Saturday, 3 November 2018

The tragi-comic end of Wreathgate is a timely reminder of how far British politics has fallen

Image result for jeremy corbyn wreath imagesYou will recall how, a few months ago, a certain party leader furiously denied, then in the end implicitly accepted, that he laid a wreath at the grave of Palestinian terrorists: essentially in the face of overwhelming evidence that he did just that.

Thanks to the painstaking work of some ordinary folk, as well as journalists, piecing together maps and photographs from the event, it was made clear that the route he took through the cemetery would have made any other explanation untenable.

For many of us, this was a watershed moment. We knew he had a long history of hanging out with dubious people and supporting unpleasant causes, but we wanted to believe there was still a chance that he was merely naïve and occasionally mendacious, rather than a serial liar. This shattered that possibility.

Through five years of Miliband’s leadership, this blog criticised him, often heavily. It praised him, too, when he got things right. But it never called him a liar, because he was not one. Corbyn is not in the same category politically, of course. But neither is he in the same category personally.

Jeremy Corbyn lied about not laying a wreath. It may seem a minor thing, in the greater scheme of things, but the fact that it does is more a comment on today’s politics than anything else. The only plausible explanation was simply that a man who aspired to be PM could not be seen to be openly supporting terrorists (and worse, Hamas, terrorists with an ingrained anti-Semitism that can be traced back to their founding charter).

So it was really no surprise to find that the Dear Leader – or, we assume, his Communications Director and legal team on his behalf – made a complaint to the press regulator about the coverage of the event.

Challenging the press when they misreport – and they do – is an important right. Some media play it closer to the wire than others, and some (who do not really even deserve the name, because they are propaganda: RT, PressTV, Skwawkbox and so on) outright lie on a regular basis. But even if a regulator may sometimes seem toothless, it is there.

So when that regulator turns on someone, it is usually for a reason. Similarly, when a complainant withdraws their complaint, it invariably means that either (a) they can see it will never get anywhere, or (b) the outcome is likely to completely embarrass them. Or both.

Cue comedy interlude: Jeremy Corbyn’s complaint about the Daily Mail was withdrawn last week, for the following, brilliant reason. Apparently, the process was “compromised”. There was a leak, and the Labour Party could no longer have faith in a tainted process.

Not, you understand, that it was quietly withdrawn because the whole world knew it was a disingenuous complaint. It was decent Jeremy standing up against the nasty people who were maligning him (including an independent regulator and both left- and right-wing broadsheet press). Oh, my sides.

No, the grand finale of Wreathgate was the point at which Corbyn’s leadership finally descended into farce.

But the terrifying thing is that we are no longer shocked. What would have been a killer blow for Miliband, or any other Labour leader, does not seem to matter.

We Brits throw up our hands in despair – or perhaps laugh, and point – when we look across the Pond to find a serial liar at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation.

But our system – historically one of the least venal and corrupt in the world – is going the same way. The Tory Right and UKIP demonstrably lied about Brexit. Corbyn lies about his past (not to mention his proposals for the future, such as the manifesto pledge about free university education).

The term “gaslighting” comes from the old movie “Gaslight” (precursor to “The Girl On The Train”), where a psychopathic husband gradually turns down the lights in his house so his wife can barely see, trying to drive her slowly mad by behaving as if nothing is happening. Getting to her to accept an alternative reality by constantly pushing at her boundaries.

As a mirror image of UKIP on the right, Corbyn’s Labour has done something similar. In the worst case, we become part of the cult: we are successfully gaslit into believing that it is all the fault of the media, the Tories, the centrists, or whatever other convenient bogeyman comes to hand.

But the rest of us, we are still being gaslit into believing that a lying leader is normal and acceptable. Not that we are part of a movement whose values are slowly becoming unrecognisable to us. We should not accept and we should not defend.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

UPDATE 04NOV: Corbynite journalist Owen Jones has been upset by blogger and QC Jolyon Maugham over his Wreathgate support for Corbyn, where he memorably tweeted "no-one ever got killed by a wreath". 

Maugham says - not without justification, in light of that comment - that Jones "thought it was fine to celebrate anti-Jewish terrorism". Jones is now being egged on by fellow journalist Ellie Mae O'Hagen to sue. A QC.

Good luck with that, Owen. In defending Corbyn's lie, you've made your bed and you now need to lie in it.

UPDATE 04NOV: It gets better. I had missed that the Guardian last month had reported IPSO dropped the complaint, not Labour, because Labour missed an appeal deadline. So the original line from the "Labour spokesman" to the Mail about being "compromised" was also a lie. Seems Labour's "spokesman" cannot stop lying and hoping no-one will notice.

Labour then reportedly tried to reopen the complaint, presumably so Seumas Milne could make it someone else's fault when they failed. To be honest, IPSO should call their bluff and reopen, it would be much more embarrassing that way.

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