At the centre of the action: thoughts on covering the general election

Journalists can have two results to the news of an election. For most of us (excluding those in Scotland) the news of a third vote in the space of three years can stir up fatigue as a voter. However, it’s the reporter within us that gets excited, knowing that UK politics is about to change once more, and we’re at the heart of the action.

My set-up for the evening, as I reported on the count in Mid Bedfordshire.

Annoyingly, with the EU referendum taking place on the week of Glastonbury, I was unable to cover it. So, naturally, when the surprise general election was announced, I was quick to ask the local media if I could help out.

This led to me working with the Broadcast Journalism Council and Radio LaB in Bedfordshire on their programme, The Vote. I was sent off to the Mid Bedfordshire count – an ultra-safe seat for the Conservatives and their candidate Nadine Dorries.

The night started with me heading into the offices of Central Bedfordshire Council, worried that a mere student reporter would be turned away by the security guard or the receptionist. Thankfully, I was quickly handed my visitors’ pass and escorted to the press room.

There’s always a sense of community that comes with hanging out with other reporters in a press room. A feeling of mutual stress (in that we are all rushing to meet deadlines) and excitement fills the air as I get settled down – laptop powered up, shorthand notebook open and mobile phone fully charged.

It was 20 minutes later that I had my first ‘two-way’ (a radio term for having a back-and-forth discussion between a reporter and presenter). I painted the scene of the constituency and gave details of some of the candidates, before it was back to work.

It wasn’t long before the Liberal Democrat candidate came in to say hello, and I had my first interview of the night. Due to the rules in place around the count, reporters weren’t able to go into the marquee where staff were counting the votes, and so a member of staff had to go in and track down candidates on our behalf.

Once the first interview was out of the way, then things started to pick up. I had to edit the recording to get a solid 30-second clip, whilst also grabbing a quick snack (a sweet chicken sandwich which sadly, wasn’t too pleasant), composing tweets for Twitter and doing the occasional two-way. Much like in a normal newsroom scenario, work was starting to pile up, and the night started to pick up pace.

The Labour candidate was next to come into the press room for interviews, and it was whilst transcribing the recording that the news came through: the result was due to be announced shortly.

Plenty of Skype calls and phone calls were made to the studio as I sprinted into the marquee. A particular highlight at this point of the night was the fact that I posted news of the result ahead of the BBC – get in!

After that, I was able to speak to two more candidates and do a final two-way before packing up for the night. On the whole, regardless of the party allegiance, everyone was up for a chat – even when a serious election was taking place.

I was in a position which was new to me. My Friday Article posts on this blog are pretty reactive to political events, and save for my work experience at the press office of the Department for Work and Pensions, everything else has seen me respond to politics, as opposed to experiencing it first hand.

Being at the centre of politics during a general election is intense, fast-paced and exciting. Given the current state of affairs and the possibility of a second election, I can’t wait to return to heart of the action again in the near future.

If you fancy a look at what I got up to on the night, you can see my tweets on my Twitter profile, and listen to interviews with some of the candidates on my Facebook page.

We’ve been here before, but now a stronger Labour can hold the Tories to account | The Friday Article

It should have happened in the first instance. Ever since the result of the EU referendum was announced, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn could have made gains off the back of a vote against the political establishment. A crumbling Conservative Party, defeated by its own arrogance over the remain vote, could have been held to account for its mistakes. Now, in a moment of pure déjà vu, the Tories have returned to that very same state – except this time, the Labour Party will be there to hold them to account.

Photo: Andy Miah/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

Blairism has well and truly died – in its place, an appetite for socialism clearly displayed amongst the youth vote and the fact it simply wasn’t a landslide for the Conservatives. Now, Theresa May and the Democratic Unionist Party (or May’s successor) are trapped in a political stalemate: a minority government (even if it is with the appalling DUP) is not strong enough to deal with the mammoth task of Brexit. “There’ll be a second election soon,” predicted the former Labour MP on ITV News last night.

It could very well happen, and it’s essential that Corbyn uses this interim period to continue to build local support for Labour.  The Conservative majority diminished this time around, and could fall by even lower numbers should the state of play with the Con-DUP pact be so catastrophic. Much like how Labour MPs were subtly preparing for (and some, fearing) a snap election shortly after Brexit, Corbyn’s team and Labour members must continue campaigning and putting pressure on the Tories as though another election is imminent.

Now, there’s nothing in Labour’s way – there’s no coup or a sense of identity crisis which could throw Jeremy’s leadership into question. The party is now united, redefined, and is pushing out an anti-establishment sentiment which has been brewing for almost a year, and has now returned to the surface.

We’ve seen passion and engagement present amongst Labour voters. It’s important now, should there be a second vote, that election fatigue does not allow our young people to fall back into disenfranchisement – nor should a divisive Conservative and DUP partnership.

Labour must continue putting out its message in Parliament, and local communities need to do the same. A new wave of voters are engaged, and that’s not going away easily.

The fight is on.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

#Traingate: Corbyn may finally have a winning media strategy | The Friday Article

Jeremy Corbyn was on a train talking about how ‘ram-packed’ it was. What happened next is up for debate, but ‘#traingate’ was soon a trending topic on social media. However, in amongst the fact-checking were talks about the re-nationalisation of our railways. Even if this one train Corbyn was on isn’t the best example of overcrowded carriages, then we all have our own experiences of it. The controversy worked, as talks about the public ownership of rail services manifest themselves in society.

After the controversy with Virgin Trains and #traingate, Labour may have a new media strategy. Photo: JamesZ_Flickr on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.
After the controversy with Virgin Trains and #traingate, Labour may have a new media strategy. Photo: JamesZ_Flickr on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

After all, Brexit, the fall of BHS and the crisis with Southern Rail have all exposed the elite and challenged the case for privatisation. The topic of conversation has turned to anti-establishment sentiment and the desire for public ownership. We have Jeremy Corbyn – the politician who represents these views on a political level – being challenged by Virgin Trains over ‘traingate’ and being attacked by the right-wing media at every opportunity. It’s understandable that some people believe Branson’s rail company argued against Corbyn’s statements because they have an interest in private ownership of rail services. Meanwhile, the right-wing press create this narrative of an unelectable left-wing Labour leader because his election would mean their voices being silenced. Corbyn poses an existential threat to both the right-wing media and Virgin Trains, so of course they will argue back when they can.

The left-wing Guardian columnist Owen Jones writes in a post on Medium about the ‘questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’, with one of the main questions revolving around a “clear media strategy”. As a new Labour supporter, I’ve always steered clear from writing a response to this. However, whilst the true events of ‘traingate’ remain unknown, underneath the controversy lies the truth that we’ve all been on an overcrowded train. That’s the winning strategy for Labour.

As the Corbyn vs. Virgin Trains debate dies down, Jeremy’s team have said that ‘traingate’ has helped the Labour leadership candidate with his calls for public ownership of the railway network. It’s because there was a relatable truth about rail services at the heart of the video Corbyn made on that train. After that, Virgin Trains and the media quickly jumped at the opportunity to dispute his tale of events. In the end, it was unnecessary and pointless. Even if Virgin Trains’ account is correct, it does nothing to justify the many train journeys other people have had to take where not enough seats are available. The panicked response to Corbyn’s call for public ownership only publicised Jeremy’s policies further. It’s a risky tactic, but could these pedantic scandals and controversies be the way for Corbyn to thrust his politics into the media spotlight?

Jones also talks about Sadiq Khan conquering the media after his election as London mayor, and how “he was remorselessly portrayed as the puppet of extremists by his opponent and his ally — the capital’s only mass newspaper, as well as several national newspapers. He managed to counteract it, and won.” Yet, the original media attacks on Sadiq Khan and the current media attention surrounding Corbyn aren’t completely identical – of course – and so it would be hard to use this as a case study or template for Jeremy’s new media strategy.

That being said, Londoners were sick of the personal attacks made at Sadiq Khan, so could this hatred of ad hominem remarks also benefit Jeremy Corbyn? If anything, his media strategy should be continuing to promote relatable policies, and then watching the right-wing media squirm. It will be repetitive, but the retaliation from right-wing bodies will only prove that what Corbyn is saying is true, and that will be their big mistake.

Liam

Why I stand with Jeremy Corbyn | The Friday Article

The enigma that is the Labour Party and its leadership debate is something I’ve always avoided and steered clear from writing about. Whilst I have a sense of the factors which come together to fuel this frustration in the left-wing party, I’m not a member of the Labour Party, nor do I have that inside knowledge about how the party operates. With that in mind, I feel as though I am an observer, and since I won’t be voting in the leadership election, I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the two candidates. However, that being said, I do have a stance and that is what I’ve decided to talk about today. I stand with Corbyn, and I think he should remain as leader of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn's honesty and integrity are admirable qualities in a heavily hostile political scene. Photo: Chris Beckett on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.
Jeremy Corbyn’s honesty and integrity are admirable qualities in a heavily hostile political scene. Photo: Chris Beckett on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

For a long time, I was torn between the two parties. Labour was the party of inequality, but were forced to borrow and overspend. The Tories had strong economic principles, but I found their policies on disability to be absolutely appalling. Uncertain about Ed Miliband being a potential leader, I voted Conservative last year. However, I soon realised my mistake. Books by Owen Jones and my general frustration with the government’s running of things brought out my left-wing stance.

It wasn’t long before I started to see it: the rise of left-wing attitudes and an anti-establishment rhetoric. Unions burst back to life when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP launched his new plans for junior doctors, the vote for Brexit was in response to big corporations influencing democracy and the planned changes to Personal Independence Payments angered most of the general public.

If it isn’t because Tory policies have affected you in some way, then most people in society desire an honest politician with integrity. Prime Minister’s Questions has descended into theatre, with the Conservatives often resorting to ad hominem attacks rather than answering the questions from the opposition. So, when Jeremy Corbyn suggested a new style of PMQs, he certainly got my respect, and probably appealed to a lot of people annoyed with the personal put-downs which dominate today’s politics.

The treatment of Jeremy Corbyn by the media and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) shows so much about the state of both. The PLP still has Blairism lingering around, and of course, with right-wing millionaires controlling the newspapers, they’ll find any opportunity to tear apart a man with radical socialist principles. In both cases, Jeremy Corbyn poses an almost existential threat to them – be it the silencing of Blairite views under his leadership, or taxes on the rich as part of a redistribution of wealth.

One of the words which the Conservatives and the media both continued to use was ‘unelectable’. They made that comment at a time when left-wing politics didn’t appeal to the majority, and Labour still had aspects of its identity to address. But, as I’ve said, a socialist leader has emerged at a time where anti-establishment rhetoric is rising. Why couldn’t he be Prime Minister?

The argument to this would be to say that Corbyn is a respectable politician and a good man, but he is not a good leader. There are certain things which have happened under Corbyn’s leadership which is respectable, such as the boost in membership figures. However, for this point, I thought I would turn to fellow candidate, Owen Smith.

In all honesty, my knowledge of ‘famous’ Labour politicians is quite limited, and I think I wouldn’t be alone when I say that I hadn’t heard of Smith until this debate. Whilst his skills as leader may be better, I can only see him as being a continuation of a Labour party which is out of touch with working class people. It’ll be more of the same, in my opinion. People want change, and that’s in terms of both politics and the direction which the party is taking. Would Labour members rather have a leader which shifts the political debate, or continues the status quo of the party?

If anything, this debate has forced Corbyn to redefine his policies. Granted, his stance against Tory austerity is what most people know him for, but Labour supporters need the specifics. Now, as he talks about a redistribution of wealth, the public ownership of railways and more done for our National Health Service, I think Jeremy Corbyn is the closest personal representation of the anti-establishment and equalist politics which are apparent in today’s society.

Liam

Review: ‘Chavs: The demonization of the working class’ by Owen Jones

Politics is one giant, complex beast which is hard to pin down and comprehend – let alone write a book about. An article focussing on one aspect of UK politics could soon become outdated within days. However, Owen Jones’ books always manage to paint a complete and honest picture of key political issues which are still relevant five years after the book was originally published in 2011.

At the heart of Jones’ publications is a political commentary which doesn’t surprise us. Most of the points that the Guardian columnist makes are things we hear all the time and the evidence is already out there. But, what is impressive is how all of these points connect to form a cohesive summary of the state our politics is in.

In Chavs, Owen Jones explores the otherness and demonisation which is placed on Britain’s working class, and their struggle over the years. Throughout the book, topics such as the housing crisis, Thatcherism and the media portrayals are discussed in a way which is so seamless and connected that it forms a very persuasive argument and a fitting call for action.

Admittedly, I didn’t find this book as engaging as The Establishment, but that is not to say that I do not care about the issues mentioned in the book. Much like Jones’ second book, there are moments of enlightenment, shock and anger as government policies are explained by Owen in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.

However, once again, I must talk about how relevant the book is in our current political climate. In particular, the final chapters rung true with the dilemma that the Labour Party faces at the moment. As the party is accused of being out of touch with the working class, we’re once again seeing a rise in far-right politics (in the book, it was the BNP and now it’s UKIP). Finally, in the conclusion, I noticed similar points made in The Establishment which encapsulates the present argument of the left. Both Chavs and The Establishment are different in the issues they cover, but they are united in their calls for left-wing changes.

On the whole, Chavs is a book which explores an otherness which is yet to be properly exposed and is still going unnoticed. As Labour continues to undergo an identity crisis, now may just be the time that we see a new type of class politics that Owen Jones calls for.

Have you read Chavs? Or have you read The Establishment? What are your thoughts on the demonisation of the working class? Comment below!

Liam

Review: ‘The Establishment’ by Owen Jones

Our vote to leave the European Union was just the latest political event to stir up anti-establishment rhetoric in the UK. There is no doubt that some of the 52 per cent wanted to leave the EU to break free from a union which was becoming increasingly dictated by big businesses. Now, as this monumental vote shakes up UK politics and this country’s Establishment, it’s time we found out more about the mysterious 1% at the top of our society – and Owen Jones’ The Establishment is the perfect book which unmasks the elite.


With each chapter, Jones cleverly dissects each aspect of the Establishment which makes the bigger picture of our country’s elite. From the role of outriders, to the police, to the media, no stone is left unturned as the Guardian columnist uses in-depth analysis and recent current affairs to make his point.

Whilst I struggled to understand points made about economics and accountants, it was the chapters about the press and police which really interested me. It was clear that Owen’s experience in journalism influenced his piece on the media, and once again, recent news stories really did make the section on the police’s role in the Establishment an interesting read.

Although the book does not say who is a part of the elite, The Establishment does highlight the Conservative Party’s close ties to the views of the 1% and presents a clear socialist argument. As someone who’s leaned towards the left over the past few months, this is the book which finally won me over.

Aside from the book being insightful, persuasive and eye-opening, Owen Jones’ novel is phenomenal in the sense that it comes full circle at the end. At the start, it’s about how, at times where the Establishment is exposed, we don’t take action. Yet, Owen ends the novel with clear instructions as to how we can pay attention to these exact moments.

One month after Brexit, a small minority who want to be shielded from public scrutiny have been shoved into the spotlight. Now is the time to read this book, and to act.

What do you think of Owen Jones? Do you watch his videos on YouTube? Have you read The Establishment? Comment below!

Liam