Jeremy Corbyn has been the most refreshing breath of fresh air in mainstream English politics in years. His campaign to become the next leader of the Labour party has been presented on the basis of positivity, honesty, integrity and truth, and is someone who at last provides an alternative to the narrative of the government – and even many within the Labour Party itself. He challenges the myth of austerity and the causes of the financial crash. He also stands the corner of the much maligned poor and vulnerable who have somehow been cast as the scapegoats for the economic disaster caused by bankers, corporate tax dodgers, etc. It’s so good to finally have someone speak for those who have been left without a voice whilst everyone else is frantically scrabbling around trying to seduce the mythical middle ground.
Much of the media and even his fellow candidates like to use phrases such as “Corbyn will take Labour back to the 1980s” and “He will make the party unelectable”. Sadly I have even overheard some people regurgitate this nonsense. The huge queues around Open that formed two hours before the doors even opened suggest otherwise. He has tapped into something, the people who have felt unrepresented in politics for many, many years are flocking in impressive numbers to hear Corbyn wherever he visits. Speaking with honesty and passion he genuinely seems to have the best values in a politician and that is something extremely rare indeed. His integrity shines through.
The queue stretched from the doors of Open on London Street, the whole length of Bank Plain, onto Castle Meadow, and the doors of the Club Room, almost circling the venue. I’ve never even seen queues like this for a gig here. The place was packed with around 900 inside the venue and some 200 who were left outside unable to get in, so whilst some of the other speakers were addressing the audience Jeremy Corbyn came outside to chat and answer questions from those still waiting outside.
It seems there is never an article about him that does not mention something along the lines of “Left wing” or even “Hard left”, despite never using the term “Right wing” to describe the government, nor even Ukip! Left is a word that has somehow become toxic. For me, what I like about Corbyn has nothing to do with simplistic and tribalist labels of left or right, it’s just simply being correct and doing the things for the greater good, he obviously passionately believe in equality, fairness and diplomacy. He is talking about caring, sharing, helping, peace and compassion. Things that have been absent for a long time. I think he is someone who is standing on the correct side of history and people can see this. What he says is largely common sense and compassionate human values, it seems incredible that some can object to this, and disturbing that politicians are frightened of it.
I am not entirely comfortable with the concept of political party rallies but he is someone I wanted to hear, it was certainly not a case of preaching to paid up Labour Party members. It was about people from all walks of life who wanted to hear this man speak, to learn more about what he believes in and to ask questions (all of which were hefty issues that he did not dodge.) It’s certainly a change to have a politician who wants to engage with the public in an age where most of them creep around unannounced and slip away through back doors to be whisked off in fast cars without having to face anything awkward from the public. I identify with the man far more than the party these days but contrary to what the papers say, I believe he can make the Labour Party electable and certainly a better party but at the moment I don’t think it’s even about that far ahead, what we absolutely and desperately need is an opposition, someone to challenge the government. The Labour Party I feel has let us down in that area terribly, falling for the large part silent for the past five years. They even advised their own MPs to abstain from voting on the government’s ghastly Welfare Reform Bill. Corbyn rebelled and voted, as did Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. I respect them both for doing this, and Lewis for encouraging Corbyn to stand as a candidate for the leadership.
It was a very uplifting and refreshing few hours, something different is happening and Corbyn is having a galvanising effect. I was proud to shake his hand at the end of the evening before he had to dash to the station to catch the 9pm train back to London … where he met more people wanting to shake his hand. One of whom was invited to sit down with him for a chat and to share his wine. Can you imagine anyone in government behaving like this? Using public transport and engaging with people?! When Tony Blair is wheeled out and advises against voting for Corbyn you know he must be doing more than something right. We so need to get away from the identikit Blairites that infest politics at the moment. The most troubling thing for me is just how frightened and surprised his own party are of Corbyn. Have they really become so out of touch and removed from the mood of the people? Evidently so, but now there is some hope at last. He received a standing ovation even before he had uttered a word, and another with thunderous applause at the end of a very inspiring night. I feel the media and certainly the main parties have misjudged the mood of a vast swathe of the electorate. There was a real mix of people who came along to hear him speak in Norwich with a very wide range of ages too. Clive Lewis also spoke impressively and he too was a breath of fresh air, in fact all the speakers we heard were. Clive is looking like a very promising MP who shares Jeremy’s values and speaks with great passion. With most politicians I always have an unshakeable feeling they either have self-serving interests or those of city boys and corporations. With Corbyn and Lewis I do believe they are in politics for all the right reasons and want to make the world a better and fairer place. I and many others want kinder politics, there are some glimmers of hope around and hope is not something I have felt much of from politics recently other than from the likes of the People’s Assembly and Greens so this is most welcome.
Many thanks to OPEN, Norwich.
words and photos (c) richard shashamane 2015