The UK ranks 33rd in the World Freedom of Press Index. We live in an age where a trending video on Twitter can carry more political weight than the front page of one of the most-read newspapers in the country.
How accurate are press narratives are as a reflection of their protagonists? We must ask these questions of our politicians and our media. They are supposed to represent the people, and however skeptical you may be, for this function we must hold them to account. As Pericles is once purported to have said, if you do not care about politics, that does not mean that politics will not care about you.
The beginning of our timeline, at Corbyn and Johnson’s burgeoning careers, tell a story in and of themselves.
Corbyn in 1984 being escorted by police for picketing against South African apartheid.
Johnson in 1987, seated front-right, with the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxfordian society
infamous for ostentatious displays of wealth.
These images were taken three years apart. Genocide: easy to criticise in retrospect, though blurred when we search for who was actually admonishing these crimes as they unfolded. Margaret Thatcher declared the African National Congress to be a terrorist organisation. It was clear that Corbyn was on the opposition then, as he is now. Johnson was still a fresh Etonian terror, ‘making mistakes’. Corbyn was three years prior willingly taken away by state officials for standing up to injustice.
Ten years later, Corbyn again found himself against the force of the law for standing up for his principles.
Corbyn in 1991, standing in court, refusing to pay the poll tax his constituents could not afford.
Anybody who grew up under Thatcher’s government, or in working and lower-middle homes, knows well the absolute horrors wreaked by the poll tax and ensuing riots in the early 1990’s. Corbyn found himself pitted against the Thatcherites to defend his constituents, for whom the tax was unaffordable.
At the same time, Johnson was Brussels correspondent at The Daily Telegraph. He found himself helping a fellow former Bullingdon member, Darius Guppy, arranging for another journalist to be attacked. Just another example of a ‘mistake’, often defended with: ‘at least Boris isn’t a terrorist sympathiser’.
The 2000’s to the present day
These ‘terrorist sympathies’ (alluding to Corbyn) often are linked with his support of Palestine and the Good Friday Agreement.
Jeremy Corbyn pictured in 2014 at a rally of Palestinian Solidarity, exactly 30 years after his picket against apartheid.
Close to home for the British public in the aftermath of Brexit is of course that of Ireland and Corbyn’s ‘links’ to the IRA. He has been accused of being unpatriotic for stating he opposes bombing, for acknowledging that there were atrocities on both sides.
It is inconceivable, yet true, that one unfortunate consequence of the Good Friday Agreement is that there are members of the British public unaware of untold suffering. Yet it does not stop The Fields of Athenry, an anthem which the Irish know by heart, from immortalising the cruelty of British government. Corbyn is ripped apart for his stance on tragedy.
Johnson is still criticising Corbyn’s relations with the IRA. When Googling the words ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘protest’, most search results come back with images of him as the subject of the protest, rather than in attendance at one. He has spent his time on a book about the UK’s most famous and infamous prime minister.
Taken from Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala, 2018.
I am sure that a lot of people voting in a nationwide poll for ‘The Greatest Briton of All Time’ were not aware of these comments that were allowed to slip into the shadows, only now seeing the light thanks to the attention of writers like Akala. Words do not make, or unmake, one’s previous actions, but everything should be taken into account when deciding on the suitability of the head of government.
Boris Johnson with BBC political editor Laura Kunessberg, 2019.
Jeremy Corbyn has been an elected MP for over three decades. It is not careerism, something he was bred into, brought up to become. Do not let headlines, and their agenda, frighten you from looking at what our candidates stand for; what they have been standing for throughout their lives.
This article exposes but only a minute of the plethora of deceit that shrouds the image and language of UK politics. Scores of books and PHD theses elaborate on the extent to which people have been taken in by the ‘creation’ of the likes of Johnson and his camaraderie. What is being striven for here is honesty.
As much as it stirs fury and outrage, fundamentally, it is heartbreaking that shady operations of the UK press permit people being lied to, until they are manipulated into a box which serves somebody else’s agenda. Many people who don’t vote say it is for precisely this reason.
Though there are conscious voters, those thinking critically and independently. If more people took this responsibility upon themselves, we could see real change. Change which has been fought for, from the back benches or the front, for decades. If you don’t vote, I urge you to try.
If you vote Conservative or Labour, I urge you to consider why. As Orwell has written, “an illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face.” Consider what Corbyn and Johnson offer not only your future, but the future of our society. The consequences will affect us for the next three decades, too.