Manufacturing Consent: Policies Won’t Win the Election, Propaganda Will

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has revealed the Labour party’s strategy for leaving the EU.

Speaking on Tuesday, Starmer criticised the Conservatives’ “rigid and reckless” approach to exiting Europe, positing a strategy that would not make immigration controls the “overarching priority” of negotiation talks.

Labour would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK “on day one,” in the hope that other countries would reciprocate with guaranteed rights for UK citizens living abroad.

Starmer announced that Labour would seek to end free movement but not shut the door on the single market, the customs union or participation in EU agencies. The Tories’ great repeal bill is now rivalled by Labour’s EU rights and protections bill. A Labour government would preserve all workers’, consumers’ and environmental rights, currently protected by EU legislation.

“We recognise that immigration rules will have to change as we exit the EU, but we do not believe that immigration should be the overarching priority,” said Starmer.

“We do not believe that leaving the EU means severing our ties with Europe. We do not believe that Brexit means weakening workers’ rights and environmental protections or slashing corporate tax rates.”

Starmer’s statement follows criticism that Labour has lacked a clear position on Brexit talks. This position has been occupied by journalists from across the political spectrum, including traditional leftist news sources.

The rational-left has long criticised Corbyn’s Labour as an opposition that not only lacks clarity in their policies, but also the rhetoric necessary to topple the Tory government. It’s generally accepted that Labour can only triumph with a campaign dominated by succinct sound bites and catchy slogans.

This view was reiterated in columns on Tuesday. Opinion was split on whether Labour’s position on Europe had been made distinct from that of the Tories. For some left-wing commentators, the answer was a flat ‘no’. Those who did see clarity in Starmer’s statement called for pithier interpretations of his policy in the liberal media.

The message here is that the left needs stronger slogans and marketing tactics if they're going to engage voters. This will not be an election won with reason or considered debate. It will be won with propaganda.

The essence of propaganda is this: information is spread in a biased or misleading manner to promote a particular ideology. Contradictory facts and opinions are ignored.

The use of propaganda in politics has been well explored, not least in 'Manufacturing Consent', the seminal 1988 book co-authored by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman: the establishment manipulates popular opinion through the media – pre-conditioning the public for wars, laws and legislature.

But it also has relevance to how the left can fight this election.

The writers suggest that around 20% of the population engage with politics. This is the 'political class', who participate in a seemingly active way – they may become teachers or journalists, or may even enter small-time politics as councillors or lobbyists. The remaining 80% are generally discouraged from engaging.

Come election time, the apolitical class are encouraged to engage passively. The political class absorb opinion espoused by their daily newspaper, then reinterpret that message in a simplified form to others around them.

It is within this simplification that propaganda rears its head.

The time for in-fighting and fatalistic damnation of Labour’s lack of clarity is over

The rise of UKIP did not follow in-depth explorations of their policies, or comparative analyses of rival manifestos. It was triggered by propaganda based on prejudice, and the populist appeal of politicians such as Nigel Farage.

The same is true of 2016’s surprise EU referendum result. The much-derided tactic of painting impossible pledges onto the side of a bus was dishonest, yet undeniably effective.

The pro-Tory press is united. United in their support for May, and united in their derision of Corbyn. It is this that gives them their strength. The anti-Tory press need to find the same unity.

In six weeks the British public will go to the polls. The time for in-fighting and fatalistic damnation of Labour’s lack of clarity is over. We must do everything we can to reduce the Tory vote.

This week, a Yougov survey showed that 64% of the public consider Brexit to be one of the three most important issues facing our country. It also showed that 50% of voters think the Conservatives have been clear on their Brexit position; only a shocking 20% thought Labour have been.

The left’s response must be to back Starmer’s Brexit policy wholeheartedly, and slam the Conservative manifesto with passion. We have to bury our grievances and either spread the word of the humanistic nature of Labour’s policies, or the rigid recklessness of the Conservative’s. We need to be singing the same lines.

We also need to accept the power of propaganda, even if that means overlooking grievances we have with Corbyn’s vision of the Labour party. Any political person who truly wants to prevent a Tory majority in the coming election must recognise this.

In order to affect political change, we must all play our part in the manufacture of the consent we wish to see in the world.


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