Jeremy Corbyn has convinced me…

Tonight, along with about two thousand other people, I took the opportunity to see Jeremy Corbyn addressing a rally in Leeds.  As it happened, the event was so popular that the hall reached capacity just as we were reaching the front of the queue.  So JC came and stood on the steps of the venue and addressed the outside crowd before  his speech in the auditorium.

A bit of context: I joined the Labour Party the day after the General Election last year. But so did several thousand other people, so I didn’t actually get my registration processed in time for the subsequent leadership election. Which I didn’t mind, as I honestly don’t know who I would have voted for. This time I will have a vote as a fully paid up member with an annual direct debit, but to be honest I feel slightly uncomfortable about my right to use it. I may have joined the party, but so far that’s it. I haven’t attended any local meetings, handed out leaflets, volunteered for a phone bank, anything. I feel that electing a party leader shouldn’t be a free-for-all for anyone who’s vaguely interested in Labour. Surely it’s for the people who work day in day out to keep the Labour party going – the activists, the local party organisers, trade unions, MPs – to take the decision regarding who is the best person to lead and direct their efforts. Someone like me, who basically just retweets and shares stuff – should my opinion really count as much as theirs?

Anyway, back to last night’s rally. I was right at the front of the queue when they closed the doors, so I was in a prime position when Corbyn came out to speak to the crowd.

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We were this close!

He spoke for, I’m guessing, half to three quarters of an hour (could have been more, I wasn’t checking) about the need to tackle the social injustices which are getting worse under the current government. Tax dodging big businesses, workers rights, support for the NHS and opposing the academisation of schools were all mentioned. Owen Smith was not.

Corbyn’s not a slick public speaker like some MPs – it was a long speech to deliver from memory and I was close enough to hear the occasional (unimportant) mis-step. He has a very genuine warmth and sincerity, and he knew his audience well enough to make a few well-received jokes. Speaking to a crowd of the party faithful suits him well – he seemed more confident, more articulate, more inspiring than he appears in the House of Commons or when talking to journalists.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember a single policy proposal in his speech – apart from a vague mention of a National Investment bank.  He’s very good at opposing things, and in the last 12 months Labour have put up a decent fight against changes to tax credits, and forced academisation. But this is the problem: I paid much less attention to politics back in the 1990s, but if you’d asked me what Tony Blair stood for prior to May 1997, I would have said “Education, education, education”. And that’s the challenge that Corbyn has got to overcome. It’s not about getting the agreement of thousands of die-hard socialists. He’s got to attract the attention of millions of voters, with a clear message about what he will do differently. That message hasn’t got out there yet.  Until last night I thought that this was probably because the media don’t give him a fair – or any kind of – hearing. (He was 5 minutes away from the BBC Look North studio last night – where were their reporters?!) And yet, listening to him talk for nearly an hour, I came away thinking he was a lovely, sincere bloke – but I still don’t know what his policies would be as Prime Minister.

Before last night, I’d made up my mind that I wouldn’t vote for Corbyn, and I was unsure about Smith. I know Members of Parliament have a bad reputation, but I simply can’t accept that 172 Labour MP’s are all corrupt, power-crazed, backstabbers who are rebelling for their own selfish reasons.  All of us, in any job, can tell when the person at the top in our organisation is underperforming. Yes, he’s faced animosity from the media and insubordination from his MPs. It takes a certain type of person (probably with a streak of ruthlessness) to take control of that situation and convince people that he’s in charge. I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is that kind of person.

Unfortunately, Corbyn has such strong support from the grass roots, that Owen Smith’s challenge to him is deepening the divide between parliamentary and local Labour. If Smith wins – unlikely given the party voting system, and the strength of Corbyn’s support – then there will be outright rebellion from the Corbyn supporters at a local level, making it impossible to deliver a General Election campaign.  And if Corbyn wins, I doubt he’ll be able to reconcile the disaffected Labour MP’s, given that he hasn’t been able to in the last year – again, making General Election victory even harder to achieve. Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest, it probably won’t lead to a Labour government in 2020, and it may see the party officially split in two.

So I’m convinced, after hearing Corbyn speak last night. I’m convinced he’s not the right person to lead the party. But I’m also convinced that a vote for Owen Smith will be a vote for further infighting, deepening the divide between the two factions.  If you ask me to pick between those two factions, I can’t. I won’t. For me, Labour is a broad church. The challenge of reconciling the tensions between Guardian and Mirror readers, the competing needs of industry and environment, women and men, working people and unemployed people is what it’s all about. Being Labour means recognising that a complicated world requires complicated thinking, not the reductive ‘hard working families vs unemployed scrounger’ mantra of the Tories. So despite having a vote, I won’t use it. I’m not Momentum. I’m not Progress. I’m Labour. But will there be any Labour left after this?

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Jeremy Corbyn has convinced me…

  1. A fair piece, and I see your dilemma; like you I can see Corbyn connects with the grassroots, but will never make it to No 10. And, meanwhile, the Tories do ruthless and brutal, and stay in control, showing us they believe it’s their God-given right to rule us… proportional representation has to be the goal of a progressive alliance if anything is to be different. I’m a generation further down the line than you, and pretty much despairing at the moment.

  2. This is an interesting dilemma, even to an outsider…

    If it helps, at least you’re not having to imagine Trump potentially leading your country. If that happens, I may end up begging my countrymen to add a “just kidding” postscript on that whole Revolution deal.

    • Admittedly our new prime minister isn’t in the Trump style, but behind the sensible veneer I think she has some similarly nasty prejudices. Thing is, we have a 2 party system same as you, and we are actually facing the destruction of one of those parties, leaving the way clear for all kinds of extreme right wing policies.

      • Interesting–I take that to mean your liberal party is imploding?

        Our conservatives are fractured at the moment. Trump is so awful that many Republicans are leaving the party… even condemning him officially, which is surprising (since he’s now the official Republican candidate).

        I need to learn more about your prime minister. We’ve never had a female leader, so it’s intriguing… though that may change soon.

      • Hmm, ‘liberal’ party… I think I wasn’t entirely accurate saying we have a 2 party system here, let me clarify that: because of our voting system it’s usually one of the 2 main parties (labour or conservative) that are in power. But we do have several smaller parties who have a few seats. This includes a party called the Liberal party! I think we’re more comfortable using the word ‘socialist’to describe the UK Labour Party than your Democrats would be. ‘Liberal’ tends to mean something more centre-ground here, although the liberal party have lost a lot of support since they formed a coalition with the conservatives 2010-15. The state of the Labour Party at the moment is as bad as it’s ever been. It’s farcical.

      • How revealing of cultural differences… I figured your basic two parties would be quasi equivalent to ours (Democrats and Republicans) and I defaulted to American sensibilities when describing them. We also have other parties, but none of them have much power.

        Over here, you see, we use “liberal” or “progressive” to describe less conservative policy, because “socialist” is a dirty word, practically an insult.

        If a politician, say, advocates for universal healthcare, his opponents will accuse him of being a socialist. It’s equivalent to being called an extremist (here), the leftist equivalent of a fascist.

        Supporters will then scramble to prove the candidate isn’t, in fact, a socialist.

        Despite having Social Security, most Americans equate socialist policy with living in Communist Russia, or something similarly extreme/anti-Capitalist. They envision universal health care as consisting of backwards, dirt-floored “hospitals” with chickens running amok.

        I realize this is ludicrous (and also happen to favor universal healthcare), but think I defaulted to the “nicer” adjective in our system.

        I’ve heard that an extremely liberal American would probably be considered moderate in Europe and am wondering if this is true. Undoubtedly, it’s more complicated than that.

      • Yes I’d heard that ‘socialist’ is practically a swear word over there! It’s much less so here. Both the candidates for the Labour party leadership would describe themselves as socialist, and you hear supporters of one side saying the others are not socialist enough. (It’s all a bit Judean Peoples Front tbh, if you’ve ever seen Life of Brian?) I think the British attitude to universal health care is way, wayyyy different to America’s. It’s seen as a basic human right and even the most right wing Conservatives who would love to privatise the entire NHS wouldn’t dare to say so openly.

      • It is. “Socialist” is a way to dismiss candidates as too extreme, over here, whenever they want to improve benefits. I wish it weren’t so… We could really use some.

        Same with universal health care. We’re out of step with everyone else, but there is still a ton of opposition to the idea. People are convinced health care would be terrible, that their taxes would skyrocket, that it’s an “entitlement” for people living off the system.

        It’s embarrassing, really. But the conservatives pushed the idea of “death panels” when universal health care discussions came up. Supposedly, these are panels of people who decide whether you can live or die, since we would lose all individual control over our treatment. Our conservatives have no problem arguing against the right to health care (they have been trying to remove prenatal care benefits as well).

        It’s frustrating, to say the least.

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