Media

Why Did These Jeremy Corbyn Supporters Protest the 'New Statesman'?

A weird far-left vs. soft-left culture war.
April 7, 2017, 12:53pm

All photos by Chris Bethell

In 1966 Mao unleashed youth power to finish his revolution when he encouraged teenage Red Guards to smash the "four olds" of traditional Chinese culture.

Now, radical socialists Momentum seem to be inverting the principle. The average age of a protester outside New Statesman HQ has to be 55-plus. For a picket organised on Facebook, it's as much a testament to the government's schemes to ensure digital penetration for older citizens.

Last week, the Blairite neolibcons presently hiding out from their elders had the temerity to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is tanking in the polls and no one thinks he's up to much. They ran with a cover strapline: "Wanted: An Opposition".

A series of articles poking holes in the Corbyn administration were gathered together under an essay by editor Jason Cowley, who asked: "Who will speak for liberal Britain?" To which your ordinary Corbynista should respond: "Not the same guy who talks for collectivist England." The New Statesman has always been the house journal of the liberal-left, whereas the Corbyn camp represents something quite different: collectivist, capital-S Socialists. It's like being aggrieved because Gloria Steinem doesn't like your strip-o-gram.

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But for the vintage crew out today, well, they feel like they've been stabbed in the back. "The best way to make sure someone is unelectable is to keep on saying he is," as one protester puts it. "Who needs Murdoch when you've got the NS?" as one poster says.

Cowley's essay certainly contained an odd section where he compared the Corbyn leadership to a dead rat mouldering in the skirting board. People had got used to the stench, he suggested – no one seemed to notice that something was deeply wrong any more.

Not only that; there were, as this unofficial Momentum outing has daubed on their banners, 30 pages of anti-Corbyn rhetoric. Which is why they're demanding 30 pages of pro-Corbyn rhetoric in an upcoming edition.

Given that there are only 21 protesters here, it's not entirely clear whether they'd take more than a page each. And given some of the speeches, it's unclear how many of those pages would be done with potato prints.

The protest organiser is Sam Weinstein, a 62-year-old South African and former Utility Workers Union president, who has his own rallying cry: "I know a scab when I see one and these are scabs!" Yes, these kulaks are cockroaches who can't be allowed to continue unchecked.

"Jeremy Corbyn is anti-racist. He's anti-austerity. And he's anti-war," another guy announces, as though this isn't exactly what Corbyn's critics accuse him of: being incapable of making difficult decisions, preferring to wring his hands on the sidelines with his splendidly vacuous principles.

The New Statesman's George Eaton (pictured left)

They may know a scab, but can anyone recognise a New Statesman journalist? Because at least two of them have slipped outside the building and now appear to be reporting on their own protest. One is the paper's political editor, George Eaton, a floppy lad in an open-necked suit.

"I'm told we have a New Statesman editor here?" an American-ish woman asks, after a while. But Eaton just sort of ignores them with a warm but evasive grin and continues pecking into his phone.

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One lady reads out the letter of cancellation of her subscription. But they won't let her in the building to deliver it. As the protest ends, she hands it to another NS staffer stood outside to deliver.

"I would be delighted," he tells her.

Robbed of reaction, the protesters start having a ding-dong with one of the four people watching them. He is apparently a card-carrying Labour member, but not of the Corbyn kind.

"I see you smirking back there," the American-ish woman says from the microphone.

He accuses them of being a cult. They are incredulous.

"Are you in a cult?" one protester retorts.

"Are you in a cult?" they all cry together.

"Typical! Typical of the witch-hunters," the Slavic woman tuts. "Anyway, we are here today to protest against biased journalism…"

"Unlike The Canary?" the heckler shoots back.

But they're not listening any more. They're turning their guns back on Eaton. "So are you going to give us 30 pages?"

Incredibly, Eaton then seems to slip the noose once again just by looking a bit giggly and bashful and unbothered and ignoring them. They offer him the microphone. He offers them another ah shucks shrug. Is this bold courage under fire or just low-energy open contempt? It's hard to tell. His ability to remain Sphinx-like has clearly served him well in editorial meetings, and probably driven his freelancers up the wall – it's Confucian and Seinfeldian in equal measure.

The Momentum movement feel sad because they don't have an equivalent organ in the media, and in that regard they are correct. Though to say they can't get their message out ignores their huge social media presence. But that's still only part of the picture. What's being done here is as much about amplifying the schism in the party into an "us" and a "them". When Labour slips and falls in 2020, the narrative being cued-up is one of betrayal – of traitors-in-the-ranks.

Well, traitors gonna trait: in a post-match statement, deputy editor Helen Lewis gives them the full hand-off. Getting to 30 pages "would mean removing the crossword, and our readers would go ballistic about that". Soz.

Lewis might chuckle, but the deeper lesson today is about the war between old and new media. Even with only 21 protesters, five hacks and four intermittently amused members of the public, this spikes its way into the Twitter trending charts. Forget the NS's racist-warmongering-fascist bias – that's the real distorting power of the modern media right there.

@gavhaynes / @CBethell_photo