by Samuel Dale
Labour MP Angela Raynor is interesting. She is shadow pensions minister but despite a time of huge upheaval in both public and private pensions provision, she rarely talks publicly about her patch.
Instead, the former union rep focuses her ire on a vast array of issues beyond her brief such as the steel crisis or – the favourite of most Corbynite Labour MPs today – criticizing the press.
Last Wednesday, prime minister David Cameron admitted he had more than $30,000 held in an offshore trust that he withdrew in January 2010. It was a stunning admission after days of evading questions over the Panama Papers.
At 10pm on Wednesday, Raynor tweeted: “I bet the right-wing press will hardly cover Cameron confession, front page will be a silly non-story on an obscure topic #curseofcameron”
By 11pm, the front pages of all major newspapers had been published and the story was splashed on the Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Independent, Mirror, Daily Express and Metro. It also made the second story on the front page of the Sun.
Obviously she was completely wrong. But more importantly, it is typical in the party today. Even when Labour is getting good coverage, it is blinded by its hatred of the press.
On Friday morning, a reporter from LBC door-stepped Jeremy Corbyn to ask what he thought about the criticism around Cameron’s offshore holdings.
Instead of taking the simple option of providing a robust and statesmanlike criticism of the prime minister that would have appeared on national radio, he was furious.
He physically shoved the reporter’s tape recorder away and expressed his anger at being asked questions.
Another example. Over the weekend, shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called for political journalists to publish their tax returns as well as politicians.
Whatever the merits of this idea, why on earth would you focus your fire on the very people who have exposed Cameron’s evasions over his finances?
The government is on the run and Labour blames the press, even when it is objectively being helpful for once.
Last week, Labour Uncut revealed that former Brownite spin doctor Damian McBride, who is adviser to shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry, is back at the heart of the party advising Cobryn.
In January, McBride was interviewed by the Media Focus podcast where he lamented how Corbyn and his team had slipped into a bad place on media relations.
Specifically McBride warned about the dangers of politicians believing they can ignore the press and use other mediums to promote their message.
He said his former boss Brown got into a dark place by the end of his prime ministership where he would refuse to talk to certain publications because of unfavorable coverage.
McBride pointed out that Ed Miliband had similar problems by giving all their exclusive positive news to friendly newspapers such as the Guardian and Mirror, preaching to their own supporters.
And the spin doctor believes Corbyn had slipped into that bad place in record time by ignoring huge swathes of the British press.
There are more than enough Labour MPs hostile to Corbyn that can feed an infinite number of negative stories to national newspapers. That is not going to change anytime soon.
McBride is entirely correct. It is time for the Labour leadership to stop sulking and try to improve its media relations.
I don’t care if Jeremy Corbyn is upset about reporters on his doorstep or bad front pages.
So what? That is not going to help get Labour’s message to the millions of voters it needs to covert to its cause. He needs a strategy to change it beyond being grumpy.
It is utterly bizarre that Corbyn wants to talk to Hamas, Hezbollah and other despicable groups in the name of diplomacy but won’t talk to the Sun?
What does he have to lose? How much worse could the Sun coverage of Corbyn be if he gave them an interview? Things can only get better, to coin a phrase.
By far the most important way of connecting with British people is through radio, television and newspapers – the mass media.
Social media is useless at spreading your message to new voters. Individuals self-select material to a much greater degree than when consuming traditional mass media.
Most people follow who they like and what they agree with. It feels good for parties to get mass approval from supporters but it’s an ineffective media strategy.
There is no way around it. You have to engage with a hostile press and stop engaging in a pathetic grievance culture.
Labour today – and it began under Miliband – indulges in the same grievance politics that drive Ukip and the SNP. People who wish the world was different and deal in fantasy and easy solutions rather than the hard reality before them.
It leads to junior shadow ministers moaning about phantom pro-Tory press coverage and the Labour leader missing an open goal attack on the government.
Anger clouds judgment and the party needs cooler, more rational and strategic thinking at the helm than these tantrums. Maybe McBride can help.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist