So… 38 Degrees have dropped their petition to have BBC Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, sacked for alleged bias against Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The petition kept popping up on my Facebook feed – often posted by people I consider to be friends, and, just as often, accompanied by offensive and indirectly sexist comments. I didn’t just disagree – as a writer, and occasional journalist myself – I was viscerally alarmed.
I complained three times to 38 Degress about the petition, but despite the pledges on their feedback pages, never received any kind of acknowledgement or reply.
I argued that it brought the campaigning organisation into disrepute. The sexism and misogyny was indeed a primary issue, but sadly neither David Babbs – nor the short sighted and/or neo-totalitarian types who signed this thing – understand the fundamental problem with targeting a specific journalist – regardless of gender. Personally – speaking as someone who follows unhealthy amounts of political journalism – she doesn’t appear to be in any way biased. She’s a journalist equally likely to report on splits in the Tory party (as she has done many, MANY times; there is far more coverage of right wing splits in relation to the EU referendum at the moment in the UK), the Lib-Dems, UKIP etc as she would with the very real splits in the Labour party. She’s a political editor – it’s her job to report this stuff, the problem won’t go away if Laura Kuenssberg doesn’t mention it. Not when senior party members are battling it out on Twitter.
But this isn’t the point.
If someone watching a BBC News item is unhappy with with the way something is reported, then the thing to do is to take it up with BBC News, and question editorial policy overall (by the way, they will reply to you). That’s perfectly fine, and the right of the UK license fee payer. Indeed that kind of public accountability is fundamental to the way the BBC works. You certainly don’t have that kind of direct accountability in most other areas of journalism.
BUT – and it’s a massive swollen arse of a ‘but(t)’ – targeting individual journalists is a completely different matter.
Think about it – especially anyone reading this blog who signed this thing – what is the BBC supposed to do? Let’s just imagine that 38 Degrees had submitted this petition. How would you expect the BBC to react?
Treat it with the contempt it deserves, hopefully. They would have to.
Because obviously if the BBC did start sacking journalists because of public pressure exerted by specific interest groups, what message would that send?
The reason totalitarian regimes censor, sack, blacklist, imprison – or even execute – individual journalists who report or say things they don’t like, is to send a message to every other journalist that the reporting they do must fit a pre-determined political agenda – otherwise they’ll be out of a job. It’s a form of intimidation and bullying from which anyone who believes in free speech – and indeed, a fair and just society – should absolutely disassociate themselves.
But there’s something else going on here. For most of my lifetime the most vociferous braying – accusing the BBC of bias – has come from the right of British politics, insistent that the BBC is staffed by an army of vegetarian, politically correct pinkos (amongst which I count myself – although I’m not a vegetarian).
Ironically, as someone who has spent much of his professional career working in a range of capacities for the organisation, there is actually some truth in this – ! – although BBC journalists and other creatives take a lot of pride in their ability to stick rigorously to the corporation’s much vaunted principles of impartiality. Perhaps too much sometimes. When I first worked for the BBC, I spent a day observing at the World Service and was moved to tears by the dedication of the journalists there to report fairly on regimes who had certainly not treated them fairly before they had come to the UK. The BBC doesn’t always get it right, but there’s something infectious and almost obsessional about those values within the organisation, certainly, as I have experienced it.
But these days, the main chorus of disapproval comes from certain elements within the Corbyn left – not Corbyn himself, I hasten to add.
So what’s this about? Is there something just plain nasty lurking here? Well… there may be in places – there’s definitely a few old Trots and Militant types who have hitched themselves to the Corbyn bandwagon – but I genuinely don’t think that’s the issue.
I think this is about a lack of purpose at the heart of the Corbyn project. It’s a movement that has lost its way to such a degree that it feels it can be shaken off course by a BBC journalist reporting on internal party splits. Surely if Corbyn had anything about him, he would be leading the agenda, and a few negative stories would be neither here, nor indeed, there. Cameron is repeatedly ridiculed by factions on the left and right, and I would argue that one reason he is such a canny survivor – and indeed successful – as a politician is because he refuses to be rattled by such stuff. Love him, hate him – he’s ‘the guy’ and he’s getting on with it. Plus he’s very good at laughing at himself.
Jeremy Corbyn has an oft stated objective of motivating an unseen army of people who currently don’t vote. So far, so noble. But check out what happened yesterday (Wednesday 11th May 2016) at Prime Minister’s Questions. He led on two questions about the ‘Workers Posted Directive’.
No, I had no idea what that meant either.
Neither did Andrew Neil nor Jo Coburn, on the BBC’s Daily Politics, who had to Google it live on air.
Kuenssberg to her credit did actually know something about it – and thought it was a decent – if obscure – issue to raise. Jo Coburn then said they were getting lots of texts and tweets expressing similar confusion, and read out an email from ‘Martin in Stockport’ declaring that he ‘was a political junkie but still had no idea what the Labour Leader was talking about’. Yup folks, that was me.
That detail aside, it’s a visceral demonstration of how lost Corbyn is.
When people say we have to stop carping and get behind the Labour Leadership – I ask: ‘Get behind what?’ Corbyn’s stinging campaign to support the Workers Posted Directive – which may well be important, but apparently affects 0.7% of EU workers? Seriously? Even after Andrew Neil explained it I still didn’t understand it. Are we supposed to believe that the serried ranks of the disenfranchised will be stirred to the barricades by Jezza’s uncompromising stance on the issue?
‘What do we want???’
‘The Workers Posted Directive!!’
‘When do we want it???’
‘Back-dated to April 1st!!!’
But worse was to come. In the same PMQs, after wishing David Attenborough a happy birthday, Corbyn omitted to congratulate Sadiq Khan for his amazing (centrist?) victory in London last week – leaving a back bencher (whose name I can’t remember), Tim Fallon (leader of the Liberal Democrats) and indeed David Cameron himself to hand out the plaudits to Khan.
Here was a golden opportunity to big-up the broad Labour tent and absolutely slam Cameron for backing Zac Goldsmith’s dog whistle racism last week. But for some reason, Corbyn opted to go big on the Workers Posted Directive… and snub his new, extremely popular Labour mayor on the week’s most high profile platform for any leader of the opposition.
This wasn’t just missing an open goal…. this was missing an open goal when the other team had pissed off to the pub and left the field completely undefended.
If you are reading this – and you are someone who believes passionately in a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn – then perhaps concentrate on developing that message into something coherent around which we can all coalesce. The electorate don’t owe him their support. And I, as a (more or less) lifelong Labour member don’t owe Jezza my support. Wasting your energy trying to get a female journalist sacked is not only reactionary in the extreme – but it demonstrates that there isn’t enough going on at the heart of the project. If Corbyn was truly inspirational, then you wouldn’t care what Laura Kuenssberg said. You’d be selling his message… whatever that is. I mean, I really don’t know any more.
Winners don’t complain about the opposition, or the crowd, or, indeed, the commentators. They win because they are good at what they do, and they rise above any obstacles put in their way.