Agent Matt Chorley in... The Catastrophic Corbyn Conundrum

How a Bank Holiday Twitter poll showed the media’s bright red arse

In my brief time at Q Magazine, I was only involved in one Q Awards and one Albums of the Year list. It was enough to educate me in the complicated algebra and alchemy that are required in the creation of both events. It is not enough to decide amongst the editorial team who should be given a gong or which record is the best of the best.

There are PR relationships to be massaged, egos to be burnished, and commercial pressures to be considered. Which artists have been good to and for the magazine? Which artists does the magazine need onside for the year to come? And which records would the readers simply not accept as a Top 5 record, no matter how much it’s been on the office stereo?

Compromise is a media reality. You’re not meant to say it out loud, in the same way, that columnists are not meant to admit that while they are not directly told what to write they certainly know what they cannot write. It’s not so much that the game is always rigged, but more that the rules of the game cannot be spelt out to the spectators if the players are going to continue having a cosy life.

And so we come to Matt Chorley. The Times journalist/sketch writer turned Times Radio presenter whose bank holiday hijinks left him screaming variations of Dril’s “I’m not owned” tweet. The idea of running a public vote to determine the Best Prime Minister We Never Had must have seemed quite appealing when it came up in the office. Certainly, it plays into the highly wonkish, inside baseball, ‘isn’t this all a lark?’ tone of Chorley’s columns and radio shows. The problem was, Chorley and his team decided to run the polls on Twitter where anyone could vote. And a lot of those anyones happened to be people who quite like Jeremy Corbyn.

A cursory perusal of Matt Chorley’s work will soon bring you to the realisation that he definitely does not like Jeremy Corbyn. Even in the months since Corbyn stepped down as Labour leader, making way for the technocratic reign of Sir Keir ‘Keith’ Starmer, for whom the Thick of It description ‘brushed aluminium cyber-cock’ could have been made, Chorley has continued to publish weird little columns about Corbyn. As the meme goes, Corbyn seems to live rent-free in the limit real estate of Matt Chorley’s imagination.

It was then the worst possible result for Chorley when, despite grouping politicians of the left in the same polls in an attempt to seem them swiftly eliminated, and pitting Corbyn against John Smith, the great lost Labour Prime Minister, Corbyn kept winning through. In the end, facing Charles Kennedy in the final, Corbyn won decisively. And Chorley, aided by other Times colleagues and the absolute worst of the columnist world (hello Mr Dan Hodges) raised a stink about ‘Corbynistas’ rigging the vote and ruining what Matt Chorley kept insisting “was just a bit of fun”.

I was one of many people who encourage their followers to vote Corbyn in the poll. I also argued that people should put their weight behind Charles Kennedy in the semi-final against tobacco shilling Billy Bunter of the Tory Remain gang, Ken Clarke. To Chorley and his associates, this was “rigging” the poll. While, having read Chorley’s writing, I know he can have the loosest of grasps on what words mean, this is going too far even for him. No one on the left ‘rigged’ the vote. It would be a push to say that there was even brigading at work. It was simply that a question was asked and people offered an answer they believe to be true.

What was apparent in the ridiculous response of right-wingers to the result in what we can all agree was an inconsequential Twitter poll tied to an inconsequential radio show presented by an inconsequential man on an inconsequential radio station was that they cannot stand it when they lose.

It was also clear that in their fevered minds holding left-wing positions, liking left-wing politicians, and expressing these things should really be beyond the pale. It seemed as though they were surprised that Enoch Powell Twitter — yes, he was one of the candidates in the polls — is not as good at getting out the social media vote as a movement of young people who spent 5 years putting its weight behind the most recent former leader of the Labour Party.

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This whole exercise revealed the sweaty red arse of the media at its most embarrassing. It was clear that Matt Chorley and the team on his show wanted some kind of fantasy final between say Michael Heseltine and John Smith, a clash that would have allowed contributors to his show to stroke their chins about ‘what might have been’ and filled the show with its usual kind of portentous political blustering.

Instead, Chorley was forced to constantly reassure listeners that the coming Corbyn win was entirely unrepresentative of how most people felt and absolutely down to a gang of ‘angry’ online leftists.

That left-wing Twitter accounts were just having a lovely time winding him up and weren’t remotely pissed off didn’t really matter. The narrative that Matt Chorley had bought into was that the dirtbag left were out to bully him rather than say a bunch of left-wing people taking part in his ‘bit of fun’ and actually expressing what they think, admittedly with a healthy side order of mockery for Mr Chorley himself.

This brings me back to the Albums of the Year list. Chorley and chums had decided before they began the ‘best Prime Minister we never had’ contest what they wanted the result to be. But instead of a) rigging the competition to ensure that or b) putting on their big boy pants and accepting that it hadn’t gone their way, they decided to spit the dummy and piss themselves in public that someone they despise had won this meaningless accolade.

When Sky News — which reports on lots of things, including silly stuff — reported on the results, Chorley — usually one for publicity — chastised the channel for caring about such frippery. Had the result been different, he would have been delighted at the attention.

Times Radio and Matt Chorley’s final defence was that the whole exercise, though tedious because of the so-called Corbynista conniving, was all fine actually because the dumb dumb leftists had promoted him and his show.

Even writing this newsletter opens me up to the charge that I have given Chorley the attention he craves. But I don’t care because I haven’t seen so much public ownership since I read the last Labour manifesto. As he slowly devolved into a corn cob, Matt Chorley assured us that he had not been humiliated, but it was not so much a case of the emperor’s new clothes as ‘the emperor is walking down Oxford Street windmilling his cock and telling people this is his new desk fan’.

It was a fine day on Twitter. I hope he does a sequel soon.