Abby Tomlinson interviews Andy Burnham: Backbench Review

12 Jul 2015


The 2015 General Election produced many peculiarities never before seen in UK electoral politics. Most involved the dependably awkward Ed Miliband, whose ‘experimental’ tactics ranged from the forceful intimidation of Vladimir Putin to the erection of Moses-esque stone monuments.


In the wake of incessant taunting by the right-wing press, Ed Miliband acquired a range of loyal (at times over-enthusiastic) sympathisers – his #Milifans. Despite idle threats from professional Conservative troll Louise Mensch, it is widely assumed that 17-year-old Abby Tomlinson was the ring-leader of this zealous fan base.


Tomlinson’s efforts to secure a balanced media depiction of Miliband led to her meteoric rise to online fame. The Labour activist, born in St. Helens, now boasts over 30,000 Twitter followers, and has been given a platform to articulate her views through illustrious left-wing publications such as the Guardian and the New Statesman.


Consequently, Tomlinson has exploited her nascent stardom to launch a YouTube channel, which will air interviews with Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates. She has even hinted at the prospect of further interviews with MPs of various stripes in the future.


The first interview, with Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham (a fellow Lancastrian), was released yesterday. 



For the sake of aspiring journalists across Britain, it is first worth evaluating Tomlinson’s status as the Paxo of the young left. Tomlinson is, needless to say, an eager and passionate member of the Labour Party. Her youthful exuberance pervades the camera as it does her Twitter feed. Yet, as far as we can see, this starlet possesses a distinct lack of journalistic credentials. Tomlinson’s fame has been established on the back of an avid, yet somewhat obsessive, adoration of Ed Miliband. She was therefore the correct and rightful leader of the #Milifandom movement. However, by using this campaign to justify a foray into the world of journalism, Tomlinson has undermined the notion of merit that is vital to the media industry and, in theory, the Labour Party. Indeed, Tomlinson’s reputation as an online activist (someone willing to defend Ed when no-one else would) does not prove her aptitude as a critic.


During the interview, Tomlinson panders to a friendly and forgiving tone – allowing Burnham to avoid difficult issues with consummate ease. For example, mid-way through the piece, Burnham certifies his belief in socialism, yet there is no attempt from Tomlinson to highlight Burnham’s contradictory swing to the right (the leadership candidate having publicly shunned financial support from trade unions).


This naïve approach casts doubt on whether Tomlinson possess the necessary skills of questioning to justify her near-exclusive access (among young journalists) to pre-eminent politicians.


Are there not better-qualified, more able young people who could scrutinise Labour leadership hopefuls, and provide their peers with genuine answers to nuanced issues?


Tomlinson’s dry, platitudinous 25-minute interview with Andy Burnham perhaps implies an answer to that pertinent question.


Of course, Abby Tomlinson must be credited for galvanising young people about politics. We need more people like her in the public domain. However, we must also question her legitimate role in a post-Ed world.


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