Labour Politics

Corbyn 'Fly on the Wall' Illustrates Problem With Seumas Milne's Broadcast Media Strategy

1 Jun 2016 at 09:00

Vice News have been given privileged access to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the result is this thirty minute documentary. It’s presented by self-confessed Labour Party member and Corbyn supporter Ben Ferguson. It’s all fairly harmless stuff but ultimately tells us little that we didn’t know before, apart from one thing. It tells us an awful lot about Seumus Milne’s media priorities.

If you’re going to grant this kind of access, why would you give it to a little watched website? This film may get several hundred thousand views, but I doubt whether many of them will be floating voters. Most of them will the kind of people who think Jeremy Corbyn represents the second coming. Or they will be professional Corbyn watchers like me. Surely it would have been better to let a proper journalist in – someone like Michael Cockerell – who would have done the job properly.

Ben Ferguson seems like a nice guy, and it’s a perfectly watchable film but he doesn’t ask Corbyn a single searching question which would force Corbyn to provide an answer he hasn’t given several times before. We learn little about Corby as a human being, what motivates him, how he deals with the frustrations of the job. We do get to meet his wife, and we get to know his hapless events officer, Gavin. I suspect poor Gavin will cringe a little when he watches this. “The best way to get Jeremy out is to let him fail in his own time,” was one of his more memorable comments. With friends like these…

We knew that the Corbyn camp operated under a siege mentality, and this was certainly confirmed through his little anti-BBC rant towards the end. Indeed, it seems he and his entire team believe the media is out to get them. That’s why they operate in a bunker, only to peep out occasionally when a friendly journalist promises not to be too nasty.

Seumas Milne has a lot to answer for. It is he who is intent on not allowing Jeremy Corbyn out of the bunker any more than he has to. When he was a backbench MP I would interview Jeremy Corbyn at least once a month, sometimes more. He loved coming into the LBC studio and was a regular guest on my late, lamented Parliament Hour. He knew he would always get a fair hearing and fair treatment. Since Jeremy Corbyn has been leader not only have I not interviewed him once, I don’t think he has ever appeared on LBC – a station which he always regarded as a friend. And it’s not for want of trying.

John McDonnell only ever agreed to appear on Ken Livingstone’s show, and now that that’s gone, I don’t suppose he will talk to any of the rest of us. Our experience is not unique. The thing is, a regular Phone Jeremy programme would do him the world of good, but in Seumas Milne’s world, LBC is no doubt considered a proto-fascist organisation and all part of the capitalist conspiracy. Back in reality, all we want to do is quiz leading politicians on their views and allow our callers to put their questions direct. You’d have thought Jeremy Corbyn would find that “a different way to do politics”.

There will come a time when Jeremy Corbyn’s team realises that it needs to deal with the broadcast media in a very different way. How long it will take is anyone’s guess.

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