In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn should appear monthly on a YouTube programme, on which he would meet voters and potential voters one-to-one. Each would have five minutes in conversation with him. The programme would go out live. The people in conversation with Corbyn would not have applied to take part but would have been selected so that between them they constitute a representative sample of the electorate.
Allowing “ordinary people” into the national political debate in this way would administer a much needed shot of adrenalin into the UK’s sickly democracy.
The UK’s national political debate is mostly carried out in the press and on the TV and radio. It is dominated by a select group. Members of this group almost always share all or most of the following characteristics - well-educated, well-off, middle-aged, white, London-based, male. Their agenda reflects their own background and experience and largely ignores much of importance to many others.
The YouTube programme would give a platform to people who are currently excluded from taking part in the national political debate. It would be highly democratic.
The idea is rooted in the belief that everyone matters in society and that everyone has political concerns (even if sometimes they might not recognise or describe concerns they have about housing or income or jobs or education or health etc as “political”).
One day, hopefully, all political leaders will embrace this democratisation and take part in such a programme. However, it makes sense for Corbyn to lead the way. The mainstream media’s hostility to him is such that, if he relies on it to let people know what he stands for, he is bound to fail. This programme would be another way to circumvent the mainstream media - alongside Corbyn’s use of social media, public meetings etc - and it would reach the all important potential voters who are not already favourably inclined to Corbyn.
Below, I set out details of the proposed programme and the likely risks and benefits to Corbyn in taking part.
Details of the proposed YouTube programme
- UK would be divided into 12 areas and would be in a different area each month.
- An independent company would rigorously and transparently select ten people from the area of that month’s programme so that they constitute a representative sample.
- Criteria used to obtain the representative sample would be published but they are likely to include factors like sex, income, race, age, disability.
- If someone selected did not wish to take part, someone else fitting the same criteria would be selected.
- The programme would have no presenter, no audience - just a minimal voice over. Corbyn would have five minutes one-to-one conversation with each of the selected members of the public in turn.
- The programme would be shown live (with usual short delay). It would be available for viewing at any time afterwards. Edited highlights could be made available.
- A body independent of the Labour Party would deal with any complaints or other issues.
Risks for Corbyn
The most significant possible risks are
- Not enough people watch.
- One or more of the members of the public launches a devastating attack on Corbyn, who would be trapped for five minutes and it would all go out live.
Benefits for Corbyn
The risks are worth taking as they are clearly outweighed by the likely benefits.
The most significant likely benefits are
- The programme would be expected to attract a good audience due to its mix of real politics with the fascination of reality TV.
- Corbyn faces furious attacks all the time. On this programme he would have the opportunity to answer back. Even if the person attacking him is unlikely to be convinced, the watching public will see that he is not the caricature that parts of the media have made him out to be.
- Corbyn would be able to connect with (and to be seen connecting with) voters throughout the UK. Those watching are likely to be able to identify with “people like them” in conversation with him.
- The programme should increase political engagement more widely. It would be good for Corbyn and good for UK democracy too.
- As each member of the public will have five minutes, it will be possible for the discussion to go beyond the superficial and into some depth.
- Important issues would be raised on the programme which are rarely raised in the media.
- The programme fits in with Corbyn’s call for a new kind of politics. He would get credit for taking part.
- Corbyn could challenge Theresa May to subject herself to the same highly democratic scrutiny. Would she dare?