© The Independent
In my previous blog-post I said going to a music concert was a way of enjoying culture “in one of its most egalitarian, communal and spontaneous forms.” This makes Monday night’s bomb attack by an evil psychopath on a concert in Manchester seem especially heinous. Mind you, it was made even worse by the fact that the bomber had targeted an event that would clearly be attended by many youngsters.
Afterwards, social media was dominated by reactions to the bombing, some of which rekindled your faith in human goodness – the way the city of Manchester came together, for example, to help those left injured or stranded by the attack – and some of which had the opposite effect. Witness hatred-vomiters like Katie Hopkins, who tweeted a demand for a ‘final solution’; or Daily Telegraph hack Allison Pearson, who raved that thousands should be put in ‘internment camps’. (If we’re going to intern potential trouble-makers, why not start by interning people who call for politicians to be decapitated, as Pearson’s headline-writers did for a Telegraph piece she wrote about Nicola Sturgeon not so long ago.)
Talking of newspapers, I have a queasy feeling that once campaigning for next month’s general election resumes – it’s currently suspended as a mark of respect for the Manchester bombing’s victims – there will be an awful lot of shit flung at Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by the country’s many right-wing newspapers: the Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and so on. Against all expectations, Corbyn has enjoyed a decent election campaign so far. Okay, he hasn’t been that more effective than his usual somnolent self, but his party has proposed some policies that seem to chime with the public mood and at least he’s been visible on the campaign trail, which is more than can be said for his opposite number, Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Theresa May. So far, she’s been woeful. Her strategy this election seems to be to hide from the public, hide from journalists and hide from any questions that might involve even a modicum of spontaneous thought. She’s hopelessly unable to think on her feet and on the rare occasions that a journalist who isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions gets near her – as Andrew Neil did in a BBC interview a few evenings ago – the results are cringeworthy.
In fact, throughout the campaign, the lead May has enjoyed over Corbyn, once vast and seemingly impregnable, has gradually shrunk. The way things were going, I’d still have expected her to win; but Corbyn looked capable of polling more votes than Ed Miliband did in 2015 and May was no longer guaranteed the massive majority in the House of Commons that she assumed she’d get when she called the election in the first place.
What I expect will happen now, though, is that the majority of Britain’s newspapers, which are owned by various right-wing millionaire and billionaire moguls like Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay Brothers and which have been rattled by the fact that their heroine Theresa hasn’t been performing as well as they’d expected, will exploit the Manchester bombing and hammer home the message that JEREMY… CORBYN… IS… SOFT… ON… TERRORISM! They’ll go beyond that, in fact. They’ll relentlessly smear him as a terrorist sympathiser and imply that anyone who votes for him is betraying the memory of those killed in Manchester.
Corbyn’s supposed weakness for terrorism comes from the fact, as a left-wing backbench MP in the 1980s, he supported the principle of a united Ireland and had dealings with the IRA. Now a couple of decades ago, when the Northern Irish Troubles were at their worst, I was deeply irritated by the fact that for many left-wingers it was trendy to express solidarity with the IRA. I say that as a Northern Irish Protestant who, among other things, briefly attended school with the boy who was killed when the IRA blew up Lord Mountbatten in 1978. But Corbyn wasn’t the only British politician hobnobbing with the IRA back then. The governments of Conservative Prime Ministers Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major spoke to them too, albeit surreptitiously. So did the 1970s Labour government of Harold Wilson.
And even the most hard-line Northern Irish Protestant politician of the era, who spent decades bellowing, “NO SURRENDER TO THE IRA!”, ended up talking to, working with and from all accounts getting along rather well with one member of the organisation, at least.
Meanwhile, post-Manchester, Theresa May will no doubt be portrayed by the press as an unflinching, Churchillian bulwark against the evils and dangers of terrorism. But actually, back in March, she threatened our European allies that intelligence on terrorism could be withheld if Britain didn’t get its way in the forthcoming talks about Brexit. (Murdoch’s Sun reported this with the jeering front-page headline YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES.) Yes, that was Teresa May making a veiled threat that Britain might put other Europeans at risk from terrorism if Brexit didn’t go swimmingly. However, because of the way the newspapers are in contemporary Britain, I bet you won’t hear many journalists mention that between now and election day.