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Corbyn’s defeat has slain the left’s last illusion

Media Analysis
on 28 Comments

This was an election of two illusions.

The first helped persuade much of the British public to vote last week for the very epitome of an Eton toff, a man who not only has shown utter contempt for most of those who voted for him but has spent a lifetime barely bothering to conceal that contempt. For him, politics is an ego-trip, a game in which others always pay the price and suffer, a job he is entitled to through birth and superior breeding.

The extent to which such illusions now dominate our political life was highlighted two days before the election with a jaw-dropping comment from a Grimsby fish market worker. He said he would vote Tory for the first time because “Boris seems like a normal working class guy.”

Johnson is precisely as working class, and “normal”, as the billionaire-owned Sun and the billionaire-owned Daily Mail. The Sun isn’t produced by a bunch of working-class lads down the pub having a laugh, nor is the Mail produced by conscientious middle managers keen to uphold “British values” and a sense of fair play and decency. Like the rest of the British media, these outlets are machines, owned by globe-spanning corporations that sell us the illusions – carefully packaged and marketed to our sectoral interest – needed to make sure nothing impedes the corporate world’s ability to make enormous profits at our, and the planet’s, expense.

The Sun, Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC have all worked hard to create for themselves “personalities”. They brand themselves as different – as friends we the public might, or might not, choose to invite into our homes – so that they can win the largest share possible of the UK audience, capturing every section of the public as news consumers, while feeding us a distorted, fairytale version of reality that is optimal for business. They are no different to other corporations in that regard.

Media wot won it

British supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl and Waitrose similarly brand themselves to appeal to different sections of the public. But all these supermarkets are driven by the same pathological need to make profits at all costs. If Sainsbury’s sells fair trade tea as well as traditionally produced tea, it is not because it cares more than Lidl about the treatment of workers and damage to the environment but because it knows its section of consumers care more about such issues. And as long as it makes the same profits on good and bad tea, why should it not cater to its share of the market in the name of choice and freedom?

The media are different from supermarkets in one way, however. They are not driven simply by profit. In fact, many media outlets struggle to make money. They are better seen as the loss-leader promotion in a supermarket, or as a business write-off against tax.

The media’s job is to serve as the propaganda arm of big business. Even if the Sun makes an economic loss, it has succeeded if it gets the business candidate elected, the candidate who will keep corporation tax, capital gains tax and all the other taxes that affect corporate profits as low as possible without stoking a popular insurrection.

The media are there to support the candidate or candidates who agree to sell off more and more public services for short-term profit, allowing the corporate vultures to pick hungrily at their carcasses. The media’s job is to back the candidate who will prioritise the corporations’ interests over the public’s, quick profits over the future of the NHS, the self-destructive logic of capitalism over the idea – socialist or not – of a public realm, of the common good. The corporations behind the Sun or the Guardian can afford to make a loss as long as their other business interests are prospering.

It’s not the Sun wot won it, it’s the entire corporate media industry.

BBC’s role exposed

The real revelation of this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.

But the BBC always was the propaganda arm of the state, of the British establishment. Once, briefly, in the more politically divided times of my youth, the state’s interests were contested. There were intermittent Labour governments trying to represent workers’ interests and powerful trade unions that the British establishment dared not alienate too strongly. Then, countervailing popular interests could not be discounted entirely. The BBC did its best to look as if it was being even-handed, even if it wasn’t really. It played by the rules for fear of the backlash if it did not.

All that has changed, as this election exposed more starkly than ever before.

The reality is that the corporate class – the 0.001% – has been in control of our political life uninterrupted for 40 years. As in the United States, the corporations captured our political and economic systems so successfully that for most of that time we ended up with a choice between two parties of capital: the Conservative party and New Labour.

Hollowed-out society

The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. The BBC too was affected. Successive governments more openly threatened its income from the licence fee. Union representation, as elsewhere, was eroded and layoffs became much easier as new technology was introduced. The BBC’s managers were drawn ever more narrowly from the world of big business. And its news editors were increasingly interchangeable with the news editors of the billionaire-owned print media.

To take one of many current examples, Sarah Sands, editor of the key Radio 4 Today programme, spent her earlier career at the Boris Johnson-cheerleading Mail and Telegraph newspapers.

In this election, the BBC cast off its public-service skin to reveal the corporate Terminator-style automaton below. It was shocking to behold even for a veteran media critic like myself. This restyled BBC, carefully constructed over the past four decades, shows how the patrician British establishment of my youth – bad as it was – has gone.

Now the BBC is a mirror of what our hollowed-out society looks like. It is no longer there to hold together British society, to forge shared values, to find common ground between the business community and the trade unions, to create a sense – even if falsely – of mutual interest between the rich and the workers. No, it is there to ringfence turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism, it is there to cannibalise what’s left of British society, and ultimately, as we may soon find out, it is there to generate civil war.

Shrunken moral horizons

The second illusion was held by the left. We clung to a dream, like a life-raft, that we still had a public space; that, however awful our electoral system was, however biased the red-tops were, we lived in a democracy where real, meaningful change was still possible; that the system wasn’t rigged to stop someone like Jeremy Corbyn from ever reaching power.

That illusion rested on a lot of false assumptions. That the BBC was still the institution of our youth, that it would play reasonably fair when it came to election time, giving Corbyn a level playing field with Johnson for the final few weeks of the campaign. That social media – despite the relentless efforts of these new media corporations to skew their algorithms to trap us in our own little echo chambers – would act as a counterweight to the traditional media.

But most importantly, we turned a blind eye to the social changes that 40 years of an unchallenged corporate-sponsored Thatcherism had wreaked on our imaginations, on our ideological lives, on our capacity for compassion.

As public institutions were broken apart and sold off, the public realm shrank dramatically, as did our moral horizons. We stopped caring about a society that Margaret Thatcher had told us didn’t exist anyway.

Large sections of the older generations profited from the sell-off of the public realm, and policies that flagrantly disregarded the planet’s future. They were persuaded that this model of short-term profit, of slash-and-burn economics from which they had personally benefited, was not only sustainable but that it was the only possible, the only good model.

The younger generations have never known any other reality. The profit motive, instant gratification, consumer indulgence are the only yardsticks they have ever been offered to measure value. A growing number have started to understand this is a sick ideology, that we live in an insane, deeply corrupted society, but they struggle to imagine another world, one they have no experience of.

How can they contemplate what the working class achieved decades ago – how a much poorer society created medical care for all, an NHS that our current one is a pale shadow of – when that history, that story of struggle is rarely told, and when it is it is told only through the distorting prism of the billionaire-owned media?

A rigged political system

We on the left didn’t lose this election. We lost our last illusions. The system is rigged – as it always has been – to benefit those in power. It will never willingly allow a real socialist, or any politician deeply committed to the health of society and the planet, to take power away from the corporate class. That, after all, is the very definition of power. That is what the corporate media is there to uphold.

This is not about being a bad loser, or a case of sour grapes.

In the extraordinary circumstances that Corbyn had overcome all these institutional obstacles, all the smears, and won, I was planning to write a different post today – and it would not have been celebratory. It would not have gloated, as Johnson’s supporters and Corbyn’s opponents in the Conservative party, large sections of the Labour parliamentary party, and the rightwing and liberal media are doing now.

No, I’d have been warning that the real battle for power was only just beginning. That however bad the past four years had been, we had seen nothing yet. That those generals who threatened a mutiny as soon as Corbyn was elected Labour leader were still there in the shadows. That the media would not give up on their disinformation, they would intensify it. That the security services that have been trying to portray Corbyn as a Russian spy would move from insinuation into more explicit action.

Future on our side

Nonetheless, we have the future on our side, dark as it may be. The planet isn’t going to heal itself with Johnson, Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro in charge. It’s going to get a lot sicker, a lot quicker. Our economy isn’t going to become more productive, or more stable, after Brexit. Britain’s economic fate is going to be tied even more tightly to the United States’, as resources run out and environmental and climate catastrophes (storms, rising seas levels, flooding, droughts, crop failures, energy shortages) mount. The contradictions between endless growth and a planet with finite resources will become even starker, the crashes of 2008 more familiar.

The corporate party Johnson’s victory has unleashed is going to lead, sooner or later, to a truly terrifying hangover.

The likelihood is that the Blairites will exploit this defeat to drag Labour back to being a party of neoliberal capital. We will once again be offered a “choice” between the blue and the red Tory parties. If they succeed, Labour’s mass membership will desert the party, and it will become once again an irrelevance, a hollow shell of a workers’ party, as empty ideologically and spiritually as it was until Corbyn sought to reinvent it.

It may be a good thing if this coup happens quickly rather than being dragged out over years, keeping us trapped longer in the illusion that we can fix the system using the tools the corporate class offers us.

We must head to the streets – as we have done before with Occupy, with Extinction Rebellion, with the schools strikes – to reclaim the public space, to reinvent and rediscover it. Society didn’t cease to exist. It wasn’t snuffed out by Thatcher. We just forgot what it looked like, that we are human, not machines. We forgot that we are all part of society, that we are precisely what it is.

Now is the time to put away childish things, and take the future back into our hands.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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28 Responses

  1. bcg on December 16, 2019, 2:39 pm

    “The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. ”

    And in that vein, “American Business Interests Seek Growing Share of U.K.’s Health System”.

    The U.S. industrial-health complex is sharpening its knives…

  2. RoHa on December 17, 2019, 12:34 am
    • echinococcus on December 17, 2019, 10:54 am

      “…one cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

      … bury any illusions that electing a left-wing leader can change the fundamental character of the Labour party, which remains a party committed to capitalism and fully integrated into the workings of the British state – a faithful servant of British imperialism.”

      Any US Dims listening over here? Unlikely: like some ewers, they have no ears.

  3. echinococcus on December 17, 2019, 10:47 am

    A letdown, coming from Cook. A lot of words but not a one about what it was all about: exit from the EU. Everyone knew Corbyn’s goose was cooked the moment he sounded friendly to a second referendum. His sacrificing his comrades to the Zionist Moloch didn’t help either, of course, but that’s not the main thing.

    • RoHa on December 17, 2019, 8:40 pm

      He’s right about the BBC being the voice of the Establishment, though. Look at what happened to the late David Bellamy.

      • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 1:13 am

        Oh, sure, RoHa. All he says about the attacks and conspiracies encountered by Corbyn is correct, not only the BBZ.
        But none is significant here; the decisive factor is his shilly-shallying about exit from the EU and flirting with the 2nd referendum. Any doubt?

      • MHughes976 on December 18, 2019, 1:59 pm

        I have no doubt that you’re right there, echino. It’s also true that his economic ideas, though probably neither as absurd or unpopular as was claimed, were never convincingly explained. Also he was quite unfairly accused of prejudice against Jews – this was hammered home every day. I think that once he is replaced by someone who – though possibly (s)he’ll be quite Left – never mentions Palestine there will be some admission of excessive zeal there.

      • RoHa on December 18, 2019, 7:46 pm

        In spite of my general pyrrhonian orientation, I have little doubt that was the main point.

        I do not believe that the majority of the votes for Johnson were in favour of privatisation of the NHS, or against Palestinians or Corbyn’s refusal to listen to his brother’s good sense, or his economic proposals.

        I think that this was a one-issue election, and the result shows that people just want to get Brexit done, and then face whatever comes next.

      • RoHa on December 18, 2019, 7:48 pm

        “Whatever comes next” might include Scottish independence. I expect this will mean mass migration of Scots to England, Australia, Canada, and NZ.

  4. Misterioso on December 17, 2019, 12:55 pm

    Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, Dec. 17/19

    You are here: Home / Media Buzz / Boris Johnson Threatens BBC

    Boris Johnson Threatens BBC
    December 16, 2019 at 7:14 am EST By Taegan Goddard, 44 Comments

    The Guardian: “’Downing Street is threatening the future of the BBC by insisting it is seriously considering decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, while boycotting Radio 4’s Today programme over the broadcaster’s supposed anti-Tory bias.’

    “‘No 10 pulled ministers from Saturday’s edition of the Today programme and sources said it intended to ‘withdraw engagement’ from the show in future.

    “’The row is seen as an ominous sign of Boris Johnson’s willingness to bypass independent scrutiny and follows criticism of the BBC’s election coverage from both left and right.”

  5. genesto on December 17, 2019, 1:25 pm

    Bernie is, I’m afraid, America’s version of Corbyn, i.e. a progressive visionary that the establishment, including the Democratic Party itself, will do everything it can to destroy before he gets anywhere close to real power. Right now, the establishment is trying to ignore his steadfast success in the polls. But, if he continues to stay close to Biden, it’s just a matter of time before the attacks, including calls for him to withdraw in the interests of the Party and the country, will intensify. Towards that end, Obama has already committed to doing all he can to try to convince Bernie to drop out of the race.

    With ‘friends’ like that in the Democratic Party, the Republican Party can just sit back and enjoy watching the Dems self destruct, clearing the way for another 4 years of Trump!

    • echinococcus on December 17, 2019, 3:54 pm

      “Bernie is, I’m afraid, America’s version of Corbyn, i.e. a progressive visionary that the establishment, including the Democratic Party itself, will do everything it can to destroy…”

      More illusion. Your Bernie is a declared warmonger who approved every US war of aggression and every intervention (or whenever he had a meaningless nay, this had been preceded, as with the AUMF, by a resounding Hell Yea which was the only vote that counted, see Iraq.) Corbyn was really trying to win an election — albeit in the usual stupid, liberal way who can’t understand why people would insist on things that are vital to them while repugnant to middle class and up. Your Bernie, unlike him, is not in it to win an election but,as he said it himself and showed it by his action, to gather the 3rd-party or boycotter vote back to the fold and to the Party designee. Did you watch deeds last time, or even his very words?

      The only thing they have in common is their talk of redistributing crumbs from the imperialist table. Not a bad thing in itself.

      • RoHa on December 17, 2019, 9:31 pm

        “albeit in the usual stupid, liberal way who can’t understand why people would insist on things that are vital to them while repugnant to middle class and up.”

        And there, I think, you have summed up the major problem with current pseudo-left parties.

      • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 12:48 am

        I seem to perhaps have summed up, but I’ve surely eaten up the subordinating phrase.

    • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 1:03 am


      You’re absolutely right that the Democrats are doing their damnedest to get Trump re-elected, no matter his huge failings in the eyes of his core constituency. They have really set up things so that the call to withdraw will be directed at Biden before Sanders. Otherwise watch the real Ukrainian corruption-cum-treason scandal, bound to play in any theater close to you pretty soon.

      This thing with the Biden candidacy is so egregious, so obviously knowingly set up from the start for suicide that I wouldn’t put it past the Clinton Harpy to have directed that. Destroy Biden (count him already helplessly destroyed already) and who do you have who can replace him as a “serious” DNC candidate? Yes… Her Toxic Mostness. Of course not the Negligibles.

      • genesto on December 18, 2019, 1:12 pm

        As I’ve said a number of times, Bernie falls short of my perfect candidate. Who the hell doesn’t? But, he is actually evolving, speaking more about ending endless war, speaking up more and more for Palestinian rights (and more and more being attacked as an anti-Semite for it), and otherwise working his ass off trying to WIN this election! Oh, and by the way, polls consistently show him beating Trump by 5-6 percentage points – even in swing states. That you consider him not having a chance shows that you’ve drunk the mainstream media kool-aid that wants to rid us of progressives entirely, starting with Bernie.

        So, please tell me who this perfect candidate is that we should be supporting instead. And, if indeed you have such a godlike person in mind, explain how that person is going to have any chance of winning and turning around this disastrous, Trump-induced, death spiral in which our nation finds itself. Maybe you, in your infinite wisdom, should explain to all those suffering terribly under Trump’s reign that, sorry , but none of the candidates is ‘perfect’ enough this time, so you will just have to endure 4 more years or more of suffering until, magically, one shows up!

        So, let’s hear your solution!

      • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 2:04 pm


        I have no solution, as already said.

        What you are saying about Sanders might hold, provided he was working to win an election. Past form is absolutely clear: he is a Democrat candidate, with the job of sabotaging any third party velleities, keeping the crowd voting for whoever the designated Single Party dictatorship candidate will be. Past form also shows, and we have been watching him for very many years, that he will, as always before, say and do anything, even against Empire (within reason) that will bring him the liberal vote, then comply with the DNC discipline. As he has repeatedly done since 1990 or so.

        Of course no one needs a perfect candidate — but voting for any warmonger will diminish you and make you complicit. Besides, you have to define the main thing you want. I want to stop or at least seriously limit the US wars and interventions, all the rest is bullshit; Palestinian rights and getting rid of Zionism, our main object here, are part of it for some of us.
        So it cannot be Sanders, who wants to continue war and intervention (with some liberaloid curlicues) and redistribute the crumbs falling from the war profits table (not a bad thing in itself, but totally insignificant or even negative, seen by the victims of our wars.) Of course he could beat Trump — if the Democrats ever intended to beat Trump at the urns; most obviously they don’t.

        And any candidate, even if fighting really to win (unlike your Bernie), cannot be acceptable if Democrat or Republican. Cannot be. Read your history with a keener eye.

      • genesto on December 18, 2019, 2:38 pm

        Oh, and here’s some breaking news. A national survey by an A+ pollster puts Bernie, within the margin of error, in the lead in the Democratic presidential primary race. It seems the more the establishment tries to tear him down, the better he does in the polls!

      • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 4:15 pm

        Sure he’s in the lead. That’s why he’s so valuable! To the owners of the “two” parties, and that ain’t you or me.

        After it happens, yes I’ll be insensitive enough to say I Told You So. As seen unfailingly in so many past happenings, I don’t expect the true believers to recognize the situation. They will rationalize it away, just as you are doing now right after the past lesson.

      • RoHa on December 18, 2019, 7:37 pm

        Echi, have you thought of running yourself, as an independent?

        It would at least be a novelty to have a candidate who can manage a bit of sustained reasoning and write decent prose.

      • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 8:56 pm

        This lowly worm is unbelievably flattered by the Master’s deigning to notice him. Keep in mind, though, that linear reasoning is vastly overestimated, almost as much as it is generally despised in the Angloamerican sphere. When done by people with a far-below-freezing-point likability / agreeableness quotient it is a hanging crime, no longer a mere handicap. Now, would you care to remind me what is achieved by candidates and elections? Do we really want to start philosophizing?

  6. genesto on December 18, 2019, 4:52 pm


    Bernie is proposing a socialist redistribution of wealth in this country. Not insignificant.

    As far as foreign policy goes, Bernie, as president, proposes diplomacy over war in every one of his positions, as expressed in his recent interview with the Council on Foreign Relations on July 30. I don’t sense any ‘warmongering’ in what he has to say on any of the foreign relations topics discussed. Go to the website to read for yourself.

    As for your contention that Bernie is not serious about winning, that he has taken on the ‘ job of sabotaging any third party velleities, keeping the crowd voting for whoever the designated Single Party dictatorship candidate will be’, I respectfully, and strongly, disagree. His running as a Democrat, instead of as a third party candidate, is a strategic and pragmatic choice, not part of some scheme to torpedo any chances for the emergence of a third party. And, even if he was trying to destroy a third party’s chances of success, I don’t see how that necessarily translates into his not seriously seeking the presidency. In fact, if he really wanted to only be a statement candidate with no aspirations to win, he would run under a third party flag. I mean, how serious was Ross Perot, really? You can argue all you want that he can never overhaul the corrupt Democratic Party from within. That’s the argument that Ralph Nader, whom I respect greatly, made at the beginning of Bernie’s campaign in 2016. He may turn out to be right. But, to say that Bernie is not serious about winning is nothing but a completely unsubstantiated theory. If you ever looked at the organization and effort he has put into his ‘revolution’, as I have as a volunteer for the last 3 years, I believe you’d think otherwise.

    • echinococcus on December 18, 2019, 7:21 pm

      The redistribution is not exactly socialist but I already stipulated that it is a good thing — except that the welfare of the bloodthirsty American Empire is not exactly the most important thing on earth — I’d confidently say that it is insignificant when the only real emergency is its destruction.

      For the rest, as predicted your ideology is taking precedence over facts and even over the guy’s own words. Or, how an old warmongering mountebank cleans his record while his record is readily available and while he continues with his warmongering statements — surprisingly, he is managing it. I understand that the idea of having worked three years in vain (for a candidate who is trying to win the election for the Owners’ candidate) is as appealing to you as having fought for aggression and war crimes may be to a military veteran, but passim. Let’s leave it at disagreeing while we give common support to Palestinian resistance — I hope.

  7. genesto on December 19, 2019, 3:49 pm

    Even if Bernie doesn’t win this time either, I will not consider my efforts to be in vain. He has been instrumental in moving the discourse in the Dem Party to the left. Not insignificant. He has stood up to the real anti Semites that attack him as a self hating Jew for publicly expressing the need for acknowledging the humanity of the Palestinian people before a just and lasting peace can be achieved. Not insignificant. And, he has come a long way from when he was an out-and-out militarist and hardcore Zionist. He counts people like Linda Sarsour, James Zogby, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as his friends and close advisors on the Middle East. That explains why he has moved much closer to our position on the issue just in the past two years, though he still has a ways to go for sure.

    I’m 73 years old and long past trusting any leader to deliver all, or even most, of the goods I, and you, want to see once he/she ascends to power. But, I also believe that Bernie can make things a lot better if he becomes president, while still falling short of our ideals. For me, for now, that’s good enough. If he should make it to the top, but then turn out to be just another hack subservient to the military industrial complex, I’ll be the first to say you were right and I was wrong. Trust me. Meanwhile, I’m perfectly fine agreeing to disagree and maintain solidarity with you in the quest for Palestinian justice.

    Have a nice holiday season!

    • RoHa on December 19, 2019, 9:06 pm

      “I also believe that Bernie can make things a lot better if he becomes president, ”

      You might as well give it a whirl. You might get lucky.

      And if he turns out to be just another dud, you will be in the same position as if you had chosen one of the others.

      • genesto on December 20, 2019, 12:11 pm

        Right. I have a problem with helplessness and hopelessness anyway (Don’t we all?). Maybe, one day, my hero will show up magically, become our new leader and save the world. But, for now, cranky old Bernie will have to do.

  8. Jackdaw on December 22, 2019, 2:36 am

    Jonathan’s knees are calloused from bowing before his god, Jeremy Corbin.

    False idols, Jonathan. False idols.

    • eljay on December 22, 2019, 8:35 am

      || Jackdaw: … False idols, Jonathan. False idols. ||

      …says the Zionist who – like all Zionists – kneels before and fellates the false idol of Jewish / “Jewish State” supremacism rather than stand up for the indisputable morality of justice, accountability and equality everywhere and always.

      Dude, you are too funny!   :-D

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