Thursday, 15 October 2015

GUEST POST Calling out Laura Kuenssberg by William Bolton

This may seem like a trivial thing, but it exposes the language and the mindset of an establishment – a BBC that stubbornly refuses to accept that Labour party members and supporters are allowed to have their own views, and that they are allowed to vote and decide who should be the leader of the Labour Party.  

On Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg unilaterally decided that the leader of the Labour party, elected with an astonishing 60% of the vote, could not be described as mainstream Labour, whilst anonymous Blairite MPs, who mustered less than 5% of the vote for their candidate at the election, could and should be described by her as “mainstream Labour”. 

Background: there’s a very annoying recent tradition on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that literally the second after any leading politician has stopped speaking on the top-rated 8.10am interview slot with John Humphries, the supposedly “neutral” political editor is interviewed by the same Humphries to interpret for our benefit what the politician we have been listening to actually meant.  

On Tuesday, Kuenssberg was providing instant reaction to an interview with Diane Abbott, shadow international development secretary, about the Labour leadership’s U-turn on George Osborne’s budget surplus legislation. Kuenssberg clearly decided it was legitimate to portray Diane Abbott as not representative of the ‘mainstream’ Labour party, but that unidentified Blairite MPs supposedly in fury about the U-turn were.  Here she is on the Radio 4 podcast at (skip to 2:19:10).

Yet the preferred candidates of these supposedly ‘mainstream Labour’ MPs mustered a derisory vote in the recent leadership election, and lost badly.  Many of them were then offered places in the shadow cabinet, which they turned down.  The Blairites in the parliamentary Labour party are not mainstream Labour;  they are right wing rebels – extremists, in a very real way - entitled to their views, but not entitled to be called ‘mainstream Labour’ by the BBC.

Let’s be charitable and assume it is possible that Kuenssberg can’t see how biased her language is.  Her bias is a purely a result of her failing to get out more – failing to talk to enough people outside the Westminster bubble, and so she has simply has no idea where the ‘mainstream’ is, and what it thinks. 

A less attractive scenario is that Kuenssberg is in fact a more zealous guardian of the Overton window than the political editor she replaced, creepy former President of the Oxford University Conservative Association Nick Robinson.  

The jury is out.  Either way Laura Kuenssberg needs to raise her game quickly, and do her important job better.  She must consider how she can use her role to serve the public - to spread rather than suppress understanding of what is going on.  

1 comment:

  1. You do wonder also if it's the threats to the license fee informing editorial policy across the BBC. eg note too John Ware's Panorama piece on Corbyn just before the leadership election. It is interesting though how far to the right- at least amongst the 'chattering classes' as they used to be called - the Overton window's shifted (as you allude Tom London, ) - but perhaps not altogether surprising: after all it's getting on for forty years since we had a government that, even in social democratic terms, was vaguely 'left wing'. When so many (BBC) journalists and editors have now experienced nothing other than neo-liberal governments they would need an unusually good political and economic education and quite a degree of robust independence to buck the consensus of (almost all of) their peers. Not that that's any excuse: you would hope that that's just what they would have!