Liverpool ’16: The MSM come to watch Momentum

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IN the basement of the Black-E arts centre, where Momentum members held fringe meetings in Liverpool this week, the investigative journalist Andrew Gilligan looked to have arrived a little late as he stole into the back of the room to hear panellists discuss why they felt the media – or the dreaded Mainstream Media (MSM), as they often call it – was so biased against Jeremy Corbyn.

So he might have missed Andrew Murray, the chief of staff at the Unite union who lives in Kentish Town, fired up over how newspapers had “even used my own daughter to get at me”. Gilligan had written an article as recently as November for the Sunday Telegraph titled “The Corbyn hardcore plotting to deselect Labour moderates”, which featured a large picture of said daughter Laura Murray manning a street stall in Camden Town, although her father was actually alluding to a recent Mail On Sunday piece in which her appointment to a job in the Labour Party was linked to his campaigning past.

There was a bit of dismay, locally, from both sides of Labour’s divide at how she had been treated, although Laura didn’t seem to have been too knocked out by it when she was spotted driving around Liverpool in a black cab decorated with Don’t Buy The Sun banners, that relentless message of Hillsborough campaigners.

The meeting at the Black-E was illuminating.Firstly, despite being cast as assassins ready to deselect Labour MPs and councillors in the dead of the night, these Corbyn supporters had opened up The World Transformed fringe meetings to all. They do not seem to care whether a potentially hostile journalist is in the room for they believe, perhaps naively, what they want will come regardless and that, rightly or wrongly, there are now ways to circumvent the MSM through social media, letters to local newspapers and the Morning Star, in which people here were asked to buy shares. Maybe you can’t blame them, given how many well-paid press soothsayers are still on television every night despite having first failed to see the result of last year’s general election coming and then how the Labour leadership contest would pan out, before getting it wrong again, by and large, with the EU referendum.

The reaction to this invitation to come inside and see is interesting, too.

People like Gilligan were there to watch what was happening. Marina Hyde came from the Guardian. Indeed, sketch­writers and opinion-givers from the nationals drifted away from the main conference hall all week to see what was going on, finding themselves on school chairs in meetings that they might never have imagined ever being at. The problem for Corbyn’s supporters remains that there is still a danger that they are only coming for the sport, that when the tweets are tweeted and reports are filed, the story will still come down to the wackiest quote of the evening from the floor – on Monday night this being a questioner comparing Corbyn’s media strategy to way spoons are bent in The Matrix. One boo in the wrong place will grab the headlines.

The upside for them, however, is they at least have their attention; at least one editor of a national newspaper was there. Momentum, attacked for being a party within a party, has been accused of segregating the conference by holding its own events and it’s true the two sides of Labour’s dispute largely stuck to their own fringe meetings. But for years, left-wing groups have actually been holding their own schedule of events during conference week – usually off campus and in hard-to-find pubs. It’s just nobody came and listened like this before.

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