Saturday, 28 June 2014

Miliband And The Media

Murnaghan last Sunday, asked the question whether Ed Miliband is being hounded by a hostile media. Coming from someone who works for the Evil Media Empire, of Rupert Murdoch, the question itself seems a bit rich. The answer is, of course, Miliband is being so hounded, but the further, more interesting questions are why, and what should Labour do about it?

The glib answer to why would be that we have a Tory press, so why would we expect that they would not attack a Labour leader? But, that begs further questions such as, why do we have an overwhelmingly Tory press? The answer cannot be that the Tories are the party of business and Labour are the party of the workers. As far back as Lenin, it was recognised that Labour was only the Workers' Party in the sense that its membership was made up of workers, and it was organisationally and ideologically tied to workers organisation like the trades unions. But, as Lenin pointed out, it was a bourgeois workers' party. That is the reformist ideology that underpinned it was the same bourgeois ideology that underpinned the trades unions from whence it came, and which also dominated the vast majority of workers.

In other words, the LP, from the start, has been a party which has been little more than a development of the Liberal Party, from the end of the 19th century, a party that relies on the votes and activism of workers, but whose ideology, and, therefore, its actions, are ultimately governed by what is in the interests of capital, and in particular, that big industrial capital, whose interests, and those of the workers, are mediated and negotiated within a modern social democracy.

Over the last century, capital has had enough experience of Labour to affirm itself of this understanding. Nor is it the case that “Red Ed” is in fact anything more than the palest pink with a hint of purple. Miliband differs little ideologically from Blair, who repeatedly won the support of the Tory press, despite trebling spending on the NHS, introducing the minimum wage, let alone being an ardent advocate of that one idea sure to set Tories off on an apoplectic fit – Europe.

In fact, the one paper you would think would be the clearest voice of the interests of the most important section of British capital – the FT – has, if anything, been more pro-Labour than Tory. It has generally criticised the policy of austerity, as opposed to fiscal expansion, in the US, for example.

Although part of the explanation of the actions of the British press can be located in its ownership structure, which gives a few, very rich, press barons the ability to treat the papers in their stable as their own playthings, it also has to be remembered that newspapers are businesses, and have to provide a commodity they can sell. Each will then try to place its product in a segment of the market it believes it can exploit to maximise its sales.

The reason we have an overwhelmingly Tory press is not because the Tories represent the interests of capital, and newspapers are owned by capitalists. The reason is that a large proportion of the population, who buy newspapers, hold the same kind of reactionary views that the newspapers they buy are happy to validate for them. We have the gutter press we have, because it acts like a comfort blanket for bigots, and the kind of bigotry that infects a sizeable section of the population, and whose manifestation is shown in the votes for the BNP, UKIP and the Tories.

None of this bigotry should be confused with the interests of capital. In large part, it is, in fact, contrary to the interests of modern, large-scale capital, particularly in respect of Europe and the free movement of labour and capital. If its in the interests of capital at all, its only those backward sections of capital, particularly those kinds of small, inward looking capitals, that make up the core of Tory votes and membership.

There is then another reason why the media don't like Miliband, and that is he appears different – summarised by the media as geeky. A fundamental aspect of bigotry is the singling out of anything or anyone who is different. Ed Miliband might be the finest P.M. the country ever had, might have all the qualities of intelligence, organisation, hard work, determination and courage required, but all that amounts to nothing when, in the mind of a bigot, he appears as “different”.

And, once that meme is established, simple game theory demonstrates that no paper that wants to retain its readers is going to demur from it. Indeed, few media commentators are going to risk their own reputation and prospects by challenging it.

Unfortunately then, for Miliband, he faces a perfect storm, in relation to the media. On the one hand, he had the audacity to be elected leader, despite the fact that the majority of the media were backing his brother, and confidently predicting he would win. From the start, he has faced their wrath, therefore. Secondly, he is seen as different, which is never going to be acceptable to bigots, or those that appease bigots. Thirdly, he is seen as part of the metropolitan elite, whose culture is antipathetic to the reactionary ideas and bigotry of those backward sections of the population that make up the bulk of the readership of the Tory press, and whose ideas have been reinforced as a result of the economic crisis engendered by the policies of the Liberal-Tories, and for which Europe, immigration etc. are an easy explanation.

So, what should Labour do about that? Perhaps, given the money paid out to David Axelrod, its a question he should already have answered. And, in doing so, he should have advised Miliband not to appease the worst representative of that reactionary media, by posing with a copy of the Sun. In fact, Miliband should stop being an appeaser altogether. You cannot appease bigots. Their bigotry has to be confronted, and the fears that underlie their bigotry addressed.

Miliband did well when he was attacking the Evil Empire, rather than appeasing it. Labour in general needs to go on the attack. After 30 years of monetarist and Austrian orthodoxy it was inevitable that its spell would be hard to break. Gordon brown should take credit for doing so in 2008, in response to the financial crisis, but he and Alistair Darling, should not have responded to the Tories switch back to austerity in 2010, by following suit. They should have followed Obama's lead, in demanding a continuation of fiscal expansion, until the economic recovery was fully established.

Brown was also wrong to have opposed Blair's support for joining the Euro. A single European market only makes sense in the context of a single currency and state. Labour should be spearheading the drive, with workers' organisations across Europe, for the establishment of a United states of Europe. That would be the best way of dealing with the arguments of euroseptics about benefit tourism, and the undercutting of wages etc.

Instead of appeasing the bigots with weasel words about preventing foreigners obtaining benefits in Britain, Labour should say we need a united Europe to bring the low levels of workers benefits and conditions, in Britain, up to those of the best in Europe, such as Germany. Labour needs to give a strong, clear and confident message, based on promoting the interests not just of British workers, but all worker across Europe, and should do so unashamedly, rather than trying to appease those reactionary ideas of the Tories, which do not even represent the interests of big capital, which itself requires a forward looking, modern European economy, that can quite easily provide decent minimum standards for workers, even if the backward looking, inefficient small capitals, built up under Thatcher, cannot.

In fact, Miliband has the opportunity to make a great advance, simply by making the decisive break from all of the mistakes that arose under Thatcher and her heirs. There would be nothing geeky about that.


David Timoney said...

Opposition to the EU is not in the interest of big capital generally, but it is in the interests of media companies. They don't export their UK products but replicate their formula in different countries (e.g. the varieties of Sky), so a single market is irrelevant, and they are not inconvenienced by restrictions on labour mobility.

Getting the UK to quit the EU makes perfect sense to Murdoch economically, and also provides greater scope for influence - i.e. it is easier to capture a single government than a pan-national bureaucracy.

Miliband is thus a target because he isn't promising a referendum. Cameron's kamikaze jaunt this week is about securing his eurosceptic flank and sewing up Murdoch's blessing for the General Election.

Boffy said...


Good point about the media and the EU. Although, even as I was writing that, it just occurred to me, if we did have a single EU state, wouldn't that open the door to European media outlets? Wouldn't it mean the possibility of European Broadcasting companies, and so on.

The problem I foresee, however, with this thought I've just had is that I started writing something when I was in Spain a couple of years ago about how we don't have anything approaching a single market when it comes even to mobile phones, or satellite TV.

You're not supposed to take your SKY TV card with you to use in Spain, though lots of people do, and in Spain you need a huge satellite dish to pick up English channels because the satellites are geared to European providers, and their satellite signals knock out the UK signals unless you have a more powerful receiver.

I have thought for some time that the Left should not be afraid of a referendum, and I see Gordon Brown has made some similar comments. But, as I said Labour and the Labour Movement, need to do some serious groundwork on the basis of arguing for a United States of Europe, on the basis of developing a European Labour Movement, and pushing for a general levelling up for workers across the continent.

Labour should be seen as the real voice of modernity and progress. There is a core of reaction and bigotry in Britain - and its not all just old white men - but, the anti EU sentiment is over hyped. The fact is if many people were bothered about the EU, they would have voted in the elections. Two-thirds didn't bother, and at the end of the day only a minority of those who did vote voted for UKIP.

Labour has the opportunity of being seen as the future here, and the Tories as the past. A confident and clear message in that vein, I think would isolate the bigots, and swing the less hard core of them away from their position.

David Timoney said...


Media outlets are primarily determined by language, and secondarily by parochial concerns, hence the continued existence of a rump Scottish and regional press in the UK.

There is a demand for an EU-wide (and anglophone) media, but that has been largely met by digital in recent years. This is why has flourished (and become ever more neoliberal) while the Herald Tribune has been folded into the NYT.

Even if we had a federal EU and pan-european parties we'd still have national media. Murdoch has calculated (correctly) that his interests are best served by fragmentation and conflict.

Mobile phone networks tend towards the metropolitan rather than the national (i.e. you make money by servicing urban areas), hence many networks are essentially regional. Despite high roaming charges, domestic rather than international traffic is the cash-cow. The EU's plans to stop excessive roaming charges will benefit consumers, but they won't lead to pan-EU consolidation of networks.

I think you are right that Labour has an opportunity come a referendum, but I suspect they will sit on the fence, much as they did in 1975.

Boffy said...


Don't you think that an EU state could open the door to markets following a similar pattern to the US? Taking on board the language differences, could it be possible that media groups might take opportunity of economies of scale for the management, and technology, whilst syndicating content?

On mobile phones etc. Technology seems to be dictating. For example, I have been doing background research on Africa for the last year or so. I find it interesting, but not surprising given how previous development has occurred, that many African economies are leapfrogging Europe and North America, and even some of Asia, when it comes to technology.

The lack of old infrastructure is an advantage. Instead of laying cable, to cover huge geographic areas, you use mobile phone technology, and simply put up masts, and micro wave relay stations, as in East Africa from Ethiopia, you build transnational modern railway systems for transporting goods - what a difference compared to Britain wasting billions on a train system to move people that will be out of date by the time it ever gets built, whilst having a broadband infrastructure that will still be in the dark ages even when the supposed superfast provision gets rolled out.

As a result, Africa has been at the forefront of developing various mobile phone payment systems and so on.

The point being that when you start to look at your market, with properly common standards, rules and so on as one of 250 million people, and which covers large land masses, your view of what constitutes minimum operating sizes, what constitutes an economy of scale and so on, changes considerably, and that may also change whether you want to limit yourself only to servicing metropolitan centres - though there would be more of those too.

Its notable when I've been to Spain that the solutions for some of these problems are different than here. For example, the number of people who get their broadband and telephone via a satellite dish, or micro-wave relay because of the distance from phone lines etc.

I wrote a few years ago about the number of fully automated petrol stations in Europe for that reason. You need them because of the large distances to travel, and people need to refuel, but away from urban areas, the amount of business may not justify employing staff. So, the pumps are fully automated, with food vending and other such machines, and CCTV cameras, for fault sensing and response by service centres covering several stations.

Boffy said...

On Labour and Europe, I think this is different to 1975. You are probably right, but on the other hand,Labour has an opportunity to carve out clear water. It would certainly help to consolidate the Liberals who have abandoned Clegg and co.

Electorally it makes sense. It differentiates them from the Tories, it gives them a clear message that can be put forward, whilst the Tory divisions would be opened up further. In terms of game theory its a win-win. The vast majority of British people are not averse to the EU to an extent that it would determine them voting against a pro-EU party. So, provided Labour is saying things those people want to hear on other issues, their support for the EU would not lose them votes.

On the other, for those who are pro-EU, it would certainly make Labour distinct from the Tories, and given that most of those people will be modernists, the rest of Labour's message would pull them in as well.