On Sunday morning I wrote an article for our Westminster HUB department reviewing Abby Tomlinson’s recent YouTube interview with Andy Burnham. The article can be found here: http://www.bbench.co.uk/#!Abby-Tomlinson-interviews-Andy-Burnham-Backbench-Review/crhk/55a228a30cf2ba155ece2420
During the piece, I expressed concern that Tomlinson had overstepped her mandate as a political activist by serving as chief youth interrogator of Labour leadership and deputy leadership hopefuls.
Yesterday evening, Young Perspective Editor Isaac Callan published a response to my piece, defending Tomlinson’s right to interview high-profile MPs. Isaac’s article can be found here: http://young-perspective.net/well-done-abby/
Firstly, I must thank Callan for his kind words about Backbench. We aim to foster a worthwhile debate amongst young people about current affairs, and we hope our provocative review will be viewed in this light. As someone who experiences the idiosyncratic frustrations of youth journalism on a day-to-day basis, I hope that Callan with be able to sympathise with some of our concerns.
My words may have been interpreted as an outright attack on Tomlinson. This was not my intention. Tomlinson comes across as a dignified and passionate politico who undoubtedly possesses many qualities. My hope is that, through this debate, Tomlinson will use her newfound contacts to challenge MPs; to put them on the spot, to make them answerable to the young people of Britain.
However, I must antidote Callan’s wholehearted praise of Tomlinson. Indeed, Callan states that: ‘In fact, I would argue, no one needs to earn the right to interview people in the way Abby is on her YouTube channel, that’s the beauty of the internet. Platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and WordPress allow people with an interest in a subject to try it out, learn their trade and to share the results of that [sic] with anyone who is interested.’
The digital age presents new opportunities, but those who seize such opportunities should be subject to the same scrutiny as their predecessors. I expect Backbench to be judged in relation to the same basic standards of journalism that arbitrate the quality of Britain’s broadsheet newspapers. Digital platforms such as Twitter and YouTube do not (or at least should not) grant you an automatic passport to evade scrutiny.
This is similarly the case for age. It would be ignorant of me to disregard the pressure that faces a 17 year-old, thrust into the rostrum of Westminster politics. Yet, as recognised by both myself and Callan, a great number of people are interested in Tomlinson’s views. This darling of the young left possesses a significant public audience, and her work thus warrants appropriate scrutiny.
Callan further argues that: ‘Obviously there are young people out there at least as qualified as Abby Tomlinson who could interview the Labour hopefuls. However, they haven’t. Tomlinson hasn’t abused parental contacts or even friends to get where she is, no, [sic] she has built bridges with Labour which she is now using.’
Yet, this is the fundamental problem - one which Callan fails to recognise. Tomlinson has acquired her contacts within the Labour Party by defending Ed Miliband and fighting for the cause before the general election. Her reputation stands upon a devotion to the party and its politicians. We do not oppose Tomlinson’s pursuit of a new venture, per se, we merely question whether someone so involved in party political activism can interrogate politicians in a balanced, critical manner. If young journalists fail to challenge the policies of political parties, they risk compromising the essence of the profession. This is why we encourage all our writers to question their own points of view. Cosying up to politicians in order to avoid offense cannot, does not, represent honest nor free journalism.
During her interview with Andy Burnham, Tomlinson was composed and enthusiastic. Her questions were worthwhile and we particularly support her use of social media to crowdsource her topics. Moreover, Tomlinson cannot necessarily be blamed for Burnham’s prosaic responses. However, someone less associated with Labour Party activism may have pushed Burnham into tighter corners, and extracted more revealing answers.
I believe this was further demonstrated during Tomlinson’s interviews with Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, and deputy leadership hopeful Stella Creasy, released this morning:
Backbench supports Tomlinson’s efforts to engage young people in politics, particularly as this represents the ethos of our own community. We hope that Tomlinson’s dynamic, modern campaigning will help to reinvigorate young people’s participation in political discussion.
In keeping with the spirit of Backbench, we would like to invite Tomlinson to publish her thoughts on the matter through our platform. I would also like to extend an invitation to both Abby and Isaac to personally discuss young people, politics and democracy. I hope, if we use our combined abilities in alliance, we will be able to turn this worthwhile debate into valuable progress for youth democracy.
Just yesterday, 20 year-old Mhairi Black gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons. Her passionate, eloquent address revealed the vibrancy of youth politics in Britain. Black demonstrated the influence and unforgiving authority needed both in Parliament and in everyday social discussion by the younger generation. Although Tomlinson’s acquiescence to the Labour cause may compromise her journalistic sincerity, she remains a highly valuable participant in our modern political conversation.
I am contactable at email@example.com if either Isaac or Abby wish to discuss this article further.