“I am not a traditional party leader, I do things in a rather different way. Some people are slower at learning than others.”
Jeremy Corbyn: The Outsider. That’s the brand that has become associated with the Labour Party leader. The one who doesn’t join in the immature House of Commons name-calling. The one who doesn’t respond to the media hounding him in the street. The one who doesn’t wear a fancy new suit to work. The list goes on.
Since the left-wing veteran was elected leader of the part in September 2015, he’s seen members of his party disagree with his socialist agenda and copious attacks in the media seeking to undermine him. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the first real documentary about Corbyn’s leadership doesn’t come from a traditional news outlet, but from Vice News, which released its own online film this week.
Presented by journalist Ben Ferguson, the documentary benefits hugely from the unprecedented access given to the team – Ferguson is, it should be noted, a staunch Labour voter – not least because it was shot over a couple of months, including the period when Labour came under fire of accusations of anti-semitism.
“They are obsessed with trying to damage the leadership of the Labour Part,” says Corbyn of the BBC to Ferguson, although it’s not a new revelation for us to discover (neither is the discovery that his wife is very nice and supportive). Corbyn has made headlines, meanwhile, for his claims that Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland was also “kind of obsessed with me”.
We do get to see some of the work that goes into defending Corbyn from these obsessives: we watch them prepare for PM’s Question Time, rehearsing exchanges (“Who wants to be Prime Minister?”) and tweaking speeches, then see the team watch it on the telly, checking social media for reactions and wondering whether it’s been a success or not. The suggestion that someone is occasionally leaking these preparations adds to the intrigue. It’s fortunate timing that the PMQs we witness is the budget-related debate that saw Iain Duncan Smith resign, only for Corbyn not to mention it at all – but not that fortunate, because Vice is disappointingly blanked for the following days, with no footage whatsoever. When we do get to see Corbyn again, the his interview responses are concise, evasive and blunt; exactly the kind of political presentation that he has distanced himself from, and the kind of conventional coverage you would hope not to get from a more unconventional media outlet.
The resulting question, perhaps, is whether that “outsider” image is real, cultivated by the Labour Party, or imposed upon him by the attention-seeking media wanting a dramatic narrative. Vice doesn’t fill that gap with contributions from other people, which leaves their purportedly candid documentary feeling slightly lightweight – we certainly have footage of events where Jeremy is applauded and greeted as a hero by fans – but there are passing comments from the people around Jeremy that yield rare insights.
“The best thing to do would be wait and let Jeremy fail on his own,” suggests Corbyn’s Events Officer, Gavin Sibthorpe.
Jeremy, meanwhile, is so dry even in his humour that a quip about him autographing apples (in response to the bizarre cult of celebrity that has sprung up around him) falls flatter than a pancake attached to a spirit level. Maybe that unconventional, outsider image is genuine, after all. Clocking in at 30 minutes, Vice New’s online report makes for interesting viewing – but you wonder what it would have been like if there were just a bit more of it.
You can watch the documentary here: