Isabel Hardman

Labour complains about shadow minister’s resignation on BBC

Labour complains about shadow minister's resignation on BBC
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The Labour party has this evening complained about the BBC arranging for Stephen Doughty to announce his resignation on the Daily Politics. A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said:

'By the BBC's own account, BBC journalists and presenters proposed and secured the resignation of a shadow minister on air in the immediate run-up to Prime Minister's Questions, apparently to ensure maximum news and political impact. That was evidently done before any notice of resignation was sent to the Labour leader.

'Such orchestration of political controversy is an unacceptable breach of the BBC's role and statutory obligations

'Trust in the impartiality and independence of the BBC is essential. The BBC's role is to report the news impartially, rather than seek to influence events or promote a particular political narrative.'

This is an odd judgement for the party to make at the end of a week in which it has daily managed to distract from good things it has done, like its leader having a good session at PMQs in which he actually showed David Cameron up with some good questions. This complaint prolongs the story about a shadow minister resigning while also making the Labour party look as though it has never come across a news story before in its life. The statement actually says that the BBC acted 'apparently to ensure maximum news and political impact'. Well, that is the job of a news programme about politics.

Labour has actually ensured that this complaint, which it could have made privately, got maximum impact, by announcing it in a press release.

And there is nothing more tempting for journalists than a stand-off with a political party about the limits of their role. Labour going to war with the media means that the media will spend a lot of time talking about Labour and the media. Perhaps the media will talk too much about Labour and the media, but why would Labour give it the opportunity to do this when it might presumably also want to have a shot at opposing the Tories, rather than itself and journalists?

UPDATE, 7.38pm: Labour figures are already trying to distance themselves from this. Matthew Doyle, a former head of press and broadcasting for the party, has issued this statement:

'Since when has it been wrong for the BBC to break a story? Does Jeremy Corbyn really believe the BBC wouldn't have done exactly the same thing with an equivalent story from the Tories?

'Labour's problem is very simple: we didn't get enough people to vote for us at the last election. I'm not clear how spurious complaints to the BBC help tackle that. 

'I really hope we aren't going to start taking our strategic direction from the worst excesses of the SNP during the independence referendum. We all saw how that ended for them.'

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is author of Why We Get The Wrong Politicians.