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Seumas Milne

The new documentary by Vice journalist Ben Ferguson – Jeremy Corbyn: The Outsider – is well worth half an hour of your time. Ferguson is a Corbyn-supporting Labour Party member (which may well explain why he was granted the Golden Ticket for such privileged access to the hard left’s very own Willy Wonka), but he still provides a probing, sometimes uncomfortable, study of the man and the machine behind the “new kind of politics”.

There are some moments of humour worthy of The Thick Of It, provided apparently unintentionally by the interviewees. At one point Corbyn, who is signing photographs at the time, explains that in the autumn he will be signing the fruit from his allotment: “I’m gonna sign the apples. We’ll have signed apples.” Gavin Sibthorpe, the leader’s events manager, appears at regular intervals to reflect on his ongoing battle against his boss’s dress sense: “He looked smart on Remembrance Sunday. I think that’s where I peaked really.”

But there are grimly depressing moments, too. Corbyn’s visible annoyance at being asked firm – but not unreasonable – questions about Ken Livingstone’s series of outbursts about Hitler shows that he has a lack of patience even with a sympathetic journalist. His explanation, in the final minutes, that any perception that Labour struggled in the recent elections is down to lies by the BBC is a troubling insight into quite how far detached from reality the Opposition has become.

The film also gives some insight into how the team around him works – or doesn’t work. Andrew Fisher, the controversial aide who last year supported a Class War candidate against Labour, responds to news of the New Statesman’s George Eaton praising Corbyn by describing Eaton as “the worst judge of anything” (that he does so on camera rather proves that Eaton has nothing to fear in the judgement stakes). Scenes showing the rewriting of a speech in which Corbyn missed the opportunity to press the Prime Minister over Budget problems reveal that a chaotic leader is supported by a chaotic operation – Corbyn unwisely removes attacks on the Government, while Seumas Milne, his strategist, glowers silently.

Milne himself offers one of the most intriguing revelations, telling Ferguson that he believes someone in the leader’s circle is leaking his PMQs lines of attack in advance. This could be the old flaw of the classic Stalinist, finding it easier to blame wreckers and counter-revolutionaries within than to face up to the possibility your own side is just messing things up. Or it could be a genuine problem within Team Corbyn. Either way, staff around the Labour leader had better hope that his chief strategist doesn’t stick too closely to the Soviet example, or else they’re liable to have their doors kicked in at 3am and all of them will be expected to provide slightly bloodstained confessions by noon. Still, if he does take a leaf out of Beria’s book, perhaps his victims might be persuaded to give up the names of numerous other plotters who can then be investigated, too.

In Shakespearean fashion, it’s left to the normally jolly Sibthorpe to shine the most glaring light on his boss when asked about those Labour MPs who want to overthrow Corbyn. “If they wanna get rid of him…the best thing to do would be wait, and let Jeremy fail on his own…I don’t think he will, but fail on his own, in his own time.” Watching this, some Conservatives will be tempted to wish him all the time in the world.

27 comments for: A rare and troubling glimpse inside Corbyn’s command bunker

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