Democracy, Hypocrisy and the Liberal-Leninist Aristocracy

Most liberal elites love to present themselves as passionate advocates of democracy, but in truth, many harbour a distrust of the masses and a desire to concentrate serious decision-making power in the hands of a few. Reactions to Corbyn, Brexit and Trump have highlighted this.

Generally, across civilisations there exists a divide between those who have faith in the ability of ordinary folk to participate in the management of societal affairs and those who think societal affairs should be managed by an elite few. The point was summarised by Thomas Jefferson in 1824 when he observed that ‘men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties’: ‘democrats’ and ‘aristocrats’. Democrats, he said, ‘identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests’. Aristocrats, on the other hand, ‘fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes’.

While most contemporary elites – that is, broadly speaking, professionals across government, business, cultural management and the more articulate sectors in general – like to present themselves as democrats, the truth is that many are, in thought and practice, aristocrats. Take a politician like Theresa May, for example, who while espousing her belief in ‘putting power in the hands of the people’ earlier this year, was simultaneously trying to exclude from Brexit policy-making the very body through which the people are represented – Parliament. Or take Donald Trump, who while claiming at his inauguration to be giving power ‘back to […] the people’ was simultaneously filling his Cabinet with bankers and Wall Street tycoons. But such aristocratic behaviour is not merely confined to conservative elites like May and Trump. As the unique political events of recent times have highlighted, Jefferson’s aristocrats are pervasive among liberals, too.

In the UK last year, many were revealed among so-called ‘liberal metropolitan elites’ whose attitudes towards Brexit voters betrayed a sharp distrust of the masses. They protested that ‘ignoramuses’ and ‘know-nothing voters’ (as the supposedly liberal Professor Richard Dawkins referred to them) should not be entrusted with such important decisions. Brexit voters, as the Guardian and New Statesman journalist Laurie Penny wrote, were just ‘frightened, parochial lizard-brain’ people. A similar attitude was betrayed by liberal elites in the US, whose patronisation and mocking of Trump supporters in the build-up to the election likely disaffected more undecided voters than it did galvanise them (as was the case with the Remain campaign’s ‘patronising’ videos for the EU Referendum). A more direct form of aristocracy, however, came from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), who were exposed for conspiring with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team – in an utterly anti-democratic move – to rig her nomination and disadvantage Bernie Sanders’. Moreover, Clinton’s own anti-democratic tendencies were exposed when audio was released of her commenting on a 2006 Palestinian election that didn’t go her way: ‘We should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win’, she said.

Back in the UK, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party revealed an abundance of aristocrats amongst the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). They, together with most of the political and media establishment, worked tirelessly to undermine and block his democratic election as leader simply because they thought they knew better than the majority of the membership who voted for him. As the Cambridge-educated former Labour MP Tristam Hunt said to students at his old university following Corbyn’s election: the party is ‘in the shit’ and it’s the responsibility of the ‘top 1% [to] take leadership going forward’. Ex-Blair advisor John McTernan asserted that if Corbyn wins he should be removed ‘swiftly and quickly’. When asked about the potential reaction of the grassroots voters to such an anti-democratic move, he retorted: ‘yeah but who cares about the grassroots? […] it doesn’t really matter what the grassroots say’. Then there was the deputy leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson who condemned the 2014 decision of Ed Miliband to push through the ‘one member, one vote’ system that enabled Corbyn’s election. The decision gave Labour members the full democratic power to elect their leaders, a decision Watson called a ‘terrible error of judgment’. Ironically, if the same system ruled the US elections, Clinton would now be president because she, like Corbyn, overwhelmingly won the popular vote. But unlike Watson, the PLP and most of the UK liberal media who scorned the popular voting system when it failed to produce the Labour leader they wanted, US liberals after Trump’s election were itching to adopt it. Of course, direct democracy is only favourable when the result swings your way.

The Liberal Leninist Elite

But there’s another irony to the aristocracy of certain members of the PLP, and it’s to do with how they alleged last year that some of Corbyn’s supporters were ‘Trotskyites’, ‘entryists’ and ‘Bolsheviks’ attempting to infiltrate their party. The fact is that the centrist, Blairite faction of the PLP who’ve been attempting to subvert the democratic election of Corbyn, are themselves closer to the Bolshevik-Leninist position than they know. Indeed, the Bolshevik-Leninist ideology holds, quite simply, that a revolutionary ‘vanguard party’ of intellectuals – the clever and more capable people – ought to lead the masses to their utopian future because the masses are too ignorant and incapable of doing it for themselves. This is quite clearly an aristocratic and elitist doctrine opposed to democratic participation and self-determination, exemplified by Lenin’s dissolving of the factory committees and elimination of workers’ control following the Bolshevik revolution – a ‘dictatorship’ and ‘unquestioning subordination to […] the single will of the leaders of labour’ is necessary to achieve the aims of the revolution, Lenin argued. Such ideology is far from liberal or left; it is in many respects ultra-right. Mainstream left thinkers of the day like Anton Pannekoek, Karl Korsh and Paul Mattick recognised this about the Bolsheviks. Bertrand Russell and Rosa Luxemburg both expressed worry about the Leninists centralising power, as did Trotsky before he joined them. Yet it’s an ideology incredibly similar to the kind held by the centrist, Blairite wing of the PLP and many liberal elites throughout the West. In fact, just as the Bolshevik-Leninists had consolidated power in the Soviet Union, prominent American intellectuals across the Atlantic were espousing very similar views about the role of the masses in society.

Take the acclaimed liberal intellectual Walter Lippmann who, in his influential works Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925), wrote that ‘the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class’. ‘Executive action is not for the public’, he said; they should remain just ‘interested spectators of action’ who are called upon occasionally to align themselves with ‘someone in a position to act executively’ – the ‘responsible men’. Then there was Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud who is known widely as the Father of Public Relations due to his pioneering work in the field of thought-manipulation and mass-persuasion. In his influential book Propaganda (1928), he argued that because the ‘average intelligence’ of the public is so poor, it is imperative that they be ‘managed by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide’ them. Or take Professor Harold Lasswell, the highly influential political scientist and leading scholar in the field of communications and propaganda. He wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (1930-35) that we ‘must put aside democratic dogmatism about men being the best judges of their own interest since men are often very poor judges of their own interest’. In the same decade, Reinhold Neibhur, leading American theologian, professor and public intellectual who was highly influential among Roosevelt-Kennedy liberals (he also happens to be Barack Obama’s ‘favourite philosopher’), wrote in his seminal work Moral Man and Immoral Society: Study in Ethics and Politics (1932) that ‘Rationality belongs to the cool observer, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith, and the naive faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplificaions which are provided by the myth-maker [Lippmann’s ‘responsible men’] to keep [the] ordinary person on course’.

Certainly, it’s not hard to see the ideological thread running through these views, the Bolshevik-Leninists’ and many of today’s liberal elite; in essence, they all manifest a distrust of the masses and a desire to keep them from participating in serious decision-making – they are all aristocratic in the Jeffersonian sense. Of course, a crucial difference between the Bolshevik-Leninists and Western liberals is that while the former sought authoritarian repression to manage and keep the ignorant masses at bay, the latter sought to control them through techniques of manipulation and mass-persuasion – techniques now practiced and extended across PR, marketing, advertising, mass media and the entertainment industries more generally. It’s no coincidence that today’s political elite, both liberal and conservative, harbour immensely close ties with and rely heavily on experts across these industries to manage and bolster their ‘brand-image’, to control and distribute information and to generally mould public opinion in their favour. Lippmann called this the ‘manufacture of consent’, while Bernays similarly called it the ‘engineering of consent’ – ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society’, he wrote (if this sounds Gramscian, it’s because it is!).

What is perhaps most contemptible about all of this, however, is the deceitfulness with which many apparent liberals operate; presenting themselves in public as passionate advocates of democracy, while in private seeking to concentrate power and manipulate popular opinion in their favour. ‘I agree the will of the people should prevail’, declared Tony Blair in response to Brexit, while simultaneously forming a cross-party coalition of elites (including Nick Clegg, Richard Branson, Bob Geldof, Lord Alan Milburn, Chuka Umunna) aimed at influencing the will of the people and reversing Brexit (incidentally, the agency managing the PR strategy and marketing for the project is Freud Communications, headed by PR mogul Matthew Freud – great-grandson of Sigmund and relative of Edward Bernays). Similarly in the US, Hillary Clinton declared that Donald Trump was ‘threatening our democracy’, yet only a few months prior she herself had undermined the democratic nomination of Sanders, despite virtually every poll indicating that he had a better chance of beating Trump than she did. And as the influential Labour Lord and ex-Blair cabinet minister Peter Mandelson admitted earlier this year, he was working ‘every single day […] to bring forward the end of [Corbyn’s] tenure in office’. In other words, he was working every single day to overturn the democratic decision of the majority of the Labour membership.

What is so evident in all of this is that, despite how they present themselves in public, many liberal elites are just as aristocratic as their conservative counterparts. They too harbour a distrust of the masses and a desire to concentrate serious decision-making power in the hands of a few. While this could remain relatively concealed during a period of political consensus, the collapse of that consensus, which Corbyn, Brexit and Trump represent, has revealed it with striking clarity. It would seem that, faced with their faltering ability to dominate the political sphere, many liberal elites have sought desperately and unflatteringly over the past two years to undermine and block the democratic participation of the masses who no longer want – nor have faith in – their leadership capabilities. Indeed, if there is anything we can take from the political events of recent times, it’s that if liberal elites wish to play any serious role in the politics of tomorrow, then they really ought to start listening and reacting to the masses. In other words, they really ought to start becoming democrats.

C

Why Theresa May Won’t Face Corbyn in a Televised Debate

Televised debates are conventionally an opportunity for personality to shine over policy and for those involved to assassinate the character of their opponents in front of millions (à la Trump/Clinton). There are two problems here for May: one) she lacks personality (she’s clunky and often quite awkward), and two) assassinating Corbyn’s character simply won’t stick with a British audience – they’ll see through it. In addition, she has an appalling record of dodging questions and responding with empty, prearranged statements that end with petty quips about Corbyn’s personality or the divisions within his party. She can get away with this during PMQs because only about 350,000 viewers tune in to watch it each week (although shared clips on social media have, to some extent, helped expose this).

So the simple reason why May won’t – or at least thus far has refused to – partake in a televised debate with Corbyn is precisely because she fears that she’ll lose. Corbyn isn’t like conventional politicians. He doesn’t engage in character insults, he sticks to policy and actually has quite an appealing personality – he carries an air of sincerity that most mainstream politicians lack. These qualities are exactly why he thrashed his opponents in the debates for the Labour leadership contests. Moreover, as poll after poll shows, large majorities of the population actually align with his policies, which is obviously petrifying for his opponents, who simply want to distract from them at every turn.

So yes, it makes perfect sense that Theresa May wouldn’t want to subject herself to the potential loss she’d undergo from a televised debate with Corbyn. Her PR team will most certainly be doing everything they can to keep public pressure off of her. They will also have been doing everything they can over the past 24 hours to play down the scandalous and cowardly refusal. And if you want the subtlest but not insignificant example of media double standards, then just imagine what the scale of the reaction to Corbyn refusing a debate with May would have been. Needless to say, it would be a national scandal, splashed across every front page, with panel discussions galore on all major news programmes.

C

The British Elite’s Unquestioning Acceptance of Questionable Claims

This article was published in the Morning Star on 25th April 2017. See here.

Despite a distinct absence of evidence, virtually the entire British media declared Assad guilty of chemical weapons use and Trump justified in using air strikes earlier this month

On April 4 2017, reports came from the community of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against civilians in an airstrike.

Two days later, on April 6, the Trump administration broke international law by unilaterally launching its own airstrike, firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at the very airbase from which Assad was said to have launched his strike from.

Trump declared: ‘there can be no dispute that [Assad] used banned chemical weapons’.

The Pentagon reiterated, saying that the US response was ‘in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people’.

Unsurprisingly, the British government quickly announced its full support for ‘the US action’ which it said was ‘an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime’.

Thereafter, virtually the entire political and media establishment in both the US and Britain (and beyond) aligned itself with the US government.

Conservatives praised Trump for his ‘presidential’ response, while liberals who’ve spent months deriding him as an incredulous fool and a dire threat to democracy applauded him. Remarkably, only one out of 46 major editorial newspapers in the US opposed his airstrikes, while in the UK, as professor of journalism Roy Greenslade observed, the most ‘identifiable theme in almost every leading article and commentary’, from both liberal and right-leaning publications, was: ‘Well done Donald’.

Lack of Evidence

Given the near unanimous support for Trump’s airstrikes from all these apparently clever people, one might be forgiven for thinking it was a foregone conclusion that Assad had used chemical weapons and that the US response was therefore justified.

However, the reality is quite different. Aside from the genuinely horrific reports, pictures and videos of victims that came through from Khan Sheikhoun, which prove nothing about who was responsible, no evidence was presented proving Assad was behind the use of chemical weapons, and still none has been presented to this day.

This was pointed out immediately after the events by a number of very credible sources, including Scott Ritter and Hans Blix – both former chief UN weapons inspectors to Iraq – and the former British ambassador to Syria Sir Peter Ford.

Despite this absence of evidence, virtually the entire British media and political elite declared Assad guilty. No enquiry, no questioning of the Trump administration’s official narrative – just pure acceptance of the casus belli.

Legitimate Questions

While the Assad regime is most certainly deplorable, there is, contrary to the mainstream narrative, good reason to believe that it wasn’t responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, and that Russia and Syria’s explanation – that Syrian jets struck a rebel warehouse containing bombs and other toxic substances – may have some legitimacy.

For starters, consider the sources. The reports emanating from Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, which blamed Assad for the attack and which Western media reported widely, came largely from pro-rebel sources – namely, the White Helmets, an organisation with proven ties to Jihadist rebels, including al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Nusra Front.

Verifying any of those sources as ‘independent’ so soon after the attacks would have been very difficult given that the region is occupied by jihadists (yes, the same ‘terrorists’ we’re supposed to be at war with) who’ve been at the center of the anti-Assad movement in Syria since 2011.

As journalist John Wight wrote: ‘No Western journalist or news crew would dare set foot there, or indeed in any part of opposition-controlled Syria, knowing that as soon as they did they would be kidnapped and butchered’.

Then consider the timing. Why on Earth would Assad risk provoking international outrage by using chemical weapons against the rebels when he was already beating them with conventional ones?

Furthermore, why would he do it just days after the US announced that removing him was no longer their priority, and days before the European Union was set to hold its important doner conference in Brussels on the future of Syria? It would be an act of complete and utter political and diplomatic self-harm.

If anything, Assad had much to lose from committing a chemical attack, while the rebels had everything to gain from its provocation of foreign US intervention against him.

Then there were the inconsistencies with the reports coming out of the rebel-held region. For example, it was reported by Kareem Shaheen in the Guardian that all that remained amongst the rubble was ‘a faint stench that tingles the nostrils and a small green fragment from the rocket’.

Yet, as the BBC reported: ‘Sarin is almost impossible to detect because it is a clear, colourless and tasteless liquid that has no odour in its purest form’.

More questions lay around the lack of protective clothing worn by the White Helmets in the images being fed to Western media.

As former chief UN weapons inspector to Iraq Scott Ritter observed, if military grade Sarin was used, as reports were claiming, ‘the rescuers would themselves have become victims’. While there were some accounts of this, they were, as Ritter notes, at the site of the attack where claims of a ‘pungent smelling’ chemical were made.

Herd Mentality

Remarkably, in the face of these legitimate questions, virtually the entire British media and political elite willingly chose to accept the reports of possible Al-Qaeda affiliates and the assertions of the Trump administration, which based its own evidence on the same questionable reports.

We know this because on Tuesday April 11 the White House released a declassified intelligence report outlining why it believed Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.

To the White House’s own admission, the report cited a  ‘wide body of open-source material’ and ‘social media accounts’ from inside the rebel-held region, including footage from the White Helmets.

Reviewing the report and alleged evidence against Assad, weapons scientist and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Theodore Postol said that it ‘contains absolutely no evidence [emphasis added] that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft’.

He added: ‘I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun’.

In a subsequent and more detailed review of the report, Postol concludes that it ‘contains unambiguous evidence’ that the White House made ‘false and misleading claims that could not possibly have been accepted in any professional review by impartial intelligence experts’.

This of course adds credence to the claims that Syrian jets, using conventional weapons, may have struck a rebel warehouse containing toxic substances.

As Jerry Smith, former UN weapons inspector in Syria and the official who led the UN-backed operation to remove Assad’s chemical weapons in 2013-14, said to Channel 4 news: ‘if it is Sarin that was stored there and conventional munitions were used, there is every possibility that some of those [chemical] munitions were not consumed and that the Sarin liquid was ejected and could well have affected the population’.

Certainly, it’s not inconceivable that the rebels were storing – or that they even planted – chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun in anticipation of the Assad regime bombing the location.

Reports that rebel groups were in possession of and had used chemical weapons in Syria were confirmed back in 2013 by UN special investigator Carla del Ponte.

As a leading member of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria in 2013 that was investigating alleged chemical weapons usage by Assad, del Ponte stated that ‘we have no indication at all [emphasis added] that the Syria government had used chemical weapons’.

To the contrary, she added, it appeared that chemical weapons were ‘used by the rebels’. It’s also worth pointing out here that the oftcited example given by media personnel and politicians that Assad previously used chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta, Damascus in 2013 is also unproven.

While confirming unequivocally that chemical weapons were used, the subsequent UN investigation into the allegations produced NO evidence that it was Assad who used them, and thus DID NOT conclude such a thing.

This point is highly significant given that so many prominent media and political figures falsely hold up Ghouta as an incontrovertible example of Assad having used chemical weapons in the past.

Intellectual Timidity

Let’s be clear, Assad is a despicable dictator. No moral human can defend him or his regime. But this is no reason to abandon rational thought and to cease asking challenging questions about the reasons for bombing an already war-torn country.

While Assad may indeed be behind the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, the evidence thus far is flimsy and open to reasonable doubt, something shamefully not reflected in the mainstream.

Has the experience of Iraq taught us nothing?! Indeed, the failure of our political and media elite to ask the simplest of questions regarding the narratives that came from both Idlib province and the Trump administration (which are still being reiterated) betrays the obvious fact that they are utterly incapable of independent critical thought.

As the former chief UN weapons inspector to Iraq Hans Blix asked following Trump’s airstrikes: ‘If you had a murder and you strongly suspect one fellow, do you go to judgment and execution straight away?’

No, of course you don’t. Yet this is exactly what our highly educated cultural and political opinion leaders have done – they’ve gone straight to judgement off of the fanciful claims of the US government and dubious sources without any critical analysis of the evidence – or lack of – in front of them. Now doesn’t that sound familiar?

C

 

Book Review: ‘The BBC: The Myth of a Public Service’

The BBC: Myth of a Public Service by Tom Mills

Reviewed by Callum Alexander Scott for Peace News, April – May 2017 | Issue 2604 – 2605

Historically there has been a general consensus across British politics and among British political commentators that the BBC is, by and large, an independent, left-leaning institution that serves the public interest. But, as readers of PN will know, especially when it comes to issues of war and peace, this is a myth.

Since its inception, the BBC has overwhelmingly served the interests of the government and elite sectors in society, a fact backed up by virtually every significant scholarly study on the matter.

In this incisive new book, Tom Mills has compiled extensive historical data (from archival research, interviews, autobiographies and secondary sources) to reinforce this analysis.

Mills starts with the 1926 General Strike, when the BBC infamously sided with the government against workers. Thereafter, he explains, the BBC was indeed ‘afforded a large degree of operational autonomy, remaining formally independent’. However, this was only ‘on the tacit understanding that it would broadly serve the political purposes of the government’. As the founding director-general Lord Reith put it, the government ‘know that they can trust us not to be really impartial’.

Into the 1930s and the Second World War, Mills shows how the BBC willingly subordinated itself as an instrument of government propaganda, banning not just fascists and communists from its broadcasts, but also conscientious objectors. During this period the BBC became a ‘fully effective instrument of war’, as Reith’s successor Frederick Ogilvie stated. It was also during this period that senior BBC staff allowed MI5 to politically vet its employees (a practice that astonishingly continued until 1985). In the post-war years, Mills shows how the BBC not only distributed Cold War propaganda in ‘close cooperation’ with the government, but domestically it served to marginalise peace movements and critics of war, cancelling programmes due to government pressure and generally promoting a line favourable to established interests. The Suez Crisis, Falklands War and Gulf Wars are all explored as examples. On issues of economics, the BBC’s neoliberal shift during the 1980s is particularly interesting. Mills outlines how, following the arrival of deputy director-general John Birt in 1987, a ‘small coterie’ of radical Thatcherite reformers helped restructure the organisation, leading to a ‘remarkable growth in business and economics journalism’ and a decline in the representation of workers and their interests.

This ‘neoliberal, pro-business, right-wing’ turn, as Mills describes it, was accelerated into the 1990s and 2000s, and was plain to see in the aftermath of the 2007-08 financial crisis when elite, pro-business sources dominated reporting. Indeed, the historical record explored by Mills leads him to conclude that the BBC is ‘no more free from the powerful interests which now dominate British society than it was in the 1930s, the last time Britain was as unequal as it is today’. It’s a conclusion hard to disagree with after reading this book, especially given the way the BBC has reported on the anti-war, left-wing socialist who is currently leader of the opposition. The contemporary relevance of this book cannot be overstated. A must-read for anyone interested in British politics.

Verso, 2016; 272pp; £16.99

Why Establishment Media are Biased Against Corbyn

The UK Establishment news media are highly centralised and dominated by elites who, when it really matters, serve the status quo and detest democracy.

The standard conception about the role of the media in a liberal democracy is that it acts as a guardian: independently, truthfully and objectively holding power to account and exposing injustices. While it can do this on occasion, a more accurate and enduring conception is that the media, when it really counts, preserve the interests of the Establishment, both state and private. This is best revealed when a truly anti-establishment figure comes to town – cue Jeremy Corbyn.

Take the BBC, which is often regarded as the UK’s most trust-worthy news source, it is formally committed to ‘serving the public interest’ and giving true, accurate, fair and impartial news. Its Editorial Guidelines state that ‘impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences’. However, as many readers will know, research by the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London, recently found ‘clear and consistent’ bias in the BBC’s reporting of Jeremy Corbyn between 27th June and 6th July 2016 – the 10 day period between the first Labour shadow cabinet resignations and the release of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war.

Researchers analysed 465 online news items from 8 outlets and 40 primetime television news bulletins from both the BBC and ITV. It found that while ITV were relatively balanced, BBC evening news bulletins ‘gave nearly twice as much unchallenged airtime to sources critical of Corbyn compared to those that supported him’. Furthermore, there was a ‘Strong tendency within BBC main evening news for reporters to use pejorative language when describing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters’. As the researchers emphasised, there was a ‘clear and consistent bias in favour of critics of Jeremy Corbyn’.

This research followed a more extensive study undertaken by media and communications scholars at LSE who analysed 8 British newspapers between 1st September and 1st November 2015 – the period during which Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. The study found that 75% of the coverage misrepresented Corbyn’s views and concluded that:

Corbyn was represented unfairly by the British press through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy [emphasis added]. Corbyn was often denied his own voice in the reporting on him and sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him and his positions. He was also systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has been. Even more problematic, the British press has repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.

As both of these studies show, it is not just the right-wing media who have been biased against Corbyn, but the supposed left-leaning liberal media, such as the BBC and the Guardian, too. This unanimity of hostility with which the British establishment media have been reporting on Corbyn is uncharacteristic of a fair and balanced news media. In fact, such a consensus, one might think, is more characteristic of a totalitarian society, whereby dissenting voices are simply silenced by threat or force. In a fair and balanced media such analyses simply would not garner such conclusions. How might this be happening, then?

Centralisation

For one thing, regarding newspapers, there are just three companies that control 70% of the UK national market: News UK, Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), and Trinity Mirror. By democratic standards, we have a highly concentrated press, the majority of which are, and have traditionally been, to the right of the political spectrum. As George Orwell acknowledged in his 1945 essay Freedom of the Press, the British press is ‘extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics’.

Unlike in 1945, however, it is not so much wealthy men who own it today, but multi-national corporations with annual turnovers in the billions or trillions. As ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook observes, the personnel who control these corporations ‘are not only fabulously wealthy but have diverse business interests that will be affected by how our societies are run, what laws apply or don’t, and how foreign policy is made’. Furthermore, and more worryingly, they ‘often have additional interests in military and defence corporations’ that profit directly from war.

Take the biggest and perhaps most obvious example of Rupert Murdoch. He is chief proprietor of News UK, which possesses a third of the entire UK market share in newspapers (including the Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Times and the Sunday Times). He also has the controlling stake in Sky News. He is currently the 96th richest person in the world, regarded as one of its most powerful people and has financial interests in not only media and publishing but also American shale gas and Middle Eastern oil.

Murdoch’s networks with the wealthy and powerful are extensive and he has been pally with every British Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher. Often referred to as ‘Britain’s permanent Cabinet member’, his former editor at the Sunday Times, Andrew Neil (now prominent at the BBC), said of him that he ‘expects his papers to stand broadly for what he believes: a combination of right-wing Republicanism from America mixed with undiluted Thatcherism from Britain’. He thus employs editors – who themselves employ staff – that broadly fall in line with his ideological views. Accordingly, in 2003, all of Murdoch’s 175 newspapers worldwide and their editors supported the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, as Alastair Campbell, former Director of Communications for Tony Blair, has revealed, Murdoch used his influence in an ‘over-crude’ way to try to encourage Blair to go to war, just as he previously tried to influence John Major on European policy.

Indeed, given that Corbyn resolutely opposes policies that Murdoch profits from, such as war and corporate dominance over society, it is easy to see why the Murdoch press would be against him. This ideological opposition naturally explains the bias of other right-leaning outlets against him, too (such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express). Less easy to explain, however, or perhaps just less easy to see, is why the supposed left-leaning liberal news media like the BBC and the Guardian, which are regarded by many as being more fair and balanced sources, are also found to be bias against Corbyn. The following might help explain.

Media Elite

Government research in 2014 revealed that a third of BBC executives (33%) graduated from Oxbridge; a quarter (26%) attended private schools; and over half (62%) attended Russell Group universities. In addition, around half of national newspaper columnists (47%) graduated from Oxbridge, while only slightly fewer (43%) attended private schools. Overall, of the elite individuals regarded as the ‘top 100 media professionals’ in the UK (comprising editors, columnists and broadcasters), nearly half (45%) graduated from Oxbridge and over half (53%) attended private schools.

These final two statistics are scandalous because only a mere 0.8% of the population are actually educated at Oxbridge, while just 7% attend private schools. This means that the majority of the most powerful and influential professionals in UK media (including many at the BBC and the Guardian) come from a tiny pool of private schools and two highly elite universities. The research extended right across the British establishment, revealing how the top jobs in politics, law, business and the military are also overwhelmingly dominated by the privileged. The chairman of the research, Rt Hon. Alan Milburn, said:

Our research shows it is entirely possible for politicians to rely on advisors to advise, civil servants to devise policy solutions and journalists to report on their actions having all studied the same courses at the same universities, having read the same books, heard the same lectures and even being taught by the same tutors.

After similar research was published in 2012, Milburn commented that journalism specifically had ‘shifted to a greater degree of social exclusivity than any other profession’, a point reinforced by research this year showing that over half of the UK’s leading journalists (55%) have been educated at Oxbridge and still over half (51%) have attended private schools. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) retorted: journalism remains ‘the preserve of the privileged’.

These statistics simply do not reflect a fair and balanced Establishment media; they reflect a media dominated by privileged professionals with elite educations. This is, of course, entirely unrepresentative of the majority of the population, and as Milburn further stated:

Where institutions rely on too narrow a range of people from too narrow a range of backgrounds with too narrow a range of experiences they risk behaving in ways and focussing on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society.

This goes a long way to explaining the Establishment consensus against Corbyn, who himself is ideologically opposed to such inequality and elite domination in society. Consider the affinity between the heads of the BBC and the Guardian: James Harding, Director of News and Current Affairs at the BBC, went to Cambridge and formally worked for Murdoch as editor at the Times; Rona Fairhead, Chair of the BBC Trust, also went to Cambridge, is friends with George Osborne and is a board member for PepsiCo and HSBC; Katherine Vines, Editor-in-Chief at the Guardian, went to Oxford and previously worked for Murdoch’s Sunday Times; while her predecessor, Alan Rusbridger, went to Cambridge and is now the principle of an Oxford college currently facing accusations of getting ‘jobs for the boys’ among the ‘liberal intelligentsia’.

Indeed, private schooling and an Oxbridge education are well known for maintaining what have traditionally been called the ‘incestuous links of privilege and power’ within the British establishment. As this remains largely true, it is easy to see how a close-knit Establishment elite would stand united against an anti-establishment individual who opposes – and genuinely wants to eradicate – the kind of privilege and inequality they represent. In traditional terms this would be called class conflict.

But the important question here is: how can highly educated professionals (‘experts’) who regard themselves (and are so regarded by others) as liberal, left-leaning and serving a public good, not be aware of their own Establishment bias? Well, while some of them likely are aware, physicist Jeff Schmidt has an interesting theory for the ones who are not.

Disciplined Conservative Liberal Elites

In his book Disciplined Minds (2000), Schmidt contends that professionals of all kinds, which including editors, journalists and broadcasters, are conditioned to serve the agenda of established power by subordinating themselves to working ‘within an assigned political and ideological framework’. They thus end up being a more conservative force in society. Interestingly, this subordination and conservatism comes from education. Children are curious about all things, but must gradually learn to assign their curiosity to specific tasks set by teachers. This continues right up to graduate and professional training. It amounts to a process of selection, training and qualification for obedience; what Schmidt calls ‘ideological discipline’ and what sociologists would call socialisation.

Take essays, for example; a professor assigns essay topics and the student must choose one to write about. Disciplined students do not even consider writing about topics that are not assigned. In fact, the most disciplined go out of their way to figure out how to please the professor; they check out his/her ‘attitudes and beliefs so they can mimic them’ and ‘the ones who eagerly adopt the [professor’s] outlook, no matter what it happens to be-in-general, the ones who subordinate their own beliefs to an assigned ideology’ are the most “successful”. As Schmidt explains, the willingness and ability to do this, to assign one’s curiosity and exercise ‘ideological discipline’, is a prerequisite in professional work where any serious questioning of the ideology (such as the morality or politics built into the work) might prove disruptive. Any such disruptive attitudes are thus necessarily weeded out along the way. This is especially true when it comes to the top jobs.

The process produces not just discipline and subordination in professionals, but also conservatism. Schmidt notes how the common assumption is that professionals, particularly of a good education, are more liberal on social issues (for example, civil liberties, personal morality and cultural issues) and are thus regarded as being a more progressive force in society than non-professionals without degrees. This is false, Schmidt argues, because while educated professionals may be more progressive on ‘distant social issues’ that do not affect them in or outside of their work, they tend to be more conservative on the long-standing, more significant issues that really might affect them personally. Democracy is a prime example. As Schmidt writes:

Discuss politics with a liberal professional and you will not hear a word in favour of a more democratic distribution of power in society perhaps because in the professional’s view ignorant nonprofessionals make up the large majority of the population.

This point wonderfully illustrates the trepidation of so-called left-leaning Establishment liberals in the run-up to Corbyn’s election as Labour leader and their subsequent efforts to undermine, overrule and prevent the democratic decision of the membership base that voted for him. Their contempt for democracy in this instance indeed betrays a remarkable level of conservatism that any serious liberal ought to find appalling. Another example of the professional’s view of the ‘ignorant nonprofessional’ came with the scornful reactions of so-called ‘metropolitan elites’ to Brexit voters. The failure of these educated ‘liberal’ professionals to understand, anticipate or even address the deep cultural and class divide that lay behind the Brexit votes exemplifies exactly the kind of confined ideological thinking that Schmidt outlines.

Additionally, while professionals may be liberal outside of their work, inside of their work they may be very much conservative, and for good reason. The day labourer, for example, who believes politicians are corrupt or that Tony Blair is a war criminal will freely proclaim such an opinion because it has no affect on him in his workplace. The professor, judge or journalist, however, will refrain from saying such things for fear of ruffling feathers or being quoted on record, despite the fact that few in broader society would find it shocking. As Orwell noted in Freedom of the Press, the ‘sinister fact’ about censorship amongst the English intelligentsia is that ‘it is largely voluntary’:

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark […] not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.

Indeed, this kind of censorship (or ‘ideological discipline’), whether voluntary or unconscious, exemplifies what Schmidt calls a ‘political and intellectual timidity’ among our ‘most highly educated employees’. The net result is that they constitute a more conservative force in society and thus end up serving the ‘interests of those who have power’ and help to ‘maintain the social and economic status quo’.

To summarise here, the point is that a good education and professional training tends to produce employees that can be trusted to theorise, experiment, innovate and create only within the assigned political and ideological framework of established power, and as employees internalise the ideology of the Establishment, their ability to see a class interest or bias in their work diminishes. In this context it is easy to see how a so-called ‘liberal’ Establishment media, under the hegemony of privileged professionals with elite educations, are so opposed to Corbyn. Indeed, for them he is just too anti-establishment and too far from the status quo.

It is worth noting here that Schmidt’s aim is not to lambast or condemn professionals – it is merely to build an understanding of the role of professionals in society. He empathises with the many professionals who start off hoping to ‘make a difference’, but soon find they have been pushed to ‘accept a role in which they do not make a significant difference, a politically subordinate role’. When this happens, he says, professionals tend to seek money and status as compensations for subordinating their ideals (for anyone interested, he gives advice on techniques for resistance and maintaining independent thought within the professions).

In Conclusion

Schmidt’s insight, together with an understanding of who owns and works for our news organisations, helps explain why our Establishment media, on both the left and right of the political spectrum, has been so opposed to Corbyn. While there are certainly other factors that contribute to their bias (for example, the role of advertising and sourcing, which I have not covered here), an undoubtedly pivotal element is the centralisation of the UK press within the hands of just a few multi-national corporations. Naturally, the personnel working for these corporations have every motive (because of the nature of the corporation and their professional commitments) to maintain an established order conducive to corporate interests. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the so-called left-leaning ‘liberal’ media (e.g. the BBC and the Guardian) is itself dominated by privileged professionals with elite educations whom, whether they know it or not, have a vested ideological interest in preventing an anti-establishment figure like Corbyn from coming to power. This is NOT to suggest that good independent journalists do not exist within the Establishment media, nor that the Establishment media never do good work and challenge power, because they do (for example, the Snowden revelations and the MP’s expenses scandal); it is to say that when a fundamental challenge to the established order comes to town, then, by and large, the they fall in line to conserve Establishment interests, because they are the Establishment.

It was the American philosopher John Dewey who, in the 1920s, when advocating greater democracy, observed that if big business were to maintain a disproportionate influence over politics, then politics will remain just ‘the shadow cast on society by big business’. A not too dissimilar version of this would be that if a privileged Establishment elite were to maintain a disproportionate influence over the news media, then the news media will continue to reflect the interests of a privileged elite. Indeed, it is no secret that Corbyn himself supports measures to reform UK media – to make it fairer, more democratically inclusive and thus more representative of the population. In fact, his political intentions have always been to increase the democratic participation of the citizenry; that is, to enable greater ‘democratic determination of policy’ throughout society, as he puts it. However, as we observed above, this likely constitutes one of the primary reasons the Establishment is so opposed to him, and precisely one of the reasons they will continue to oppose him.

C