“You will show my head to the people – it is worth seeing.”
So said French revolutionary Georges Jacques Danton on his way to the guillotine. Judging by the mainstream media response to last night’s by-election results, you might be forgiven for thinking Jeremy Corbyn had said exactly the same.
Labour held Stoke. UKIP were humiliated. The decline in Copeland’s Labour majority happened before Corbyn was elected Labour leader and was partly the result of Jamie Reed being a second-rate MP on his better days. Speaking of Blairites, it was Reed’s resignation (seemingly intended to damage Corbyn as much as possible) that triggered the election in the first place while Blair and Mandelson did their best to wreck any chance of Labour holding Copeland anyway.
Much of the mainstream media seemed happy to ride that Blairite bandwagon. Today, Labour having held Stoke but lost Copeland, they seem equally happy to keep doing so. Judging by their reporting many of them would still like that Blairite bandwagon to become Corbyn’s tumbril trundling him off to meet his fate.
From the right-wing papers it’s standard practice. The Daily Mail is happy to use anything against Corbyn including fake news. No surprise that they’ve duly delivered. The Sun (which would probably publish doctored images of Corbyn roasting puppies on a spit if it would damage him) has done a masterful job of showing it hasn’t changed since the Miner’s Strike and Hillsborough.
The ‘quality’ end of the mainstream press is more restrained in its language, but no less damning. The Times and the Telegraph are often very good at making a hatchet job seem less less aggressive and more dignified than it really is so they’ve proved. Not for them the crude click-bait hyperbole, they’d sooner twist the knife in more polite fashion.
The liberal press have been, as expected for Blairite papers, damning with faint praise. Self-styled ‘intelligent tabloid’ The Mirror (normally less pathologically anti-Corbyn) has reacted like Chicken Licken watching the sky falling in. They’re not nearly as interested in Stoke. Instead, they’re insistent on punishing Corbyn for Copeland.
Bastion of liberal ideas (and anyone-but-Corbyn rhetoric) the Guardian has also performed as expected. Mentions of Stoke are drops of grudging acknowledgement in a torrent of gloom. Gloom that can only be solved by Corbyn falling on his sword or somebody sneaking up behind him with one.
The New Statesman and Independent are more restrained. Neither is so far calling for Corbyn’s head or blaming the Copeland loss entirely on his being Labour leader. Their coverage isn’t very positive but, compared to much of the rest, it’s far less barbed, loaded or hyperbolic.
And finally, what of our broadcasting brethren? The BBC’s coverage has been more restrained than recently. That said, there was strong criticism of last night’s Question Time, with many on social media accusing Dimbleby of granting Angela Rayner far less time to answer or make points while cutting her off whenever possible. Rayner, a potential star for Labour, put on an excellent performance.
The BBC’s comparative restraint might have something to do with their politics department (especially Laura Kuenssberg) being hauled over the coals for misrepresentation and hidden bias against Corbyn and his supporters. That didn’t stop Blairite MP John Woodcock from sinking the knife firmly into his own party leader.