Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Labour leader Ed Miliband dismissed reports of criticism from his own MPs as “nonsense”. On social media, Mr Miliband’s digital defenders claimed that questions over Mr Miliband’s leadership – derived from accurate reports of his low personal approval ratings – signify a ‘media coup’, particularly from the “Tory media”.
Andy Sawford MP (Lab, Corby) said to his party’s supporters: “After a week of media contrived division you have shown that [we back Ed].” Chris Williamson MP (Lab, Derby North) replied to a Twitter user: “Don’t be hoodwinked by smears against [Ed Miliband] by a media controlled by the establishment.”
The idea that the media constructs a wholly false layer of reality has a long intellectual history. Whilst ‘false consciousness’ is commonly associated with Karl Marx, there was only one recorded usage of this term by Marx or Engels. This was in a letter from Friedrich Engels to Franz Mehring in 1893:
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.
More modern versions can be observed in contemporary ethnic nationalism. ‘Who are the Mind-Benders?’ was a conspiratorial booklet written in 1997, by future leader of the British National Party Nick Griffin. In his booklet, Jews in the media are accused of providing the British public “with an endless diet of pro-multiracial, pro-homosexual, anti-British trash”.
The hypothesis of false consciousness implies people have an innate political belief based solely on their origins, such as socio-economic status. It is from this natural belief people are perturbed by the malevolence of mass media. This assumption ignores the wide variation in political belief that occurs within these groups. There are slurs for those who pass over this constructed barrier, such as ‘class traitor’ and ‘champagne socialist’. Moreover, it misunderstands the civic nature of voting. In Jason Brennan’s The Ethics of Voting, the author writes that voters do not usually vote in their narrow self-interest:
Rather, voters tend to vote for what they perceive to be in the national interest. Voters at least want to promote the (national) common good.
The belief that criticisms of the Labour leader, or questions about the state of Labour, emanate solely from the ‘Tory media’ is indefensible. The New Statesmen asked if Labour were “running out of time”. Sophie Heawood of The Guardian considers Ed Miliband’s “charisma deficit”. In the same paper, Deborah Orr wonders if Mr Miliband is the “Eeyore behind a lectern”. These are not ‘Tory’ titles. The division within Labour is not a media fabrication either, with a YouGov poll suggesting 44% of current Labour supporters believe Ed Miliband is doing badly.
It is not the media making voters scared about Eds under the bed. With six months until the next general election, Labour’s clock is ticking. Pretending there are no legitimate concerns with the party’s leadership may become a warm comfort blanket of defeat.