Alt-left attack on Observer part of populist strategy

The alt-left's attack on the Observer is part of a populist strategy - the question is how it can be beaten.

The alt-left Twittersphere jumped into life this weekend to attack The Observer’s decision to carry and splash an op-ed from Theresa May.

While some of the more sensible critics of the paper’s decision noted that the Prime Minister’s article contained no new messages or announcements, the main point of contention was that a left-wing paper had published the piece at all, given May’s party affiliation. Corbyn’s former spokesperson, Matt Zarb-Cousin joined the Canary’s Editor, Kerry Anne-Mendoza, Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani, and Artist Taxi Driver in denouncing the decision.

Those who took to Twitter to mock the outrage misunderstood the alt-left’s motivations, however. For some time now, Corbyn and his team have followed a very deliberate strategy of sowing distrust in the “MSM” while simultaneously promoting their own alternative news sources (The Canary, Skwawkbox, and so on) where the views of the far-left’s opponents will never be honestly presented. This weekend’s attack on the paper responsible for revealing the truth behind Cambridge Analytica and the potential spending breaches of Vote Leave was simply part of this ongoing project. This is also what drove the same group of people who point to the Windrush scandal as one of the worst crimes of the Tory government to order a boycott of the paper which uncovered the scandal (The Observer’s sister paper, The Guardian).

Those who rush to deride this strategy as Trump-esque are correct, as Corbyn’s team have themselves admitted, but shouldn’t be too quick to judge. Donald Trump won the presidency after promoting the leading alt-right site, Breitbart, and repeatedly bashing the traditional media. Even centrist dad-in-chief, Andrew Adonis is at it, seeking to counter the pressure from pro-Brexiteers on the BBC to provide more time for Leave supporters by inversing their approach and accusing the public broadcaster of bias in favour Brexit.

The question isn’t whether this approach can work – it’s arguable that populists can’t win without degrading public spaces for debate. Defenders of our press instead need to answer how the populist approach can be beaten. If they can’t, hyper-partisan media will continue to grow, fewer people will properly understand the arguments of the other side or trust their motives, populists will continue to win, and democracy will be weakened.

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