Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning. I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?What a shitty thing to do, eh? So shitty that after inflaming Jeremy supporters all over social media, Seumas Milne has decided to go to war with the BBC over the matter and lodged an official complaint. Apparently Laura Kuenssberg, in her capacity as chief political correspondent, should confine herself to reporting the news rather than striving to create it, and this in some way contravenes the BBC's much-cherished "impartiality". In my view, while it was a tawdry little episode that gave Stephen his five minutes before returning to the shadow of backbench obscurity and makes politics look a thoroughly unedifying business, I don't think Laura did anything wrong. She had the potential to make a scoop and, lo, did what any journalist would in her position. I am certain it would have happened in exactly the same way had a Tory junior minister muttered down her phone about resigning, and, because the BBC is formally separated from the state and has its editorial independence guaranteed by the Royal Charter, the Daily Politics is perfectly entitled to act like any other news organisation.
The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea. Considering it a long shot we carried on the usual work of building the show, and continued speaking to Labour MPs who were confirming reports of a string of shadow ministers considering their positions.
Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.
I can understand why a lot of Labour people are riled about this affair, though. Actions are never innocent, even if the intentions behind them are. It's a matter of record that Jeremy has received the worst media coverage of any leader of a mainstream party in modern British political history. Matters aren't helped when this is compounded by missteps and blunders that invite further negative coverage. It is also true that opponents inside the party are happy to use the media to undermine him, whether it's constant moaning or plain old smearing. Into this context comes Wednesday's stunt by Stephen and, surprise surprise, it's read by leftwingers who feel embattled by negative headline after negative headline and therefore receive it as yet another assault.
As argued on this blog previously, the BBC is a biased institution: one that consistently tilts not toward the left or the right, but the establishment. Its common sense is the common sense of London-based financial, political, media, and cultural elites. Market capitalism is sacrosanct. Racism, homophobia, and sexism are passe. Long may the Queen reign over us. And politics, well, that just so much managerialism, isn't it? The BBC is the guardian of this supposedly natural order of things and will happily follow the political lead given from their friends and colleagues in Fleet Street. Jeremy and, for want of a better word, the revolution overturning the Labour Party's status quo is entirely outside the BBC's experience and runs against the received wisdom about "the left" imbibed from the New Labour days. And other politics outside that narrow range gets less-than-favourable coverage. Their reporting of the BNP and UKIP is/was broadly of the same character too.
Should the BBC be independent from the state? Yes. Should it be independent of these sorts of interests? Absolutely. Banging on about bias is only the beginning of a thoroughgoing critique of the BBC. It's not a matter of attitude or personnel, though this has a role; more fundamental is its political economy which, ultimately, is dependent on government largesse. If this kind of perspective remains very much a minority pursuit, time and again too many angry lefts will resort to conspiracy theorising, and the consequences of cynicism and passivity that follows.