One of the favourite tenets of Jeremy Corbyn supporters is that their movement is persecuted by the ‘mainstream media’ and that if only there were a fair, left-wing-friendly press in this country, then the public would be flocking to JC’s hugely popular policies. This debate has trudged its way through many acres of print already, but the insight into how Corbyn’s own team dealt with the media from former Labour spinner Matt Zarb-Cousin in an interview this week is very interesting indeed.
Zarb-Cousin was, like his former colleague Kevin Slocombe, respected by many lobby journalists as someone who dealt with their queries as efficiently as possible. This is never a given for spinners – there are advisers in all parties who are notorious for not answering their phones or never bothering to do the rounds of the desks in the rabbit warren of offices in Westminster where parliamentary and political journalists work. And though he tells the interviewer in this piece that ‘a lot of them really couldn’t be bothered to engage with what we were trying to put forward’, it was while he worked for the Corbyn team that it managed to score strong coverage of a policy announcement on Labour’s stance on the single market.
Of course, the problem for Zarb-Cousin and his colleagues is that no matter how many messages from journalists you return and no matter how detailed your briefings ahead of announcements are, they’re no good if your leader then spends the day following that press coverage dithering over whether he actually meant what was briefed, as Corbyn did following that strong coverage of Labour’s new policy on single market membership and freedom of movement.
Here lies one of the central problems for the Corbyn press team – and one that Zarb-Cousin probably arrived too late to have a decent go at fixing.