Team Corbyn unmasked as Labour leader lets in Vice cameras

Written by David Singleton on 1 June 2016 in Diary
Diary

Watch: Vice News documentary features exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of PMQs preparations - and scathing assessments of top journalists.

Jeremy Corbyn has provided a tantalising glimpse of how his team prepares for Prime Minister’s Questions and other events in a new fly on the wall documentary.

The film by Vice News sensationally reveals that Corbyn’s communications director Seumas Milne believes there is a mole in the Labour leader’s inner circle who regularly leaks his attack lines at PMQs.

It also shows Milne being told by Corbyn to dial down a speech exploiting splits in the Conservative party.

And there is evidence that Corbyn and his team have some rather caustic opinions about certain leading political commentators…

 

 

 

 

The documentary for Vice News has been some weeks in preparation after it was signed off by Milne earlier this year. It is said to have been the subject of tense discussions in the leader’s inner circle, with some Corbynites fearing they could be ridiculed in the film and others apparently having asked not to feature.

The 30 minute long film does not show deputy leader Tom Watson or shadow chancellor John McDonnell. But senior Corbyn aides such as Milne, press chief Kevin Slocombe and parliamentary private secretary Steve Rotherham are all given prominent speaking parts.

Corbyn’s wife Laura Alvarez gives a rare interview in which she says her husband is "not very good at house work but he is a good politician".

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The leader’s team is seen preparing him for PMQs with a group of aides, including one who played the part of David Cameron.

Once the weekly clash is over, aides check their phones and there is a brief frisson of excitement because the New Statesman’s political editor George Eaton has declared on Twitter that it was Corbyn’s best PMQs yet.

But policy chief Andrew Fisher dampens the mood by stating: "George Eaton’s the worst judge of anything. But it was good."

After it is pointed out that Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh holds the same view, Fisher replies: "That’s good. I’m not going to knock it, I’m just saying I thought last week’s was better. But it was good."

Afterwards Milne is seen telling the presenter Ben Ferguson of his frustration that Corbyn’s questions were leaked to the media before PMQs.

He says: "It leaked from that meeting. It is very annoying because it only happens about a third of the time but it obviously gives them a little bit of extra time. Whenever there is a leak it gives them [the Tories] that advantage. It gives them the advantage on TV as well."

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In another part of of the film, Milne is told to dial down a speech he has written for Corbyn shortly after the Conservatives were hit by the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the cabinet.

Corbyn tells his communications supremo: "It’s not up to me to throw in other than a couple of lines about the government’s in a mess, so cut back a lot in the second part."

The Labour leader was subsequently accused of failing to capitalise on turmoil in the Conservative party.

 

 

 

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The film also introduces Corbyn's events supremo, Gavin Sibthorpe, who has been trying to smarten up the Labour leader’s appearance.

This role was largely performed by Labour MP Cat Smith when Corbyn was standing for the Labour leadership. But now Sibthorpe appears to have taken on the challenge.

At one point, the aide tells of his struggle to get Corbyn to dress smarter: "I have tried – it is hard. It’s hard. I did get him into white tails and he looked smart on remembrance Sunday – that’s where I peaked really."

Later in the programme, Sibthorpe speculates about whether Corbyn’s opponents will succeed in ousting him. He says: “If you want to get rid of him the best thing to do would be to leave and let Jeremy fail on his own – I don’t think he will."

 

 

 

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Elsewhere, the film lays bare Corbyn's anger at the media's coverage of the Labour party since he became leader.

He singles out Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, who had written a piece about the spate of Labour members being suspended after anti-Semitic remarks came to light. The Labour leader says Freedland "seems kind of obsessed with me".

Widening his attack on the commentariat, Corbyn also claims: "The one thing I’ve learnt over the past six months or so is how shallow, facile and ill-informed many of the supposedly well-informed major commentators are in our media. They shape a debate that is baseless and narrow."

Later on, Corbyn also hits out at the BBC for promoting the narrative that Labour needed to do better in May’s local elections – when it lost fewer than 20 council seats – to show it was on track to win the next general election.

"There is not one story on any election anywhere in the UK that the BBC will not spin into a problem for me," he says. "They are obsessed with trying to damage the leadership of the Labour party and unfortunately there are people in the Labour party who play into that."

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The Labour leader also uses the film to hit back at those MPs who predicted he would crash and burn in the recent local elections.

“I was being told by Members of Parliament here a week ago that we were going to lose at least 300 seats and that it was all my fault. In fact we had a loss of 29 seats and we hung on. So I’m very happy.

And he suggests that Labour MPs are learning to love him. While also admitting - with a wry smile - that some of his colleagues still need to be convinced.

“I did not receive support from large numbers of the Parliamentary Labour Party. However I have to say, the whole atmosphere within the PLP – despite what the media report – has completely changed.

"There are some who are harder fish to catch."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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