Tuesday 14 August 2018

Jeremy Corbyn Returns to Stoke

It is some time since Jeremy Corbyn last held a rally in Stoke-on-Trent, but this afternoon he got a proper Potters' welcome from the Labour Parties of North Staffordshire as he swung through on his summer tour of Tory-held marginals. With zero publicity beyond social media and word of mouth in labour movement circles, 500 turning up on a week day afternoon in the middle of the summer holidays isn't to be sniffed at. Jeremy had to address the hundred or so outside who couldn't be let into the venue at Stoke City's footy ground. Could any other politician in Britain manage such a feat?

A fundraising and party-building event for Stoke South Labour Party, this "People-Powered Mass Meeting" (as it was officially dubbed) heard from a few folks prior to Jeremy's speech. James Cunningham, one of Labour's cadre of community organisers talked about his mission, which was getting Mark McDonald (Labour's PPC for Stoke South) elected, Jeremy in Number 10 and a Labour government. Striking a local note, Becky Sargeant noted how Stoke's GCSE results are 17 points below the national average. This she located in straightened resources, as well as a lack of aspiration and inspiration, a view that Stoke has accepted "good enough" for too long. We also heard a couple of contributions from the floor. Nisha, a recent graduate who returned to Stoke from Manchester talked about the need for opportunities for young people. And a speaker from Berry Hill Fields Community Action group criticised councillors, including Labour councillors, who had not responded to their campaign against plans to put a road through and develop 1,300 new houses on one of the city's green field sites. Not only should we prioritise brown field builds (it's not as though Stoke has a shortage of them), councillors shouldn't think they know best for areas about which they know little.

Then it was Mark McDonald's turn. He talked about his beginnings growing up on benefits in the Thatcher years, supported by a single mum and attending a run-down school with no qualifications. After leaving, he started work as a sheet metal worker before getting a porting job with the NHS. Mark said it was this experience that politicised him, recalling doctors falling asleep on shift and seeing the rationing of resources close up. He noted that this was a history repeating itself under this Tory government. Mark said he was a socialist, "a proud socialist" and that it "makes me angry that Stoke South is represented by a Tory". Socialism scares the establishment, which is why they're chucking everything at us. Therefore we need a massive team to take the constituency back.

Now for the main event. Jeremy began by noting he'd been to 75 marginal constituencies so far, with a spell in the East Midlands from tomorrow and then Scotland next week. He talked about how, just over a year ago, the media lined up to write Labour's obituary, but the near miss, which involved the biggest swing to Labour since 1945 and the highest number of votes in England since 1970 was because of the "incredible achievement" of the manifesto. It was also a campaign fought at two levels - in the studios, where the last rites were performed, but crucially, and under their radar, through the networks of new voters, particularly the young, registering to vote. It was because people were having conversations, that the party was talking and listening and helping bring people together.

Moving onto the first of his three policy areas, Jeremy began with education. He talked about how when pupils come to school hungry, they find it hard to learn and noted how teachers often dig into their own pockets to help some of them out. Therefore the fight against poverty and inequality is inseparable from a good education policy. Also, Labour's position is about potential and recognising the creativity in all children, which is supported by the 'Pupil Arts Premium'. This initiative, where it has been trialled, provided a musical instrument for all the children. The knock on effect was a rise in grades across the board, showing how creativity opens up thinking and application in other subjects. Jeremy also attacked the obsession with league tables. These are fine for football, but it places undue pressures on teachers and students - the former because of added admin, the latter because schools will not enter students into exams if they think their results might threaten their precious positioning. This is not good enough - giving pupils their best chance is always more important, Jeremy argued. He also reprised his comments on history in schools. He said pupils should learn about how the achievement we take for granted, like women's suffrage and the NHS, happened because of movements, of people making sacrifices and exerting effort to bring them about. They didn't just spring up because they were nice ideas. Concluding, Jeremy said corporation tax would go up to fund education and that the next Labour government's lasting legacy would be its National Education Service. What this should look like is up to us, and invited everyone to participate in the policy discussion.

He then moved on to the NHS, which was Labour's proudest and greatest achievement. No one wants to be ill, he noted, but at least here in Britain you don't have to shoulder the worry of bankruptcy on top of this. He also attacked the Tory/Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care Act, which dissipates the NHS workforce, and encourages cuts and the sell off of services thanks to marketisation. Jeremy also called for mental health services to be properly funded and a proper care service, saying it was a scandal that it is (more often than not) women who have to give up their careers and lives to look after ailing relatives.

Moving onto matters economic, he said a national and regional investment backs would be the bedrock of Labour's plan. But he also noted that in places like Stoke, the local people know best what the economic strategy should be, and announced such a project exploring this would be set up in the Autumn under the auspices of Mark McDonald and John McDonnell. He also wanted to see better jobs, stronger rights for workers, and a living wage of at least £10/hour. It can be different, and Labour should stand up to be different. Here, Jeremy veered into international issues and said Labour would stand up to Donald Trump and his dumping of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and his ditching of the Iran nuclear accord.

Lastly, Jeremy said a few words about the current press storm. He said "our friends" in the media are very hostile to us, but this is proportional to our strength. Their attacks grow and get louder because we're getting stronger. He also attacked racism as a scourge "anywhere, any place, any time" and that he looks forward to living in a society where we can be proud of and respect differences, where they're not seen as a threat but as a strength. He also noted the energy that goes into racist attacks does not resolve anything, it does not train a single nurse or save a public service - they do not make anyone better off. Rather, by working together people can transform together. Our manifesto was a protest against and an alternative to austerity and division, and that its message is more powerful than now.

Jeremy's speech ended in a round of applause, and Mark was able to present him with some Anita Harris pottery by way of thanks for his visit, before the usual scrum of selfies and gossip-trading descended. Names were gathered for campaigning, and £500 was raised for party coffers. In all, there was nothing here that Jeremy had not already said before, but for a number of people this would have been their first taste of the Labour Party in the flesh. Again, those fools who look upon Jeremy Corbyn's support and dismiss it as a cult only identify themselves as pig ignorant. Just like the recent Trump protests, Jeremy is a catalyst and a spectacle, but this is not a relation of passivity, of a great leader delivering programming to the minds of hundreds of robots. Jeremy is the figurehead of a movement, a half-million strong assemblage of people pulling together around a set of anti-establishment, anti-neoliberal and (potentially) anti-capitalist politics. Going to an event brings participants into contact with the party. They speak to members, join, find out how to get more involved, catch up with comrades and so on. Sure, some drift in and out with their cynicism intact, but many others do not. Such is one means by which movements are built, of how networks grow, take on weight and become powerful, and that is certainly what happened in Stoke today.

In all, as launches of the long campaign to take back Stoke South for Labour this was a complete success - especially so if the faces of the two young Tory plants sat in front of me were anything to go by ...

Image Credit


Dialectician1 said...

Thanks for this account. The Corbyn effect is hard to fathom. He is charismatic in an anti-charismatic way. I have been to see him speak on several occasions and he isn't a great orator but the crowds love him. Nor is the ideology he espouses particularly radical. Yet, he has a presence that captures the moment: a calm, reassuring belief in socialist policies as credible solutions to the shite that most of us are living through.

For the media, this is very frustrating. They've lined up repeatedly to vilify him but when ordinary people get to see him or hear him (either at rallies like the one you describe or on TV) these scurrilous narratives dont hold hold water: they sound hysterical and infantile. For many, the headlines have started to bore them....yeah yeah yeah.....you've told us a hundred time he's an anti-Semite and a traitor. We're all very used to this from the Mail, Sun, Telegraph etc with their screaming headlines about this dreadful 'bogeyman' but with the Graun and the BBC providing the bass 'n drums, it becomes like 'summer tinnitus': an incessant drone. Spare us from the 'free press'......

Jeremy Corbyn (Parody) said...

A jolly good time was had by all. It's just a shame that Snell and Smeeth couldn't be there.

Unknown said...

Another amazing successful event, thank you for the report back. I was in Walsall on Monday where a similar number of people turned up. It's not a cult or a fan club - its people from different backgrounds who are fed up with the wishy-washy politics offered to them by Tories and Blairites alike, people who are angry at the arrogance and self-promotin of right-wing labour mps who continue to bring the party into disrepute, and do so without fear of consequences. However, there is a determination with these activists that things are going to change - inside the party, and afterwards, changing society when a Labour government of common-sense-socialism comes to power.

Jill said...

A warming report about what was obviously a typically warming and inspiring event.
A feel of real, well-intentioned people. Go well Stoke. You have the name to inspire is all!!

CCAAC said...

Pardon me for ignoring the Stoke thing.

The latest fake news about Corbyn anti Semtism really exposes those making the clams as pure Zionist apologists.

There is nothing anti Semitic about a Palestinian group blowing up Israeli athletes representing the Israeli state, this is an attack on Israel and not Jews. (A nation that was created by the ethnic cleansing and systematic repression of Palestinians).

We can argue if the attack by a group of Palestinians against athletes representing the terrorist state of Israel is an act of terror or not but we can’t debate whether it is anti Semitic or not, because it clearly isn’t.

Someone laying a wreath at the grave of one of these attackers is therefore not anti Semitic in the slightest. Even if Corbyn had made a speech praising the actions of the Palestinian group it would still not amount to anti Semitism. He could have kissed the ground and still it wouldn’t be anti Semitism. It actually looks like he did none of the above it should be noted!

If attacking Israeli citizens while they represent Israel is considered anti Semitic then every Palestinian on earth is automatically an anti Semite, as are many Jews. The girl who punched an Israel soldier because they shot her cousin in the face must be considered anti Semitic by this logic.

This whole affair shows the anti Semtism row for what it is, fake news and the attempt to equate anti Zionism or any solidarity with Palestinians with anti Semtism.

We should resist this with all the powers at the movement’s disposal. This isn’t the time for paying lip service to this fake news but is the time for turning the tables.

Anyone who supports this racist, terrorist colonial settler state that systematically oppresses and brutalises people should be held to account and asked to explain why they support such terror.