Labour documentary: Hang on, are the centrists the idiots?

Stephen Kinnock is a kind of political Matt Dawson, absolutely unsure of anything at all beyond a dimly concealed hunch that he is probably quite a bit of a legend

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 21 November 2017 17:11
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Ex-Danish PM Helle Thorning Schmidt tells MP husband off for interview on 2017 election night

If there are still people out there who still think the Labour Party would be fine if the sensible people could just get their hands back on the controls, then someone should have filmed those people watching the sensible people watching the 2017 election exit poll in Labour: The Summer That Changed Everything.

You could even install it in the Tate Modern. The New Labour Infinity Mirror: centrist dad watching centrist dad watching the stunned glabrescent head of Stephen Kinnock staring at the TV in an Aberavon pub, all hope vanishing into the accelerating blackness far beyond the event horizon of the Blairite soul.

10.00pm on 8 June 2017 was, for a certain type of Labour MP, meant to be the moment of blessed release at which Jeremy Corbyn was wiped out and everyone could just go back to the way things were. Promises could be realistic again. Expectations managed. Childcare vouchers issued.

Some favourable think tanks could write some reports on the housing crisis and the jilted generation but don’t worry, no one’s house price would actually go down.

It can only be for this reason that Stephen Kinnock agreed to be followed around by a documentary TV crew for a month and a half, as he campaigned for a general election that he made no attempt to disguise he would probably rather lose.

“If a party fails, after seven years in opposition, to make good forward progress at an election, then the party leader has to take responsibility for that,” he freely told these documentary makers, a month shy of an election he was still theoretically trying to win.

“On the 9th June, Jeremy will have to take a long hard look in the mirror. It will be a hard personal choice for him, I’m sure. That’s something that only Jeremy can do.”

You may or may not recall that history never quite forced Jeremy to take that soul-searching stare at his own reflection.

Indeed, in scenes reminiscent of a classic Mitchell & Webb sketch in which two soldiers stationed at a lookout post take sudden heed of the “skulls on our badges”, and wonder: “Are we the baddies?” – so this documentary should (but probably won’t) force grave reflection on Labour’s moderate, self-superior forces.

It becomes all the more enjoyable to watch once you correctly identify Kinnock as a kind of political Matt Dawson: absolutely unsure of anything at all beyond a dimly concealed hunch that he is probably quite a bit of a legend.

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One never knows what’s been left on the cutting floor, but at no point, in this documentary that could just as easily have been called How Wrong Can One Man Be?, does Kinnock appear capable of even considering the notion he might have been hopelessly wrong about everything.

Having been wrong about Corbyn’s prospects for the entire filming process, it takes Kinnock, Sarah Champion, Lucy Powell and the other minor characters featured approximately ten seconds to be wrong about Theresa May. For the first half hour of the documentary, Corbyn was finished. Ten seconds after 10pm, Theresa May “will be gone by the morning”.

Even Kinnock senior pipes up at one point to say: ”She’s gone.” You’d think he’d know.

You may also have noticed that hasn’t happened either.

As Kinnock is all but chaperoned around his own constituency of Aberavon, a circular-headed cipher for his ex-Labour leader dad and his ex-Danish Prime Minister wife, the question Blairites should have the courage to find themselves asking is this: Are we the idiots?

Indeed, at the very moment you find yourself wondering why on earth Kinnock agreed to be filmed in this way, an answer arrives in spectacular fashion.

Back at the count, the TV news crews are hovering, wanting Kinnock’s views on the shock exit poll. Kinnock says yes, his wife, former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt arrives, and the results are two of the most remarkable minutes of political TV you will ever see.

“Why are you doing this?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“I know.”

This is entirely verbatim. The full Peter O-Hanraha-hanrahan from a man who once fancied himself as Labour leader, to his own wife, gleefully filmed by a documentary company who surely can’t quite believe their own luck.

“Don’t say anything about Jeremy. Talk about the turnout. Talk about the campaign,” she tells him.

He does just that, then, calls it a day after the first of the three interviews he promises to do, telling a disappointed producer: “I think we’ll just take a break for a bit. I think we’ll just hold back for a bit.”

Months pass. We’re at Labour conference. Corbyn is buoyant. On Brighton beach, Kinnock is interviewed by the documentary maker.

“My wife Helle’s favourite phrase in the world,” he reflects. “Is ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

We can only conclude then that Labour: The Summer That Changed Everything has killed Stephen Kinnock. It certainly has not made him stronger.

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