Some more thoughts on the Stephen Doughty resignation

I put a post up yesterday about the BBC’s role in the resignation of Labour front-bencher Stephen Doughty. It’s the first instance of something I’ve written ‘going viral’. The post was based on another blog post written by someone who works on the Daily Politics show, which was then quickly removed from the BBC website. When I read it, I thought it was an interesting story worth highlighting. I had my own initial thoughts about how I felt about it, but was interested in finding out what other people thought. Now I’ve had a bit more time to think about it and seen other people’s reactions, I thought I’d write this as a kind of update to the original post.

It’s not too much of an over-reaction to say that opinion was split into two groups, on one side journalists, and people who used to be more influential in the Labour Party who thought it was barely worth mentioning and just an example of good journalism, and everyone else on the other side quite angry about the tactics used. As social media leans heavily towards Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, this is perhaps not surprising.

I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn myself, so disliked the idea of a journalist apparently colluding with one of his front-benchers to inflict maximum damage upon Corbyn. But did the BBC actually do anything wrong here? It was certainly a good scoop, and isn’t that a journalist’s job?

To answer this I am going to take the words of the Daily Politics team member at face value. This may not be fair if his blog post was taken down because it was not an accurate description of what happened. So I’m just writing on the assumption that it is accurate.

In the original blog post, the author wrote:

Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning.

So at 9am that morning, it seems Stephen Doughty had not made up his mind about resigning. He is not someone who anyone has heard of so he may have thought his resignation would not achieve what he wanted. The blog then goes on to say:

Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.

This suggests that there was some influencing going on to encourage Doughty not only to resign, but to do so on air. It did not take long though seemingly, which could suggest Doughty didn’t take much convincing. The next line is:

Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn’t a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact.

They were under no illusions about what they were doing then. In the event, the resignation announcement went out 5 minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions, which probably meant Jeremy Corbyn was unaware of it until David Cameron brought it up in the Commons Chamber. Some people wondered how David Cameron knew, but the answer to that is that he has a very savvy team and he is very good at crow-barring in breaking news. Someone passed him a note basically.

So that’s what seems to have happened. Did the BBC do anything wrong? I think there is a distinction between print and other broadcast media and the BBC here. If the Guardian or the Telegraph had encouraged Doughty to resign and give the exclusive to them, I wouldn’t particularly like it, but would accept they had got a good story and were doing what a journalist does. Because this happened on BBC TV though, it becomes more problematic.

With its duty to be impartial, and the full knowledge of the impact their actions could have, is it appropriate for a BBC political editor to act in this way? I think it comes fairly close to making the news rather than just breaking the news. Without Laura Kuenssberg’s intervention, would Doughty have resigned? He is not a household name, so if he’d given an exclusive to print media, or simply issued a press release, it almost certainly would not have received the coverage it subsequently did. I really don’t think the BBC should be getting involved in internal party machinations.

Those who didn’t see a problem with the reporting said it would only be an issue of impartiality if they would not run the story if it was a Tory Minister thinking of resigning. There doesn’t seem to be any precedent for this though, so it’s impossible to say if they would or not. They certainly don’t seem to have made much of Cameron’s decision to allow his Cabinet members to campaign freely to leave the EU, which is arguably a much bigger story than a minor Labour reshuffle. If they did ever allow a Tory government minister to resign on air in this manner, the reaction would be similar to the Twitter reaction to this, but the people complaining would be much higher up in terms of influence than those complaining about this.

The BBC released a brief statement in response to this story, saying:

Good enough?

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9 thoughts on “Some more thoughts on the Stephen Doughty resignation

  1. The smoking gun seems to be “was considering” – if that’s the case, Daily Politics did actually make the news.

    But if Doughty was already *intending* to resign, the problem doesn’t go away. In that case the story wasn’t a scoop – it wasn’t time-critical and would have become public knowledge in the course of the day. So what DP did was manage the news to give it more impact. All well and good, except that part of the impact it has was political: it significantly disfavoured one party (leader) and, given the imminence of PMQs, favoured another. The BBC shouldn’t touch something like that with a ten-foot pole – whichever parties were involved.

    I think the underlying problem here is the delegitimation of Corbyn. I don’t mean a continuing operation of delegitimation, but the immediate or even pre-emptive delegitimation of his leadership: many people in the PLP, and most of the ‘Westminster’ media pack, have never recognised him as leader. As such, I think a lot of them feel deep down that Corbyn-bashing isn’t a departure from impartiality – it’s not anti-*Labour*, after all, just helping Labour deal with this little problem they’ve got at the moment. Until that mentality is dispelled, there will be more of this.

    1. I think you are right, Phil. I have been told that around 200 people in Labour offices in London are going to go when their contracts are up in April. The reason given I have been told is that they don’t feel that they can work with Corbyn. But I also know that they have felt like this even before he became leader. So, it seems like the orientation toward what the Labour Party stands for, which many Labour workers hold and which is Blairite, was so fixated in them that they could not countenance significant deviation from that particular agenda. And many in the mainstream media seem to be behind them. Andrew Rawnsley is an example of this sort of attitude, for example, in his most recent column in the Observer.

  2. Hmm the bbc the tory mouthpiece they cant or wont give others a fair shake only tory views yet we has tax payers to their license fee when all said and done politicians dont pay has they claim it back yet get the most to say the bbc better watch out has its masters want ruppert or the like taking it over will they still like it being out of a job but we know that a mp was put up to run in that race but they forgot the peasants dont want greedie mps incharge anymore and the blairites lost out thuss jc does speak for us that they dont like jeff3

  3. Those who pay the piper call the tune. Inevitably if you have an organisation that depends for its money on the state, and the executive running the state doesn’t respect impartiality then the public broadcaster will end up being a mouthpiece for the state.

    Few people, for example, realise that the BBC gets its funding from HM Treasury. The other job it is tasked with doing is to collect the licence fee *which it then turns over to HM Treasury* – in other words an outsourced tax collector.

    The licence fee collected and the amount the BBC gets in funding have actually nothing to do with each other in any causal way. The BBC is very fond of linking them of course to maintain the hypothecation viewpoint. But HM Treasury has the final say as to how much the BBC gets – regardless of how much licence fee tax is collected.

  4. There’s also the question mark over whether the BBC would have done this if it had been a Conservative minister contemplating resignation. Given they’re so reluctant to confront the Tories with the most flagrant of facts for which, by any standard, they should be held to account, I can’t believe the corporation would embroider something to embarrass them either.

    It was also unfair that they once again gave a platform to one of Corbyn’s opponents without letting Corbyn know or offering him any right-of-reply.

    It was a very cheap move, and yes, the BBC definitely did something wrong.

  5. “I think the underlying problem here is the delegitimation of Corbyn. I don’t mean a continuing operation of delegitimation, but the immediate or even pre-emptive delegitimation of his leadership: many people in the PLP, and most of the ‘Westminster’ media pack, have never recognised him as leader. As such, I think a lot of them feel deep down that Corbyn-bashing isn’t a departure from impartiality – it’s not anti-*Labour*, after all, just helping Labour deal with this little problem they’ve got at the moment. Until that mentality is dispelled, there will be more of this.”

    Yes and what is also dangerous about this is the ability of parliament to modify the length of parliament. Why don’t the Tories propose increasing the length of parliament to 7 years and even further if Corbyn does not step down from his illegitimate post. After all since we all believe in “the British Constitution” (parliament is supreme, as Neil Wilson says) this would be a win-win situation as Labour regain legitimate leadership and our ‘representatives’ will get what they want by an overwhelming majority 😉

    After all, “the British constitution” allows for retroactive reduction in benefits and changes to student loans made in 2012 😉

    It is not as if the system is thoroughly corrupt!

    Has this attitude changed?

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/06/boris-johnson-guardian-readers-vote-tory-general-election-conservatives

    “We are a compassionate one-nation Conservative party that cares about everybody in our country and I am genuinely more anxious than I have been before about what a Labour party that has gone right to the left in conjunction with the Scottish nationalists will do. If you are a moderate, sensible, one-nation, middle-of-the-road Blairite Guardian reader, please, please come out and vote for us.”

    Of course despite the “mansion tax” Labour gained seats in London from young renters!

  6. Collusion and manipulation appears to have tipped over into fabrication in the case of the 2013 BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children http://bit.ly/1qA9qAA. Former UK ambassador Craig Murray has commented here http://bit.ly/ZvZ2iv

    This piece discusses some aspects of the matter http://bit.ly/1k7Q6KU. I recently handed this letter to Jeremy Corbyn http://bit.ly/1Ovp268

    RT produced this report in 2014 http://bit.ly/1uy3RVw, the fallout from which is discussed here http://bit.ly/1izeHHC (I don’t place the same importance on the editing of Dr Hallam’s “interview” that RT does).

    Some You Tube videos have also been made which provide background on the UK charity involved, Hand in Hand for Syria: http://bit.ly/1k7Q6KU http://bit.ly/1uy3RVw

  7. I have commented extensively on this on twitter (@hellenjc1954) and produced a timeline.. which I thought you might be interested in so I will copy it here. ( unfortunately the highlighted timings will not show in this format

    The Doughty resignation timeline

    Cached BBC blog entitled “Resignation! Making the news on the Daily Politics” , (note the title!) Published Thursday 07 January 2016, 15:17 now deleted states :-

    “Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning”

    “I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?”

    “The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea.”

    “Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.”

    So presumably before 10 a.m Laura knew, as did other BBC staff, that Doughty was going to resign. Doughty had almost 2 hours when he could have written to Jeremy Corbyn to tender his resignation but he did not.

    His resignation email to Jeremy Corbyn shows he sent it at 11.51.22

    At 11.55 Doughty was already in the Daily Politics studio along with shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy and others

    BBC Political editor Laura Kuenssberg talking about the Shadow cabinet reshuffle says that one has resigned and “and it has also led others to be considering walking out the door and one of them is Stephen Doughty” ( remember she knows he has already resigned)

    Andrew Neil asks him “ Are you considering your position, Mr Doughty?” ( remember he already knows the answer!)

    Doughty then announces his resignation at 11.56 – less than 5 mins after he sent email to JC

    Andrew Neil asks him ( watch the wink, a tic maybe !! ) “ so are you saying that we should not believe that we are being told lies”

    Watch Doughty’s body language before and as he replies. Did he know the question was coming? He fidgets and says smiling “it’s up to you what you think Andrew “ etc

    12.01 Over to Prime Ministers Questions 5 mins later David Cameron mentions that Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow foreign minister ( Doughty ) had resigned, some 10 mins after Doughty had announced it and just 15 mins after Doughty had sent Jeremy Corbyn his resignation email.

    The BBC didn’t report a resignation they engineered it’s timing for maximum political impact !

    I have sent a complaint to the BBC about this, along with hundreds of other people I imagine.
    It is not the BBC’s job

    Since I wrote this original timeline I have become aware that the BBC blog post was meant for internal consumption only which is very, very telling !
    The BBC should not be in the game of giving any side an advantage

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