The power of interpretation: does Gordon Brown back Jeremy Corbyn?

Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament

Gordon Brown’s interview on the BBC’s Today programme has sparked some very distinct headlines.

We live in a free society with a diverse media. This means that news outlets can and do publish the facts, but they can also take a position and construct a certain narrative from distinct political angles.

Speaking on the BBC’s today programme on Friday, the former prime minister discussed the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

So far, only the facts have been reported.

However, if you 'like' the Independent on Facebook you might have read the article headline: ‘Gordon Brown backs Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader: ‘People want to see change’.” If you acknowledge this, maybe even give it a ‘like’, but don’t delve deeper you will come away with the view that Labour’s most recent prime minister clearly supports Jeremy Corbyn.

In the clip of the short interview inside the Independent's article, Brown is asked - following a discussion about inequality - “Is Corbyn the answer to it?”

  • Brown: “Jeremy’s a phenomenon.”
  • Interviewer: “Good or bad phenomenon?”
  • Brown: “Well, he has come through because he expresses people’s anger at what’s happened, their discontent.”
  • Interviewer: “Is that enough?”
  • Brown: “Well, he attacks universal credit, he’s speaking for many people when he says the health service is underfunded, he’s speaking for many people.”
  • Interviewer: "Do you approve of him?”
  • Brown: “What he’s saying on these things is absolutely right.”

A look at the title, a listening of the clip and a skim through the first half of the article will indicate that Brown backs Corbyn as the Labour Party leader.

PM and Sarah Brown

However, if you saw the Evening Standard’s headline for an article about the same interview and not dug deeper you will have taken something different away. The Standard’s headline for their story was that “Gordon Brown refuses to back Jeremy Corbyn without ‘credible’ plan for government."

The Standard’s article starts by talking about what the Independent discussed, but gets its headline from the part of the interview in which Brown says:

“The question for Jeremy is this, you go back to first principles in Opposition, what do we really believe in and Jeremy is articulating a view of a fairer society. What he has now got to do, and this is his challenge, you have got to convert this sense that you have restored people’s faith in your principles to a plan for the future that is credible and therefore a programme that is electable and popular.”

This was in response to the question: “Do you approve of Jeremy as leader?”

The Independent includes the same quote about credibility further down its article, but frames it in a different way.

Jeremy Corbyn campaign in West Kirby

This is not to say that one paper has it right or wrong. A listen to the interview could be interpreted either way. Brown clearly praises Corbyn and the issues he is focusing on, but fails to explicitly say he backs Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The ongoing issue of politicians ducking and dodging questions and refusing to give straight answers could be part of the problem here.

That said, that is my interpretation of the interview. Have a listen yourself and see what you think, but remember that your own biases will always play a role when it comes to analysis and interpretation.