Corbyn, the media, and the economic debate

By Bernadette Meaden
September 14, 2015

As a new Shadow Cabinet takes shape, the economy promises to become the most fascinating area of policy debate. Since 2010 we have had an Opposition which hardly dared to challenge the austerity agenda, or the rewritten version of events which was used to justify it.

As Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy at Oxford recently wrote, the Conservatives won the General Election because voters saw them as competent in economic terms – despite all the evidence to the contrary. As the Professor says, "the raw data on the economy was terrible. If you had asked any pollster or political scientist whether a government could win on economic competence having presided over a huge fall in real wages they would have said no."

He goes on to explain, "The Conservatives won because they reframed the economic debate. Competence became reducing the deficit, not increasing prosperity. Labour’s failure was a failure to challenge that reframing. Forget the details of Labour policy - it is of little importance compared to this crucial mistake."

We can only hope that under new leadership, the Opposition will robustly challenge the way the economic debate has been framed. It will not be easy. The national media has almost without exception promoted the government line unquestioningly, prioritising deficit reduction above all other economic goals. This has provided cover for savage cuts to public spending which many Conservatives have long wanted to implement but previously had no way to justify.

But if the official Opposition now takes a radically different approach, and challenges the austerity agenda at every opportunity, it will be difficult for the media to continue promoting the government line without looking increasingly biased. Surely the arguments of the official Opposition cannot be ridiculed indefinitely without the media starting to lose any semblance of impartiality or independence?

We could be entering an uncomfortable period for some journalists and editors. Whilst the political opposition failed to challenge the government line, it probably felt acceptable for journalists not to challenge it either. But when a radically different alternative is proposed by the official opposition, decent journalists will surely feel obliged to report the arguments with fairness and balance. Let's hope they have the courage they will need to stand up to the handful of billionaire proprietorswho own much of our media.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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