THE media’s coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is the “worst” any politician has received, John McDonnell said this week.
The Shadow Chancellor said that the way broadcasters and the press had treated the Labour leader was “appalling” and complained that the only media outlet to support Mr Corbyn since September had been the Morning Star, the socialist newspaper.
“Even the liberal left Guardian opposed us and undermined us at every opportunity,” added Mr McDonnell.
He said the coverage of the Labour leader was an example of the “establishment using its power in the media to try and destroy an individual and what he stands for”.
But Mr McDonnell insisted it would not succeed in weakening support for his and Mr Corbyn’s policies and instead predicted it would have the opposite effect.
Now new figures support this view with the party boasting more than 575,000 members, the highest figure for 40 years.
More people have joined the Labour Party since last year’s General Election than are members of the Conservatives.
By contrast, total Tory membership is around 150,000 people, according to the latest available figures, down from over 253,000 during the 2005 leadership contest.
Total Full Membership of the Labour Party is now 405,352 – more than Tony Blair enjoyed at the 1997 election.
Add to this more than 170,000 Registered Supporters and the Labour Party now has a membership in excess of 575,000. This is the highest party membership figure since 1976.
The membership surge has allowed the party to pay off its £24.5 million debts and abandon its forced move out of Westminster.
Iain McNicol, Labour Party General Secretary hailed the “huge accomplishment” for the party, saying it could now “move forward, away from the cloud of debt that has been hanging over us for so many years”.
He said moving into the black would put the party in a stronger position to make long-term financial decisions.
Significantly, it means the Labour Party headquarters will not be forced to decamp three miles away to Kensington – as had been planned.
Having its base so far away from Parliament and the Leader’s office would have been a logistical nightmare.
Instead the Party HQ remains a five-minute walk away from the Houses of Parliament at Southside in Victoria Street, just around the corner from the party’s former base in Brewers Green.
Labour’s membership leap has been driven by a surge in joiners during and since the party’s leadership election, which saw Jeremy Corbyn become leader of the party.
Figures released by the party in November showed more than 62,000 people had joined the party since Mr Corbyn’s own election as leader two months earlier – a figure higher than the 47,000 people who are members of UKIP and the 61,000 in the Liberal Democrats.
The composition of the Labour Party is changing too. The average age of the party membership fell by 11 years over the last six months – from 53 to 42 – and more women than men joined.
“Let’s get these new members involved in campaigning, helping relay our roots in communities, being involved in a digital revolution in the party that allows members to feel that they’re more included in the decisions we make,” said Deputy Leader Tom Watson.
This is a far cry from the dim days of 2006, when under Tony Blair’s leadership, warnings were made that Labour Party membership could disappear within seven years if the rate of decline at the time continued.
Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and a former Downing Street aide, said in December 2006 that the party had lost 160,000 members between 2000 and 2006 – the equivalent of one every 20 minutes.
He warned Labour must rally members and re-engage with the electorate through community campaigning, saying: “You need to build it from the bottom up. Activity on the streets, a local presence, continuously, year on year and not just at election times.”
And as recently as February last year a similar warning was made that if electoral defeats and a loss of membership continued then Labour’s ‘core’ support would soon be reduced to London and several other big metropolitan areas.
For a long time Labour have ignored this collapse in support. First they denied it. Then they suggested that it didn’t really matter.
Then, under Ed Miliband’s leadership, they were reduced to hoping that these voters would somehow return by May when faced with the prospect of another Tory government.
And of course the rest is history.
Now fast forward to January 2016 and more than half a million paid up members and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party show that Labour’s new direction is more popular than anyone could have imagined.
It appears that the more the media spin against Mr Corbyn’s leadership, the more the general public react by becoming members.
“All the spin and bias has proved to be counterproductive because the more attacks on Jeremy, the more members we recruit,” added John McDonnell.
If the past eight months has showed us anything, it is not to trust political pundits or the right wing media – and to believe that another world is possible.
Footnote: After publishing the above blog post, this was reported in The Guardian. Well worth reading: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/13/revealed-how-jeremy-corbyn-has-reshaped-the-labour-party