Jeremy Corbyn was forced to intervene on several occasions to quiet his own supporters as they jeered journalists asking questions at a Labour press conference today.
The Labour leader was speaking in the East Midlands as he readies a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson that could see Corbyn become caretaker PM and send the UK back to the ballot box.
It follows a secret Government report on no-deal Brexit preparations leaked to the Sunday Times that warns of shortages of fuel, food and medicine. The Government has said it was prepared by the previous administration.
Corbyn also touched on Labour’s media reform plans in answering questions from the press and supporters.
Five News political editor Andy Bell was interrupted with roars of “no” from the crowd when he asked Corbyn if he was prepared to step aside as leader of a caretaker government to win enough votes to stop a no-deal Brexit.
“Let Andy ask his question, he’s a nice fella, it’s alright,” Corbyn told his supporters in the room.
When Bell had finished his question a woman in the crowd could be heard saying: “What a disgrace,” and jumping to Corbyn’s defence, saying: “He is our leader, not the press, or Boris Johnson or Jo Swanson [Swinson].”
In his reply to Bell, Corbyn took a swipe at press coverage of parliamentary machinations around Brexit, saying: “There seems to be an awful lot of very imaginative ‘what-ifery’ in the press at the present time.”
BBC political correspondent Ben Wright also met with jeers when he said it was clear that the Islington North MP “does not have the cross-party support in Government to be a caretaker prime minister”.
A cry of “rubbish” from the crowd prompted Corbyn to again intervene, saying: “No, let Ben ask his question please.”
Angus Walker from ITV News was interrupted by boos when asking why Corbyn thought many within his own party “don’t see you as the person to lead a government of national unity to block no deal”.
Confusing the journalist’s name, Corbyn said: “No, let Andy ask his question please. I’m defending your right to speak Andy.”
The BBC’s Nick Eardley tweeted: “Sad to see journalists being heckled at Jeremy Corbn event. Journalists have to be able to ask uncomfortable questions.”
But Politics Home news editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster said: “To be fair to Jeremy Corbyn, he has twice intervened to stop supporters shouting down reporters, which is more than some politicians have done.”
One Corbyn supporter, who claimed to have followed the Opposition Leader around the country, targeted her comments at the press.
“I want the press to know that we’re not made up, we’re not paid to come here, we’re ordinary people,” she said.
“We know that you tell lies in the press. We know you distort things so there has to be some way Jeremy of us looking at how the press reports and the very basis of democracy.”
Addressing her comments, Corbyn went on to say that he is a member of the National Union of Journalists “because I do believe that a free press is an essential in a modern society”.
He added: “I do have huge respect for very brave journalists all over the world who have laid down their lives in order that people might know about corruption, about violence, and all the horrors that have happened in many societies around the world and so I think it is important that we remember that.
“But we also want to make sure that everyone has access to the media, we want to make sure there is a right of reply of what goes on within the media and that they are undertaking balanced reporting as they are forced to do during an election campaign.
“I set out a number of ideas on media reform in a speech I gave to the Edinburgh festival last year and that is the basis of the policy that we will go forward.”
Touching on social media’s important role in peoples’ lives, Corbyn said the “right to know is a very important one, but it’s also the right to give a balanced reporting of what goes on and crucially when somebody has been attacked in the media that they have a right of reply for what’s being said against them, not just for people who are in the public eye but for everybody else as well.
“So, yes, a Labour government will bring about media reforms, the crucial aspect being the right of free press and free speech will be absolutely sacrosanct to everything we do, the right to abuse will not be upheld in the future.”
Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire