CHRIS WILLIAMSON: Why I think the Guardian is hostile to Labour

PUBLISHED: 16:41 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 18:33 01 October 2018

The offices of the Guardian newspaper. Picture: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

The offices of the Guardian newspaper. Picture: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

2013 Getty Images

Why are Jeremy Corbyn supporters calling for a boycott of the Guardian, an oasis of left-wing commentary in an ocean of right-wing media? Here, MP CHRIS WILLIAMSON accuses the newspaper of waging a hostile campaign against the leadership.

Chris Williamson's original tweet about the Guardian (Image: Twitter)Chris Williamson's original tweet about the Guardian (Image: Twitter)

Does it surprise me that calls to boycott the Guardian have been trending on Twitter in recent days? Not really. The narrowing of acceptable opinions in the mainstream has lent the newspaper a left-wing veneer it doesn’t deserve, and users of social media are chipping away at it.

A report by the Media Reform Coalition last month found that the Guardian, along with the BBC, topped the charts for inaccuracies in the reporting of Labour and anti-Semitism. The liberal leaning paper and the public broadcaster narrowly beat the Sun.

According to the report, nearly half of the Guardian’s coverage of the controversy featured no quoted sources defending the party or its leadership and it has been “considerably more imbalanced in terms of sourcing compared to the BBC and Independent”.

When it comes to displeasure with the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, the Guardian has form. Research by the London School of Economics from 2016 found that one fifth of their stories on Corbyn lacked balance. That, for me, is putting it mildly. As early as August 2015 the Guardian’s then readers’ editor, Chris Elliott, pointed out that “readers rightly got a sniff that on occasions we weren’t taking [Corbyn] seriously enough”. But it got worse.

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The paper’s notoriety for hostility towards Labour has largely stemmed from its comment pages. Here, for example, regular readers will have plotted Polly Toynbee’s journey in regards to Corbyn, which began with denial (“a relic”), lingered in paternalism (of the, “you don’t know what you’re doing” variety), before straying into anger and grief (“sluggish incompetence” and “Labour’s annihilation” to quote a tiny sample). I’m not sure what stage Toynbee, or the rest of them, are at today – I’ve lost interest.

This commentary, according to the same Media Reform Coalition research, was against a backdrop in which 60% of the overall Fleet Street coverage of Corbyn was either critical or antagonistic, compared to less than 10% which was positive. And yet we’re talking about the very same man who last year helped Labour deliver its biggest vote share increase since 1945.

I doubt I’m the only one who’s grown frustrated. In 2015, the Guardian’s own research found that 24% of its core readership were either Labour members or registered supporters, and this was before the Corbyn surge. Following his two landslide leadership victories, how many of those readers have gone elsewhere?

More than a handful will have turned to the online news source The Canary, whose reporting of Labour is typically sympathetic and balanced. Yet last week, journalists at the Guardian protested about the news that The Canary editor, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, would be delivering the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture for Black History Month.

So is the Guardian boycotting The Canary? And was it not just a couple of weeks ago that we heard the outcry from Guardian journalists when Momentum announced it would ban the Sun from its fringe events at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool? Liverpool is a city where every other black cab brandishes large ‘boycott the Sun’ stickers as a result of the paper’s infamous reporting on the Hillsborough disaster.

What to make of all this? Personally, I haven’t boycotted the Guardian, but I’ve stopped reading it as much as I used to. Instead I’ve adopted the practice of mindfulness. On the occasions when I feel a little stressed I take a deep breath and think about letting go of the Guardian. I simply let Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland and all the other naysayers wash over me, and as I exhale I let the their utter irrelevance leave my body and mind. It’s like a fog has lifted.

On the doorstep in my Derby North constituency, where I rarely encounter a Guardian reader, I recommend an array of online media outlets. To those with the resources I promote subscription to the newly refounded Tribune magazine and I encourage people to pick up a copy of the Morning Star. Along with veganism and voting Labour, it’s my top tip for long and healthy life.

Chris Williamson is the Labour MP for Derby North

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