Even if you do add in Russell Brand, it doesn't necessarily make your march newsworthy. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, the media didn’t ignore your anti-austerity march – it just wasn’t that interesting

There’s no organised “media blackout” on reporting protest marches. More often than not, they just aren’t that much of a story.

Another protest march, another set of howls that there has been a “media blackout” to prevent the reporting of marches. It’s become an article of faith among the hard left in the UK that the BBC in particular has been ordered not to cover protest marches.

First off, as usual with these events, photos of legions of marchers circulate, along with tweets along the lines of “HOW IS THIS LEGION OF REVOLUTIONARIES NOT NEWS, BBC?!? THERE ARE MILLIONS OF US! #Mediablackout”

These fall into two broad categories – firstly, and most commonly, the shot of a march from years ago which had bigger numbers, like this one, which was tweeted hundreds of times alongside grumpy comments. That’s actually from a march in 2011; you can tell instantly it wasn’t from Saturday, because the trees have no leaves, but Saturday’s march was held on midsummer’s day. Just as a clue, retweeting that sort of fake image hurts rather than helps your claims of relevance.

The second is the shot taken from among the crowd – which really is from the right march, but shows the crowd without actually showing the scale. The one I linked to is from Trafalgar Square; at first glance it looks like a big march, but there’s probably 80 people crammed into that shot. It’s not intentional fakery, but it’s naive to think the fact you are surrounded by people means that the march is newsworthy.

Secondly, as usual with these events – it’s not true that there was no coverage. There was coverage; on both BBC national and local radio, and on the BBC News Channel in the evening news, from 8pm onwards. It’s the British “Broadcasting” corporation – the clue is in the name. The inability to find something on the BBC news website does not mean there is a “media conspiracy”.

These demos, and the complaints of a blackout happen all the time – take the Manchester anti-cuts march. It’s an article of faith among the left that this was the subject of a “media blackout” – so much so that Andy Burnham wrote to Ofcom to complain the coverage was “cursory”. Yet here is a supercut of all the BBC coverage of the day – including the BBC political editor talking about the protestor’s specific demands. On the day, there were two articles on the march on the front page of the BBC website – but still, the myth of the “media blackout” persists.

The wackier end of these conspiracy media blackout theories include the idea that “armed police were deployed to stop us“ – usually posted by people unaware that the police around parliament habitually carry guns, so that’s not unusual. There’s also the usual cry that “Russia Today gave it loads of airtime”. It just goes to demonstrate that the more people tell you “the mainstream media are lying to us”, the more they are probably lying to you.

If you buy into this narrative – as supported by the Morning Star – then all that stops the revolution from happening is the fact people just don’t know about what the Tories are doing. If only the BBC would run an article with the full text of Russell Brand’s speech on the front page of its website, then within 24 hours the country would be at a standstill, with barricades in the street, and within a week, Owen Jones would be prime minister, passing the Socialist Utopia (Creation Of) Bill.

That’s just not true, guys.

It’s not that the general public don’t know about assorted cuts – those are covered by the press on a daily basis. It’s not that the general public don’t disapprove of the cuts – there’s plenty of evidence of that, too. Yet Eoin Clarke still asked “Please give me 1 good reason why the BBC News Website has not covered this anti-Austerity march in London today?”

Here’s the reason – the government don’t need to order a media blackout because the sad truth is “Lefties march in moderate numbers, again, and then go home, again”, isn’t much of a story. That’s it. That’s why the BBC didn’t cover it.

It’s not new – demonstrations happens with those numbers three or four times a year in London alone, usually with the same people carrying the same banners. The metropolitan police tell me they don’t keep a log of how many, but that they “facilitate thousands of demonstrations in London every year”.

People marching – even if there are 50,000 of them – just isn’t a big story. Yes, it’s enough to win one parliamentary constituency, but it’s not a revolution. Sure, BBC editors are being selective in their coverage – but that’s an editor’s job.

It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. People need to wake up to the fact that marches, for all their symbolic value to the left, just aren’t that relevant or newsworthy anymore. Even if you do add in Russell Brand.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Show Hide image

Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.