Jeremy Corbyn: An ineffective leader or the media’s punching bag?

Newspapers have been anti-Corbyn from the start, and there are stats to prove it.

With 37 days to go until we head to the ballots, Jeremy Corbyn needs a miracle to overturn the 15% gap between Labour and Conservative in the opinion polls. In truth, he’s had a mountain to climb for some time. He suffered low approval ratings from the moment he was elected Leader of the Opposition in September 2015. He was subject to the resignation of three junior shadow ministers in January 2016, just three months into his time as leader. He spent the second half of 2016 seeing off leadership challenges and trying to keep the bare bones of his party together.

You could argue the blame for all this lies with Corbyn, and many have. But has he been fighting a losing battle from the start? Factions of his party have always deemed him too left-leaning, while the media has broadly dubbed him as dangerous, or not up to the job of leading the country. It’s hard to think of a time when an opposition leader was dealt this much grief. Especially when the Prime Minister is tumultuously guiding the country through a messy, potentially disastrous post-Brexit campaign. Surely Theresa May should be under more scrutiny than Corbyn. And yet Jez seems to get a tougher draw.

Can this perception actually be backed-up by hard truths? In June 2016, Corbyn told Vice: “There is not one story on any election anywhere in the UK that the BBC will not spin into a problem for me. It’s obsessive beyond belief.” His views sound conspiratorial, but they at least have some substance.

An academic paper published by the London School of Economics in 2016 suggests so. It claims that Corbyn has been “thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor,” something that began “the moment he became a prominent candidate.” The paper studies the overall tone of articles related to Corbyn. It’s a process that requires some level of subjectivity, deciding the difference between “Critical” and “Antagonistic” articles. However, it concluded that almost 57% articles analysed – lifted from a broad range of newspapers, including The Guardian and The Sun – were critical or antagonistic. And 67% of comment / opinion pieces studied had a similarly negative tone. It also found that 54% of Daily Mail articles published about Corbyn contained “Ridicule & Scorn”, while 11% contained “Personal Attacks.”

Just a quick scour of Corbyn-related front pages can back this up. The Sun called him a “Leftie who hates the royals” in September 2015, just a week after being elected as Labour leader. His apparent refusal to bow during a Remembrance Day service was met with disgust, but the reaction seemed inappropriate. “BOW YOUR HEAD IN SHAME” read one comment piece in The Sun. Later, his idealistic views on world peace – saying in November 2015 he wished every country gave up its arms – were spun into a sensationalist headline, again by The Sun: “LABOUR IN MELTDOWN: CORBYN: ABOLISH THE ARMY.” Within a couple of months of coming to prominence, he was already public enemy number 1 for the right-leaning media.

Jeremy Corbyn

By summer 2016, Corbyn didn’t even have left-leaning newspapers fighting his corner. After a perceived poor handling of Brexit, The Daily Mirror declared: “GO NOW,” asking for the ineffective leader to step down. Admittedly, Corbyn’s stance on Brexit went against the Labour party line. A Eurosceptic himself, his inability to fight the result, and to instead suggest Article 50 should be triggered “immediately,” stands out as his biggest mistake since coming to power. On this occasion, he appeared to let personal views outweigh those of his party. But was this enough to step down altogether?

As the election approaches, Corbyn is suggesting a series of positive, proactive policies to act against the Tories. He wants to put 10,000 extra police on the streets, He’s suggested ways to plug the £3bn gap in school funding. He’s posited a Brexit strategy that won’t put the country on the ropes. The idea that Corbyn is “unelectable” seems harsh, especially given the same criticism was levelled at Ed Miliband because he couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich. 

Too little too late? Some Labour supporters believe so, anticipating a Tories landslide and a severe process of reparation once Corbyn’s shown the door. But there remains a chance that he’s picking up a groundswell of support that might otherwise be ignored by the media. More than 100,000 under 25-year-olds registered to vote within three days of the snap election. The Tories are looking increasingly likely of becoming the ‘Nasty Party’ once more, forcing a Hard Brexit and dismantling the NHS without a hint of opposition. For all his mistakes – and he admits he’s had too many to count – Corbyn doesn’t want to see this country torn apart. The guy deserves to be cut some slack.