On Tuesday newly elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a service at St Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and was criticised by certain sections of the media because he refused to sing the British national anthem. The reason this is controversial for the right-wing media is that Corbyn, who they have already characterised as hating Britain, is blatantly showing his disdain for his native country during a memorial which is a part of the national narrative that they venerate.
Admittedly it isn’t the most politically expedient thing to do, but as a fellow anthem-opponent I admire Mr Corbyn’s convictions, especially as it was replaced by a reverential moment of silence on his part, although the reaction from the media was as if he had tea-bagged the Union flag in front of WWII veterans.
Jeremy Corbyn has made it perfectly plain that he is no fan of the British media, probably because it is incredibly partisan, so the newspapers will endeavour to create an alternate version of Corbyn as a straw-man that their readers will despise so much that they’ll go out and vote against him. This incident is a brilliant opportunity for the media to deride the new Labour leader as a fringe candidate that will convert Buckingham Palace into a gulag; however, Corbyn’s aversion to singing the national anthem is hardly surprising. Corbyn has publicly stated both his lack of a religious belief and his republicanism; it shouldn’t therefore be a shock that such a person would politely refuse to sing a song that calls on divine intervention to continue the privileged position of a select group of inbred Germans.
The faux media outrage has also reveal something about wider British society which is that somebody who doesn’t openly fawn over the monarchy or the military is deemed unpatriotic, even though patriotism and support for these two institutions are not dependent on each other. However this witch-hunt is also the start of a dangerous precedent which even apparently the BBC’s ‘unbiased’ reporters couldn’t resist: trying to publicly shame someone for not displaying enough patriotic fervour.
We do not live in North Korea, why should somebody be bullied by people in positions of power, whether politicians or the media, because they weren’t singing loud enough? I thought that one of the key points of living in a free society was freedom of expression, yet apparently we are all now obliged to sing the same songs and think the same things; as someone whose opinions are on the fringe of Britain’s political discourse I am greatly troubled by the right-wing’s authoritarian streak that has been made even more obvious in the last few days.
As is being seen in the US with the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, social media is crucial in reaching out to the ‘millennial’ generation whose voting rate is by far the lowest. However what Sanders is doing that so far Corbyn is not is that the Senator from Vermont is going on television and talking about his platform in spite of media questions about other candidates and other such political gossip. If Corbyn went onto something like the Andrew Marr Show and refused to comment on political tactics and gossip and instead brought the conversation back to his policy positions, many of which are overwhelmingly popular with the electorate, the voters watching at home will be bombarded with policy positions which would combat the falsehoods perpetuated by the newspaper media.
By avoiding the media almost entirely Corbyn runs the risk of allowing these outlets from defining him as a dangerous politician, without offering any response; dictating and manipulating the news cycle is key to winning a political campaign but it must also be acknowledged that a Labour politician, let alone the leader, will have a lot of negative headlines unless some form of ‘prawn cocktail offensive’ is employed, but the election of Corbyn marks the death of New Labour and thankfully no such tactic shall be exploited. Bypassing the traditional media and looking to monopolise social media is a clever long-term strategy but in the short term someone is needed on the television and in the newspapers to put forward Corbyn’s policy positions without being tempered with threats of impending national destruction or cultural decay.
In summary an irreligious republican refusing to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ is hardly surprising let alone controversial. The right-wing media will endeavour to portray Corbyn and his policies as unelectable and insane respectively but, as was shown by the election in May, the newspaper media is still influential in constructing narratives that uninformed voters believe without critical analysis. Corbyn must decide on a campaign theme and get his face in front of a television camera to push that theme before the Tories portray him simultaneously as both a weak leader and so brilliant that he is a threat to national security.
Without countering this Tory narrative from day one the Labour Party will be unable to fight the 2020 election as the electorate will accept the Conservative Party’s premises on every issue because a cogent and inspiring alternative wouldn’t have been put forward. Corbyn is right to put the emphasis on building a massive movement as this will politicise and energise people across the country but the media is far too influential for it to be ignored altogether, especially as the social media presence of a successful Prime Ministerial campaign is still is still in its infancy.