On Wednesday, following her latest series of total disasters, Theresa May called an emergency meeting of party leaders to deal with Brexit. Despite not being a party leader, and the fact The Independent Group not actually a political party, Chuka Umunna was invited.
Jeremy Corbyn refused to take part in the meeting if Umunna was there.
The press, and the chattering classes, dragged Corbyn over the coals for this decision. Mostly because it’s what they do, it’s a reflex at this point. But also because of a general misunderstanding about the reality of the “independent” group.
The tabloids engaged their best hacks headline writers, displaying the limitations of their vocabularies (or demonstrating that they take orders from the same place):
CORB WALKOUT Jeremy Corbyn ridiculed after storming out of Brexit talks as ex-Labour MP Chuka Ummuna was there”
Jeremy Corbyn STORMS OUT of Theresa May’s Brexit talks in protest at Chuka Umunna invite”
While the quote-unquote more reputable papers had their laziest op-ed writers vomit out a few hundred words on the subject:
He’ll meet with Hamas and Sinn Fein – but a coffee with Chuka Umunna is a step too far for Jeremy Corbyn
The twitterati spun this as a case of Jeremy Corbyn being too sensitive, or having a big ego:
Paltry, factional and plain childish. The leader of my party will have tea with Hamas but won’t talk to @ChukaUmunna to avoid a national disaster. A joke of a statesman. For the first time I am seriously considering leaving Labour.
— Tony Robinson (@Tony_Robinson) March 20, 2019
Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn’s kinder, gentler politics was found wanting this evening as he stomped out of the meeting with the Prime Minister before it began, rather than breathe the same air as Chuka Umunna.
— Vince Cable (@vincecable) March 20, 2019
Jeremy Corbyn this morning: "It's time for MPs to work together, find a consensus that can get through parliament, be negotiated with the EU in time and bring Leave and Remain voters together."
Last night he walked out of a meeting because Chuka Umunna was there.
— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) March 21, 2019
The propaganda campaign would not be complete, of course, without the The Independent Group themselves doing what they do best – indulging in shameless self-promotion. Chuka “stormed” right out of the meeting and on to the television, where he called Jeremy Corbyn “juvenile”, whilst one of his forgettable back-up dancers wrote an article for The Telegraph calling Corbyn a hypocrite.
Every aspect of the media was united in this narrative. This deliberate misinformation is serving a purpose – more than just the usual need to get the boot in on Corbyn. Every mainstream comment piece, headline, twitter and the like was broadcasting the same message: That this was a personal matter. That Corbyn was being petty and emotional. In short, that it wasn’t important.
This is completely untrue. It is very important.
Barry Gardiner MP was very clear about this when interviewed on the subject on Sky News:
"TIG are not transparent about their funding, and therefore to have them sitting around a table, at Number 10 Downing Street, negotiating the future of our country without knowing what that funding, that secretive funding might be, would be totally improper." @BarryGardiner pic.twitter.com/pNQgVuHA9s
— Radlett Labour🌹 (@UKLabourRadlett) March 21, 2019
This is the key point:
The Independent Group is NOT a political party. They are registered as a company. The media are intent on dismissing this distinction as a matter of semantics…it is not. Under UK law political parties are legally obliged to make their funding sources public knowledge. Private companies have no such obligation, and as such The Independent Group’s funding is a secret (despite their feeble promise of transparency).
Umunna being invited to that meeting was, of course, a piece of political theatre. May did to try to discredit Corbyn, knowing he would have to respond, and throw the hyper-controlled media a distraction to chew on. But also, it’s a part of the establishment effort to give weight to the very idea of the Independent Group. A media and parlimentary presence they have not earned and do not deserve. To normalise them.
This is an effort to lend legitimacy to the Independent Group, to have us accept that it’s perfectly alright to have a private corporation with secret funding sitting in parliamentary meetings, helping to decide policy. That is counter to the very concept of democracy.
The truth is we have no idea how “independent” this group is, and until they are willing to tell us, they deserve – and should have – no role in the running of our country.