Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Jeremy Corbyn Needs a Media Strategy

In Stoke-on-Trent Labour, we have some experience with behind-the-scenes documentaries. And so my advice to the team surrounding Jeremy Corbyn would have been a firm "don't!" while they were negotiating with Vice. Their short documentary, Jeremy Corbyn: The Outsider caused a ripple of excitement among a commentariat bone-achingly bored with EU neverendum tit-for-tat.

So, what about it? Your view is going to be coloured by what your politics are and your attitude to the leadership. If you're opposed to Jeremy, you're bound to find grist for your mill. If you like the man and have a selfie with him, there is little here to dissuade your loyalty. Those fancying themselves as Malcolm Tuckers of the left will shake their heads in resignation, while the average punter not that interested in politics would likely watch it and carry on not having their mind changed either way.

There are a couple of points worth addressing in the film, which have since proven the most "newsworthy". The first is Seumas Milne taking aside our intrepid reporter to whisper there is a leak in Jeremy's team. Someone is passing Prime Minister's Questions preparations to the party opposite, apparently. I remain sceptical about that. It's far more likely that Dave's prep team, who we should remember have been in this game for a long time, are able to anticipate the sorts of questions due to crop up. Because of the limited range of issues that get traction and, dare I say it, Jeremy's rather pedestrian style it's not difficult to play his role and advance his most likely attack lines. And besides, to confess your suspicion about a leak on camera is just unwise - you can be sure Dave will use that as a line at an upcoming PMQs.

The second are the complaints about the media. I happen to think Jeremy is right. The press in this country are awful, and when it comes to determining what issues are important the BBC follows their lead, a point this blog has explored from time to time. It's also fair to say Jeremy has received more hatchet jobs and critical coverage than any party leader ever, surpassing even the treatment meted to the sainted Ed. So yes, the media are biased. You can either complain about it, as the documentary implied, or start from the perspective they will always be ill-disposed toward you and work from there. That doesn't mean retreating into the bunker and muttering darkly about Jonathan Freedland, it demands something more pro-active.

This is where Tony Blair - yes, that man - can teach Team Jez a thing or two. Early on in his tenure, Blair and friends began their prawn cocktail offensive to win over big business and assure them that nationalisation without compensation wasn't on an incoming government's agenda. I understand that John McDonnell in his shadow chancellor capacity is similarly schmoozing. Jeremy and his team need to start doing the same with the press and, I'm afraid, that also includes Murdoch-owned titles. The hostile stuff would still come, but don't underestimate the importance of soft power and carefully cultivated relationships between politicians, spads, and bag carriers with the lobby hacks. This soft power can be used to take the sting out of bad stories, or at least allow for a space for subsequent clarification. Snippets of info here, the odd exclusive there can build up a bank of favours. On slow days some attack lines or positive stories might get through too. The job of a press operation is to sell the leader and their policies in a hostile environment. The weapons most appropriate for accomplishing this feat are the late night meal, the cup of coffee, the few jars at Strangers. Moaning resolves nothing and changes nothing, and it's more productive than panicky firefighting and toothless threats down the phone.

In short, what the film says to me is that Jeremy's operation needs to be more professional. It's not the same as bending over backwards and capitulating to headline after editorial after comment piece, but Jez and co have to play the media game if it wants to properly sell the "different way of doing things". I know the office has recently made a new hire, so perhaps things are about to change. We shall see.


Boffy said...

What they need is not a media strategy, but a Labour Movement controlled media. It is ridiculous that in many ways we have gone backwards. In the days of print media, we at least had "Labour Weekly".

The costs of media production equipment have sunk to near zero - which is one reason that the main TV stations now get most of their content from external providers, rather than bearing the cost internally. Just look at the way they also use social media content, Youtube, and images and video sent in from viewers phones etc.

People up to 35, according to many surveys get the majority of their news from the Internet, not from TV, radio or print media. A large part of general TV viewing now is done over the Internet, which is why the BBC has looked to get the requirement of a licence to cover iPlayer.

A while ago, there was a story about the fact that the most watched TV station in China, was one set up by a single bloke, in his bedroom, as an Internet TV station. In many parts of the world with decent broadband speeds nobody watches broadcast media anymore. In Singapore you can watch 3-D TV live streamed over the net, and they are moving towards 4k streaming.

The Labour Party, Trades Unions and Co-op have more than enough resources to provide a Labour Movement TV Channel. The Phone Co-op already provides some of the required hardware and networking facilities required; we have lots of labour movement film makers, writers, actors, journalists and so on, who as Paul Mason found, are currently constrained.

An urgent task for Tom Watson should be to get the unions - particularly the media and communications unions - together, and start creating a co-operatively owned and controlled Labour Movement media as an alternative and direct challenge to the capitalist media.

At least in Britain we have a free media that enables us to do that, unlike the problems our comrades face in places like Saudi Arabia, Russia and so on. Our forbears fought long and hard for such basic freedoms, we should use them and prize them, as a basic requirement for our own liberation.

Tim Pendry said...

Just on a matter of fact, the so-called 'prawn cocktail circuit' was undertaken under John Smith and not Tony Blair. In fact, Blair tended to ignore or sideline the advice of the primary networks that promoted this strategy and to work with other business figures where he wanted to have anything to do with business.

These advisory groups, including the Labour Finance & Industry Group (of which I was twice Deputy Chair but not directly involved in the 'circuit') but also others, came to be more associated with the circle around Brown if anything, although they worked with many other Shadow Cabinet members as I recall - Darling, Short, Mowlam, Cook and more when taking on various economic or trade-related portfolios.

Blair did not have an enormous interest in economics which he left to Brown by agreement. His business networks seemed to have been more personal though he was clearly a centrist neo-liberal-in-the-making in orientation. Party 'modernisation' in the mid-1990s was a much more complex phenomenon than the legend of Blairism would have it. One should not assume that Brown and Blair, though co-operative, were twins either. You are out on the timing here.

Alex Ross said...

The blame the media argument seems rather moot to's not that the media is unbiased or doesn't have a pro-establishment or rightward bent...just that what Corbyn is "selling" is unappealing to start with. If I were to open a cafe selling turd sandwiches next to Mcdonalds, and failed to make a profit, I would be technically correct in arguing that Mcdonalds had a bigger marketing budget than my cafe...but that would sort of be beside the point!

Corbyn's inability to distance himself from anti-democratic extremists on the fringe left...including ex-"Straight Left" creep, Seamus Milne...his overly defensive reaction to the antisemitism allegations (anti-Semitic language *is* a problem on the left (and right) - why not be a grown up and confront it honestly? - you can still criticise Israel if you want to - just use more neutral language!!), the dogmatism and inability to handle criticism of many of his devotees....all these things don't add up to an attractive package.

BCFG said...

The significance of the internet from a news point of view is overplayed, I think. Though there has probably been some minor disruption to the ruling class brainwashing system.

TV news and the gutter press are still the major opinion makers, whether we like it or not. The internet simply allows lots of people to express their already established bile. But even here the PC brigade want to filter what true opinion is. TV really filters opinion to the point of making it a fairy-tale. We are told Muslims are radicalised and need re-education training, but when the majority of mainly white people hold the opinion that it would be good if every migrant died crossing the Med this is unvoiced and therefore white folk are not radicalised! In my experience Katie Hopkins speaks for the majority on this issue, yet white folk are all right, but beware those radical Muslims. Yet we never really hear these nasty voices on the TV news and when we do hear any sign of these opinions expressed on the net we get a troll alert or someone claims they are being abused. So everything gets sanitised to the point where only the dangerous Muslims are left standing. Everyone else is simply throwing water over their heads, for chariteee.

Don’t get me wrong I think the internet is useful and should be invested in but why shouldn’t the Labour movement have its own TV news channel? Why shouldn’t the left have their own TV channels? We have Psychic TV, why not Marxism TV?

Alex Ross is absolutely wrong with his little analogy. Corbyn is not the turd shop next to MacDonald’s but the healthy alternative and MacDonald’s don’t like it! This is the dimension missing from Alex Ross. He can’t see that Corbyn is a threat to certain interests and anyone who represents such views is lambasted because they are a threat. Alex Ross paints a picture of a media filtering all the good ideas in the general interest of the public at large, this is total junk, absolute crock. Corbyn will be hammered by the media no matter how many Nobel laureate economics agree with his policies. No matter what Corbyn’s arguments are you will only get insult and black propaganda from the ruling class media and their lackeys, such as Alex Ross. Alex Ross has no engagement with Corbyn’s proposals; all he can do is throw insult and guilt by association. This is the media that Corbyn confronts. A media unfit, a media unfree and a media bought lock stock and barrel by the ruling elite.

Alex Ross said...


That really wasn't my point. By way of comparison....I was in Uruguay recently (somewhere where radical left ideas have a genuinely strong purchase) and what was really refreshing was how differently the Uruguayan left approached politics compared to the rather moribund UK far-left. No nostalgic references to dead Russians...a pluralistic left culture where people listen to one another (anarchists, socialists, social-democrats, eco-warriors) rather than just issue imperatives and accuse people of "smears" when people have different opinions.

As I said, I have no doubt that the media contains certain establishment biases. But that is entirely irrelevant when what is on offer (from the Corbynite left) is not sufficiently appealing. And, finally, criticising the Milne appointment is not "guilt by association" - he made that dreadful appointment and should be held accountable for doing so (I've spoken to a number of Gulag survivors on my travels in the former SU and this is an issue close to my heart...not me being an establishment lackey!!).

Speedy said...

"The significance of the internet from a news point of view is overplayed, I think."

Reminds me of this, BCFG... "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

But seriously, I think it depends - newspaper sales are falling, people shop around the internet for their information, but the flit mainly to the titles with which they are already familiar with - so I think the internet probably enhances prejudice, because it is easier to pick and choose a self-reflecting forum for shared belief (like this blog, for example, broad church though it may be).

Also, I think the internet is hugely distracting - young people are not engaged because they are more interested in playing candy crush on their mobiles. They have an illusion of a connected world - they don't understand how much it depends on all the work that has gone before.

But I think you are right the main media outlets still set the agenda, which is then followed...

Personally I think in the European debate, Corbyn has a low profile because his lack of enthusiasm is palpable., When the history is written, I think a major factor in the exit from Europe (which seems on the cards) will be the crisis on the Left as much as the right - the failure of these parties to explain loudly enough why remaining in is in their interests.

Lidl Janus said...

"all he can do is throw insult and guilt by association"

Trouble is, Corbyn's associations - with zero degrees of separation - make him pretty guilty of all manner of unpleasant attributes. No-one has forced him to hang around Stephen Sizer, or Raed Salah, or Press TV, or Stop the War, but he has, knowing who they are and what they do, and the "diplomacy" excuses don't wash - Corbyn has never had the power to broker any serious peace deal.

If anything, the mainstream press (and the Tories) are sandbagging; I'm sure that stack of opposition files is being steadily built in CCHQ for the GE, and is already starting to sway.

Makhno said...

All the guff about "associates" rings rather hollow, however, from a Labour right that still deifies Tony Blair, a man who was more than happy to go above and beyond the cause of diplomacy to have close relationships with scumbags such as Berlusconi (including those farcical holiday snaps), Putin and Gaddafi (to the extent of airmailing Libyan dissidents to him to get tortured).

In addition, since his retirement (when the exigencies of international relations no longer apply) he and his wife have been more than happy to lend a helping hand to various execrable international despots.

"Sharing a platform", as the snide phrase de nos jours would have it, somewhat pales into insignificance in comparison.

Lidl Janus said...

"All the guff about "associates" rings rather hollow, however, from a Labour right that still deifies Tony Blair-"

Do they? Even Progress has admitted New Labour is dead. And if the Labour right is anyone non-Corbyn (as appears to be the case amongst some Corbyn supporters), then the (alleged) Blairite candidate got around 11% of that particular vote. Blair has, as you point out, trashed his reputation thoroughly.

All of which is deflection anyway; the point is not that Corbyn has "shared a platform" with my aforementioned examples, but actively supported them, invited them, taken money from them and taken up positions with them. He has been under no obligation to even shake hands with such people, but he's tight with them. And in many cases, they are the sort of thoroughly vile people who, given the power, would most likely wipe you and me out without hesitation.

Phil has written before about the moronic, knee-jerk 'anti-imperialism' which causes the far left to support people utterly antithetical to the aims of both a) the far left itself and b) any modern civilised society of liberal values. It all very much applies to Corbyn.

Makhno said...

Oh indeed. I would certainly criticise that sort of behaviour, in the same way I would criticise the knee-jerk "pragmatism" and power worship that causes the "centre-left" to support equally execrable figures.

The difference is in outcome. With one, despite it being wrong-headed, it leads to the UK no longer being pointlessly and usually counter-productively involved in military action abroad, with the other it leads to rendition, torture,laying waste to Iraq and the rise of Isis. With one it leads to a domestic policy opposed to austerity and the constant attacks on workers' rights, with the other it leads to minimal opposition to austerity and demands for a "flexible" labour market.

These were essentially the only two options on offer at the leadership election, they are still the only two options on offer now. Until something better comes along, this will remain the case. Neither of them are perfect by any means, but I'm damn sure which one I'd rather have.