Labour’s leadership election demonstrates media’s love of a summer saga

09 Oct 2019 2:03 am by Leela Bozonelis

The forthcoming leadership election for the Labour Party, following the election defeat in May 2015, is likely to be as much about the heart and soul of the party as it is about which of the four candidates succeeds.

The election began with a number of predictable names throwing their hat into the leadership ring.  Shadow Minister for Care, Liz Kendall was the first to declare; only a matter of 72 hours or so after the General Election took place. Andy Burnham stood for the position in 2010 and the Yvette Cooper, the wife of 2010 candidate Ed Balls, also declared early.

A standard leadership election morphs

The final candidate for the role was veteran MP Jeremy Corbyn.  Whilst it has been widely reported that Corbyn believed it was "his turn" to represent the left wing of the part, he actually commented: "This decision is in response to an overwhelming call by Labour Party members who want to see a broader range of candidates and a thorough debate about the future of the party. I am standing to give Labour Party members a voice in this debate".  This voice was almost extinguished before it was lit, as the MP for Islington North struggled to receive enough nominations to stand for the position, securing the relevant number of supporters just minutes before nominations close on 12th June.

However since that date the "token left wing candidate" has become the hot favourite to win the contest.  This is perhaps partly due to the other candidates being seen as part of the Old Guard of Labour, and partly due to public disillusion with "career politicians" but whatever the reason, the media has steadily built interest in the story of the potential Labour leader.

Corbyn announced he would be standing on 3rd June, yet received little or no media attention until he struggled to gain enough nominations towards the end of week 23 – even then his name was mentioned less than half the number of times of the other candidates.  Yet within two weeks references to him in the media were on a par with the other candidates.

Does the media love to back an underdog?

One explanation for this might be the 'plucky underdog' mantle that the media like to support from time to time, but the sustained media interest in the Corbyn story, peaking last week with the candidate receiving around 400 media mentions, is more than this.  Partly the story has been fuelled by reporting of Corbyn's considerable successes along the way: he has won support from the Unite union and more than 100 Constituency Labour Parties to date.

But it is more than this too: the story has enabled newspapers to fuel the flames from their own political perspective.  Thus The Times commissioned a YouGov poll on the likely outcome of the election last week that had Corbyn as the clear leader.  This sparked a slew of articles since from the right wing press suggesting that a Corbyn victory would be an electoral disaster for the Labour Party.  Meanwhile the left wing media has put the point of view that an effective alternative to the middle ground of politics could be a useful place for Labour to be.

With the election outcome not due until 12th September, the Labour leadership election has and will continue to serve two important roles for the media: it will enable them to reinforce their own political persuasions to their readers and beyond and, more importantly, it will provide much needed print and online copy at a time of year when the media struggles to find stories to write about.

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