During the 2017 General Election I happened to be driving through Hastings, a town I know well and lived in for a few years. I was surprised to see a large group of Labour canvassers out in a fairly Tory part of the town. Hastings has gone Labour in the past but it was far from being an obvious target. I concluded that the folk I saw were enthusiastic but perhaps a little too optimistic. After all the media was assuring us that far from picking up places like Hastings Labour was on course to lose out badly. In fact one union leader set the bar pretty low by saying that if Labour only lost 20 seats it would be an acceptable result.I’d love to be able to report that at that moment I realised that something was up and the newspaper narrative was wrong. Sadly I went along with the consensus and assumed that what I had seen with my own eyes was an aberation.
While the campaign was going a journalist for the BBC was following the fortunes of a set o Labour MPs. It took quite a few months to see the light of day. I dare say that this was because it must have taken one heck of a lot of editing. The story that the documentary he was preparing to make must have seemed a pretty straight forward one when he started the project. The hard left leader Jeremy Corbyn was alienating voters and leading the party to disaster. Footage of a hapless Labour MP trying to give leaflets out to uninterested commuters at a train station would have fitted the story very well. Boy did she look lonely.
Likewise encounters with voters expressing their scorn for Corbyn were much in evidence as the early part of the documentary unfolded. There was quite a bit of this stuff – my guess is they probably had a lot more.
But as we all now know, the campaign was not going as expected. The Labour leader might not have had unversal appeal, but he certainly had plenty of fans who flocked to his rallies. This seemed to be something that the programme maker noticed only with hindsight. It was illustrated mainly with news broadcast material.
Like me, the journalist seemed to have been completely blindsided by the effectiveness of Labour’s campaign. The three MPs, including arch Blairite and key Corbyn critic Stephen Kinnock, were filmed on the night of the count.
To everyone’s complete astonishment the results were pretty good for Labour. One of the big stories on the night was Hastings. The Home Secretary hung on by the skin of her teeth, but it took a recount and her seat is now one of the most marginal. My apologies to the folks that I saw out on the doorstep, I should’ve been much less patronising.
Lucy Powell, who ran Ed Miliband’s election campaign, was nonplussed. She couldn’t quite grasp that since Theresa May had lost her overall majority she had also necessarily lost seats. Stephen Kinnock’s face was a picture. He had clearly been expecting, and quite likely hoping, for much worse news. He may even have had the idea that he might follow his father as Labour leader in the fallout from another decisive defeat.
The most telling part of the documentary was the footage of the Labour Party activists. There was very little of it, and most of it came from very late on in the campaign. The film of Momentum was all from after the event. I wonder if the folk I saw out in the suburbs of Hastings were part of Momentum or if they were just enthusiastic Labour members?
All in all it was quite a corrective to the idea that the media are informing us about what is going on. They are simply clueless, and probably even less well informed than most about politics.