To paraphrase one Vladimir Ilyich, the more something is said the more it becomes so. This is the essence of spin. A few weeks ago it was all about David Cameron’s family finances. He tried to dodge hard answers until it dawned on Carlton’s ex-PR chief that denials and prevarications were only fuelling the story. Our proposition this week is that the Labour party has a problem with anti-Semitism. If the first scalp in the fracas, an obscure MP from Bradford, kept the story rumbling the fall of big beast Ken Livingston has provided Labour’s poachers a prize trophy.
The story is as toxic for Labour as off-shore account fiddling is for the Tories. In both cases the damage is directed at the party leader. Corbyn’s enemies, outside of Labour but more particularly within, know the issue of Israel is a key vulnerability. Although few buy that Corbyn himself is anti-Semitic his lifetime on Labour’s left fringes has brought him into contact with groups whose fight of Zionism is existential. To be seen to not act against racism is the brush with which Corbyn will be tarred. Any hesitation or subtle mincing of words is translated as betraying unsavoury allegiances.
If Malcolm Tucker prowled the offices of 1 Brewer’s Green his focus would be to shut down the story. No doubt Seamus Milne -erudite, media savvy- has tried. When the current crop of anti-Semitism stories first began to circulate in late February –emanating from obscure councillors- Labour was able to deflect attention towards more urgent issues like the steel crisis and the Panama papers. The party did not take the opportunity to control its message. Figures such as Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone who have previous with questionable critiques of Zionism were not gaffe-proofed. Their own-goals allowed the foes to refocus the issue.
So far the Milne media strategy has been to coast on Tory self-immolation. This will not do. It is easier to defuse a negative story if you manage to convince your audience that you have something personally at stake. Predictable statements condemning anti-Semitism aren’t enough. Cameron’s eventual fessing up about having had shares in his father’s tax evading company was softened by his opening up about how hurt he was to see his dead dad dragged through media mud.
Ditching Livingstone was a brave start. Now Corbyn needs to talk –in a calm but heartfelt manner- about how he gets that there are traces of anti-Semitism across British society. Being genuine is his strong suit. Like Claudio Ranieri –the manager who has brought Leicester City on a remarkable journey from relegation favourite to potential premiership victory on Sunday- Corbyn’s style can be part of the tactics. Ranieri is famed for his sdrammatizzare , a power to use ironic or self-deprecating remarks to diminish the tension his team might be feeling. Every interview Corbyn does is an opportunity for him to get across a sense of personality and reinforce trust. The media is a vehicle- it is up to Corbyn whether or not he wants to be in the driver’s seat.