Jeremy Corbyn is notorious for his extreme, far-left political positions. The Labour Party leader started off as a fringe politician, but since then has hijacked the previously center-left political party and turned it into a vehicle for his populist socialism. Corbyn’s ideas include nationalizing several of Britain’s industries, imposing a “maximum wage,” and offering support to socialist, destabilizing forces worldwide.
But Corbyn’s absurd policies get even worse. In his closing speech at Britain’s recent annual Labour Party conference, Corbyn launched into an aggressive attack on the media. The speech suggested that the British press is run by the rich and elite, who use the media to smear “the powerless” instead of taking on “the powerful.” Of course, in Corbyn’s partisan conception of power, “the powerful” constitutes anyone who doesn’t subscribe to his socialist politics.
This was Corbyn’s most overt attack on Western political freedoms so far. His assertion that the free press is run by a group of “press barons” who promote a “propaganda of privilege” was nothing more than a conspiratorial attack, designed to promote government intervention into a free press.
In an earlier speech in August, Corbyn promised to “democratize the Internet,” pledging to stop “billionaires” and “fake news” from dominating the headlines through proposals like forcing the BBC to disclose the social class of their writers and making journalists elect their own editors. He also proposed a “public interest media fund,” which would be financed through new taxes imposed on tech companies such as Google. Corbyn’s ideas extend beyond traditional media and into social media, where he suggested creating a state-owned rival for Facebook. The British Labour Party leader claims that this public entity would be more apt at protecting privacy than the original.
Corbyn’s criticism of the free press was, in reality, a thinly-veiled attack against the negative coverage he has received. His rough relationship with media criticism is nothing new. Corbyn’s scornful response to his media coverage is typically to dismiss the reporting of his outrageous comments and actions as a distortion of the evidence. A 2016 documentary by Vice News filmed the Labour leader accusing journalist Jonathan Freedland of being “kind of obsessed” with him for writing about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
However, during his speech at the party conference, Corbyn went beyond merely accusing the British press of elitism. He undermined the role of the media in uncovering information about politicians to the public. He attacked the news outlets who have outed his anti-Israel rhetoric and close associations with many anti-Semitic figures by suggesting that the fraught relationship between himself and the Jewish community in the U.K. was not the result of his own actions, but negative reporting by the press for their own political interest.
By making these arguments, Corbyn was in fact weaponizing entirely legitimate criticism of his leadership to rally support for his socialist ideas. Populist leaders often create enemies for their supporters to latch onto, and Corbyn is no different. His reproach of the media supports his narrative that democratic rights like the free press are inherently tainted by capitalist interests. He attacks and often outright refuses to engage with the press in a democracy such as the United Kingdom. However, he has happily appeared on deplorable state-run TV channels such as Russia Today and Press TV.
If anything, Corbyn’s attacks reveal exactly why a free press is such a fundamental aspect of a liberal democracy. The reality is that the British media does not further elitist interests, but acts as an independent check on the power of the branches of government. It exists not to aggrandize the success of government policies or politicians, but to scrutinize their actions. Under Corbyn’s extreme policy proposals, the press would likely be subjected to the same strict imposition of socialist ideals that he holds for his own party, and government criticism would be stifled. Corbyn timed his attack on the free press right after a summer of negative coverage, which makes his desire to stifle such criticism even more overt.
As support for socialism rises in the U.S. we should be acutely aware that Corbyn’s ideas could have an impact on this nation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic candidate for New York’s 14th Congressional District, recently indicated that she looks to European socialist policies as inspiration for her own proposals. Those who care about press freedom worldwide should take note of Corbyn’s threats — and their domestic ascendance.
Tamara Berens lives in the U.K. and studies at King’s College London. She writes about free speech, Brexit, and the British Labour Party.