As Jeremy Corbyn rode an escalator on the way into the Liverpool venue for his annual party conference speech today — thumbs up, beaming at the cameras — it was impossible not to be reminded of Donald Trump’s bizarre entrance to the presidential race in 2015.
His speech today was a reminder that the parallels between the Labour leader and the US President are more than superficial.
Early on in his long address to the party faithful, he took aim at the British press:
“Journalists from Turkey to Myanmar and Colombia are being imprisoned, harassed or sometimes killed by authoritarian governments and powerful corporate interests just for doing their job. But here a free press has far too often meant the freedom to spread lies and half-truths, and to smear the powerless, not take on the powerful.”
As with Trump, Corbyn and his supporters seem to think that the media is one of the few obstacles that stands between them and the promised land. As well as an outward hostility to the journalists covering him, Corbyn also shares with Trump a complete lack of self-awareness when he launches these attacks.
Three countries were notable for their absence from Corbyn’s list of places where journalists can pay with their lives for doing their job. Corbyn didn’t just overlook the treatment of journalists in Iran, Russia and Venezuela; he has been a willing – and in some cases paid – participant in state propaganda in those countries.
When a British journalist tries to do their job by presenting Corbyn with the inconvenient truth about his appearances on Russia Today and Press TV, he – like Trump – decides to cling to the lies he has told himself so many times he appears to believe them.
Last night Corbyn was asked by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News about his appearances on the Iranian state’s propaganda channel. He claimed to have “stopped doing anything with Press TV when they dealt with the elections with Iran and the way they dealt with the opposition.” That is not true.
Corbyn also claimed to have used appearances on Press TV to “raise issues of human rights”. You will struggle to find a clip of Corbyn bravely speaking out about issue of human rights in Iran on Press TV. What you will find is the Labour leader spreading conspiracy theories about “the hand of Israel” in an Islamist terrorist attack in Egypt.
In this context, the Labour leader’s insistence that “we must, and we will, protect the freedom of the press to challenge unaccountable power” rings hollow.
There were echoes of Trump elsewhere in Corbyn’s speech. At home in front of an adoring crowd, he introduced Tory villains with the pantomime theatrics and boos of a Trump rally. He showed a disregard for the truth in his claim that the Conservatives want to “privatise the NHS”. He called on his supporters to fight back against the mainstream media’s propaganda on social media, “the mass media of the 21st century”.
Like Trump, he is happy to associate with paranoid conspiracy theorists. The day before Corbyn’s speech, his adviser, the Stalinist apologist for Soviet terror Andrew Murray, warned delegates of the “deep state” — a phrase popularised by Trump supporters — and its attempts to thwart Corbyn. Murray threatened the “mobilisation of the mass of people” in response.
These parallels are no coincidence, for what Trump and Corbyn share is contempt for the kind of liberal democracy practised in the West in recent decades.
Trump can hardly hide the mixture of admiration and jealousy he feels towards leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un who are not subject to the checks and balances that tie down a US president. Corbyn, as Daniel Finkelstein explained so coherently in the Times this morning, defines democracy rather differently to me and you. For doctrinaire left-wingers of Corbyn and McDonnell’s disposition, the party and the means of production matter more than Parliament and the polling station.
Attacks on the press of the sort Corbyn indulged in today and Trump indulges in on an almost daily basis are an attack on liberal democracy — the most successful way of organising society in human history. And with every Trump rally and Corbyn outburst they become less shocking, which is exactly what makes these twin populists so dangerous.