Press, as much as Politics, Created #LabourSplit
On Monday morning seven MPs stood together as part of a new movement. A movement was opposed to antisemitism, the ending of freedom of movement, and would not sink to the low levels of accepting payment from Iranian or Russian state broadcasters. Simultaneously, it was a movement populated by “cowards and traitors” that, if you supported, proved you had “no moral compass”.
The announcement of the #LabourSplit all over social media sparked off the latest round of toxic, binary political media discourse which has become the current British norm. Leading political commentators were among the thousands who swiftly took to Twitter to define this new event in the ongoing soap opera of Westminster as one of two utter oppositional realities.
This latest debasement comes within the same month that Luciana Berger — one of the seven traitors/bravehearts — was subjected to levels of abuse that merited direct intervention from the central Labour party. Again, this directed harassment of an MP became one of either two things within the wider media debate. Either, it was evidence of a rotten-to-the-core Labour party which endorses anti-Semitism at every level. Or, it was proof of a Blairite Red Tory ignoring the wants of her local constituency.
This is the current climate in which much of public political conversation currently resides. Whatever the issue, the battle lines are drawn swiftly and without compromise. Newspapers, commentators, rent-a-mouths and analysts take to their barricades. Listeners, readers and viewers are left with a choice: pick a side, or get caught in the crossfire.
This modern media culture has been festering for years. It has encouraged the creation of ‘enemies of the people’ and ‘saboteurs’. It has drawn lines between ‘metropolitan elites’ and ‘deplorables’ that cannot be easily erased. It helps foster an atmosphere in which a sitting MP can be murdered in the street by someone wanting to put ‘Britain first’.
It is a culture that has spread far beyond the Westminster bubble. It is the same media landscape in which the actions of a fundamentalist few bring into question the morals of millions. It was what permits a woman’s response to terror being questioned because she wears a hijab. It encourages Muslims to be asked to condemn the actions of people with whom they have no connection. If you do not explicitly condemn each individual atrocity, in the world of the binary, then you must surely condone them?
This landscape of aggressive partisanship is built into the DNA of modern media’s ability to speak to its own particular imagined communities. It creates lines between those deserving and undeserving of a place within that given media’s community of consumers. By extension, to speak specifically to one person, you have to consciously exclude another. You either belong, or you do not.
This polarisation is everywhere you read, everywhere you listen, everywhere you watch. It is behind front pages of scroungers and Channel border ‘emergencies’. It is behind phone-ins where societal ills are blamed people with different voices, clothes or customs. It is behind black footballers being demonised for buying the same houses as white footballers.
The announcement of the #LabourSplit goes far beyond the corridors of shadow government, therefore. It speaks to this wider media environment where one must have one opinion. Things are either good, or they are bad. The decision of seven MPs, so far, speaks of the sickness that has polarised public life into bitterly-opposed camps that cannot reconcile.
Their decision may well validate this modern culture, and go up in flames. Should that happen, the responses are already fully imaginable. They will have got the justice that traitors deserve, or they will have been undermined by their vindictive former party.
Their electoral fate, however, may be more promising when considering this media culture that helped to create this split. By continually forcing people to take one of two sides, has British politics and the media that circles left too many people without a barricade? After years, arguably decades, of binary choice — right, or wrong — does this new ‘movement’ stand a chance?
With a growing number of people left in the media-political middle, frustrated at having either to choose or to be ignored, it may. Or, with the political centre dead and buried after the crash of 2008, it may not.
That won’t prevent many from taking a side.