What VICE’s fly-on-the-wall documentary tells us about the socialist pariah leading the Labour Party
It would be a polite understatement to describe Jeremy Corbyn’s relationship with the media as frosty. He has lampooned the press for plotting his downfall as Labour leader. He has scolded intrusive reporters for camping outside his house, and he has generally adopted a tenor of disgust whenever interacting with journalists.
It is therefore equally surprising as it is confusing that Corbyn allowed VICE, an international media organisation, exclusive access to the private functions of his office.
Form your own opinions, before disagreeing with mine
Yet, this film, widely hyped as an insightful glimpse into the Corbyn project, couldn’t really escape from Jeremy’s habitual distrust of journalists. This documentary isn’t a watershed moment; a transformation (a revolution, if you must) of Corbyn into a more media-friendly creature.
Ben Ferguson, VICE's reporter, tried to connect to Jeremy by showing he's an outsider, too. Donned with tattoos, piercings and a wardrobe that would've incited paralytic rage from David Cameron’s mother, Ferguson presented himself as an anti-journalist; not one of the slimy, devious hacks from Fleet Street. But Corbyn and his team didn’t buy this affront. Indeed, Jeremy reacts with innate hostility whenever he’s at the danger end of a camera lens, even when he’s asked benign questions, like “have you got a sandwich there?”
The intermittent interactions between our two shabbily-dressed protagonists were tense and awkward. Laura Alvarez, the Labour leader’s wife, was more relaxed, and would’ve been keen to talk openly had Jeremy (and I’m making assumptions here) not warned her about the parasitic traits of journalists – the source of approximately 73% of all the world’s evil, according to Corbyn. If Ben Ferguson was a fly, he was more alike one of those flies that you shoo out of a window, only to find that it has somehow re-entered shortly after without welcome.
Consequently, this half-an-hour film was punctured by just a few (three, to be precise) interesting moments when Corbyn or a member of his team dropped their guard. On each occasion though, the overarching theme was as obvious as Corbyn’s withering camera glare: members of the media – even the progressive metropolitan intellectuals typing away from their beanbags behind Kings Cross – are not on our side.
In fact, judging by the film, Corbyn and his staff reserve their most colourful abuse for lefty journos who they believe should know better. For example, wedged in the back of the leader’s Ford motorcade, VICE captured a phone conversation between Corbyn and his director of strategy and communications, Seumas Milne. Jeremy was particularly animated about an article by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, which accused Labour of having an anti-Semitism problem. “Utterly disgusting, subliminal nastiness,” was Corbyn’s reaction.
Rather than finding common ground with left-wing commentators, it seems as though Corbyn would derive greater pleasure from disassembling Freedland’s laptop with his bare hands. And, as for the BBC, the veteran socialist reserves almost equal disdain. “There is not one story, on any election, anywhere in the UK, that the BBC will not spin into a problem for me. It’s obsessive beyond belief,” he said, questioning why the Beeb failed to appreciate the self-evident glory of his party losing 11 council seats this May.
Yet, apart from better understanding his Trump-esque dislike of the media, we learnt very little about the Labour leader from this VICE documentary. The only other moderately noteworthy insight was Corbyn’s indifference towards his own job. Indeed, when quizzed about his personal motivations for contesting the party leadership, the veteran socialist essentially said he was the victim of peer pressure. “Left comrades in Parliament decided we had to put someone forward and they all pointed at me.” And when an aide hinted in a pre-PMQs warm-up that Corbyn could become Prime Minister, it looked as though he wanted someone to hum a soft rendition of the Red Flag and assuage his unabashed terror.
Corbyn did not benefit from this film, mainly due to his own attitude towards it. Granted, it showed Corbyn as a caring MP with a lot of time for his constituents and selfie-crazed groupies. I even thought his general timidity and his scepticism of power was strangely endearing. But, Jeremy’s obnoxious and obdurately patronising attitude towards the press undermined this warm image. When he spoke curtly to Ferguson, he showed a dislikeable characteristic to all those watching. And though Corbyn believes that the personality of a politician shouldn’t matter, it will matter to all those visiting the polls on election day. Just ask Ed Miliband.
The media delivers Labour’s message to the public. It is all well and good having a private chat with your constituents, but the vast majority of voters can't travel to Islington for a hot-cross bun. You may think that journalists are fiendish, blood-sucking leeches; it’s just tough luck. You’ve got to negotiate their questions, and in many cases their prejudices, to present a persuasive argument to the nation.
Corbyn has embarked on a one-man mission to confront the scourge of Britain’s relatively tolerant liberal media. He's submerged in a petty feud with left-wing commentators, blissfully ignorant of the fact that every swipe injures his relationship with readers and viewers watching the hostilities unfold. The Labour leader gave little away during VICE’s fly-on-the-wall documentary. And, as a result, he gave us more to dislike.
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