Anti-Corbyn rightwing press attacks 'boost Momentum support'

Nadia Khomami
Jeremy Corbyn blamed significant parts of the national press for ‘a succession of false and absurd stories’. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by the rightwing press are leading to large spikes in his support base immediately after negative newspaper articles, according to data seen by the Guardian.

Figures from Momentum come days after Labour went on the offensive over reports in the Daily Mail, the Sun and other newspapers that Corbyn met a Czechoslovakian spy in the 1980s.

Breaking from the tradition of his predecessors, who courted the tabloids, Corbyn blamed significant parts of the national press “owned by billionaire tax exiles” for “a succession of false and absurd stories”.

Buoyed by its gains in the general election, Corbyn’s Labour has maintained it can use social media to bypass the mainstream press and any ad hominem attacks.

Momentum, the Corbyn-supporting group, said its numbers not only supported this assertion, but indicated that high-profile press attacks had become a “seal of approval”.

With 37,000 members and additions of more than 1,500 newcomers a month, Momentum insiders said the group’s membership was estimated to exceed that of the Conservative party in less than two years. It is already larger than Ukip and will overtake the Green party’s membership later this year.

On 21 January, when the Sunday Times ran a front page story headlined “Jeremy Corbyn allies plot to oust 50 Labour MPs,” Momentum said 250 members joined the organisation, its second highest intake since September 2017. In the four days following the story, 554 members joined, the highest number over any four-day period in the same timeframe.

On 15 January, Momentum said it received large amounts of critical coverage after it successfully backed three candidates in Labour’s national executive committee election: Jon Lansman, Momentum’s co-founder, Yasmine Dar and Rachel Garnham. On that day, 142 new members joined and a further 350 joined over the following four days, making the average number of new members in January 52 a day.

The group said negative stories in the Daily Mail worked as effective recruitment tools. Facebook posts encouraging supporters to join reached twice as many people when they featured a Daily Mail headline, and Facebook posts advertising job roles reached up to 10 times as many people when featuring a headline from the newspaper.

The pace of Momentum’s membership growth is increasing. In November 2017, 1,155 new members joined the group, in January this rose to 1,619, and this month it expects more than 1,800 people to join as members. It is embarking on further membership drives by building more digital tools as well as hiring a digital campaigns officer.


“Labour’s extraordinary result in the last election showed that tabloids run by tax-dodging press barons do not decide elections,” said Laura Parker, Momentum’s national coordinator. “But the fact that attacks by the rightwing press have actually increased support for Momentum shows how low they have sunk in the eyes of the public. Being hated by the Daily Mail has become a seal of approval and, for most people, their criticism is actually an endorsement.”


Ash Sarkar from Novara Media said each time the papers sensationally attacked Corbyn it reinforced “the sense that he must be getting something right”.

“It’s also unwittingly punctured one of the key Tory myths, which is competence in all things,” she said. “With Ben Bradley having to issue this grovelling apology, and the marked and hurried climbdown by senior Tory MPs who really went for Corbyn, we found out there’s one thing worse than malevolence; it’s incompetence.”

Corbyn’s recent media dismissals have been likened to those of populist leaders such as Donald Trump, but his supporters say it is entirely unsurprising for an outsider to rally against a system that is obviously rigged.

“There’s a huge difference between saying media claims have no basis in fact and we can measure these biases, and calling every story you don’t like fake news,” said Sarkar. “It’s structural critique, not a dismissal.”