularly if the fearsome Conservative Party is moving in the opposite direction. If a major politician acts like Corbyn there is a danger that such values will enter the mainstream — that stopping war will come to dominate the agenda rather than, say “Growth” or exports or competitiveness or winning the next Olympics.
The potential change in values, in what is considered important in our society, is not one that our establishment would find helpful. If people openly start discussing Stopping War, and Tolerance, start looking at whether those are good or bad things, who knows where it might lead?
So, as well as being a method to neutralise Corbyn, this “negative imaging” of positive traits is also a method to neutralise promotion of the values he represents.
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