If it wasn’t for libel laws I’d be tempted to call the Conservative Member of Parliament for Mansfield, Ben Bradley, an idiot. He’s the one who tweeted out the following about the leader of the Labour Party, if I may be forgiven for quoting what is now the subject of a libel action: “Corbyn sold British secrets to communist spies…get some perspective mate!! Your priorities are a bit awry! #AreYouSerious”
Well, it seems Jeremy Corbyn is serious – serious, that is, about demanding an apology and damages to be paid to a charity of Corbyn’s choice (if he can find one that isn’t full of perverts).
Quite right, too.
There’s a rather stuffy view around that when someone uses the courts in this way, that is, to exercise their right to defend themselves, it is somehow “bullying” or an assault on free speech, or otherwise hypocritical and unpatriotic.
I speak as someone who has experience in the matter. (Puts on pompous voice) I myself have been the subject of vituperative attacks in sections of the British satirical press, and have taken informal soundings about the wisdom of pursuing a claim through the courts. I was advised, informally, that while I was right and had a perfectly good case, and the alleged libel was indeed a libel, engaging the legal profession is an expensive business and, gently, was also informally advised that my reputation was, basically, worthless. So it wasn’t worth it. That, by the way, is what is definitely wrong with the libel system – no recourse for those without means and who aren’t high profile enough to get the press to retract and apologise when they trash you. And don’t tell me about IPSO, thanks.
Corbyn, in stark contrast, does have a public reputation worth protecting, and should not have to put up with this sort of nonsense. Bradley made the mistake of saying something so outrageous and so unprovable, and in fact so patently absurd, that he has no defence.
While the skilled hack can hedge around with weasel words, smear through association, contort and conflate money and fantasy and venom to great damaging effect, poor Bradley is plainly an amateur in this game. He should get himself on the Daily Mail training scheme to learn some of these skills.
He is the sort of MP that the whips despair of, and who secretly they probably think he deserves a good spanking and Corbyn may as well dish it and save them the bother. They were having a bit of fun with the old lefty, but then Bradley comes along and messes it all up! As someone wrote of the supposedly naive Corbyn, it is surprising they let Bradley out without a nanny. It may be a long while before he gets his first ministerial job.
It’s been well-noted that Corbyn has grown into an amazingly effective politician, going on the attack like his old mentor Ken Livingstone always used to, rather than cowering down and hoping the right-wing papers will go away. I suspect his press secretary Seamus Milne is also helping in this, and turning into a practitioner of the dark arts of rare quality.
Even though they loathe the likes of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, the Corbyn-Milne machine also clearly knows what it is doing. Though Milne’s tactics are rather different from the Blairites approach of abasement and appeasement to the likes of Rupert Murdoch, he is emulating New Labour’s success in media management. Don’t get me wrong – Labour would wreck the economy, but credit where it is due.
There’s been a turning point. What is so interesting is the way that, during the last general election, the Conservatives, their press allies and the various “agencies” deployed to trawl through everything Corbyn had ever said or done threw the lot at him. It didn’t, as we all know, work very well. Every representative of Hamas, every IRA gunman, every Trot, freak or flat-Earther who Corbyn had ever shared a platform or a pot of rhubarb jam with in the spirit of reconciliation and engagement, or summat, was offered up to the public as evidence that the guy was unfit to be prime minister, and none of it worked because none of it matters any more. The printed press isn’t the force it once was.
Immaterial too, I have to say, is whatever happened at a reception at the embassy of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, a defunct regime ruling a now defunct country. No one, not even the best of the journalists deployed on the job, can say that Corbyn carried in his rucksack the codes to launch the Polaris nuclear deterrent or the timetable for the yanks to put cruise missiles on Greenham Common. He didn’t even have Neil Kinnock’s home phone number, so much was he marginalised even within his own party.
The truth, sadly, is that Corbyn was the best that some spook at the embassy could come up with as a “contact” to try and impress his bosses back in Prague and Moscow, who, he’d have rightly calculated, wouldn’t realise just how unimportant and ill-informed Jeremy Corbyn actually was. Maybe the Czech fellah even fantasised that, Manchurian-candidate style, he was cultivating Corbyn, like a sleeper, to be their agent when Corbyn, one day, became prime minister of a socialist Labour government in Great Britain. What a silly idea that was, eh?