Jeremy Corbyn is defying the media and chiming with the working class, writes Lindsey German
This election is really taking off, and the establishment media and politicians are floundering. The polls are narrowing, and the advantage is all Labour's. Theresa May's brief and choreographed appearances in public are met with demonstrations. Her inability to relate to ordinary people at any level is becoming more and more apparent, witness her stilted and awkward introduction of the Tory manifesto on Thursday. Jeremy Corbyn, supposedly unelectable, is drawing huge and enthusiastic crowds. He spoke to a Libertines concert crowd at Tranmere Rovers ground on the Wirral and was greeted with 20,000 chanting 'oh Jeremy Corbyn'. This was on the same day that 5,000 turned up to hear him on the beach in West Kirby, and he addressed a mass rally in Birmingham.
These phenomena are largely ignored, or when they are commented on it is to dismiss them. This is him 'talking to the faithful' (although presumably you don't need a Labour Party card to get into a Libertines concert); or 'anyway Michael Foot had big rallies in 1983 but that manifesto turned out to be the longest suicide note in history'. There are even journalists and pollsters arguing that people are holding their noses and voting Labour even though they hate Jeremy Corbyn, saying that 'people are only voting Labour because they are certain Corbyn can't win' (yes I know).
I wonder if one day we will look at all this ridiculous commentary that passes for political analysis in the same way that we now look back at the supposed science of alchemy, because it has about as much rigour and basis in fact. What is happening is that this has become a battle over two very different manifestos: one which is about spending on public services, nationalising utilities, creating an economy where there are decent jobs and which tackles inequality; the other which aims to nationalise old people's houses to pay for care, snatch the food from primary school children's mouths and wreck public services, all the while scapegoating migrants.
If anything should qualify as the longest suicide note in history, it's this Tory manifesto, which is a crass mixture of arrogance and stupidity, and which takes aim at millions of people who are traditional Tory voters.
The Labour manifesto, on the other hand, is proving to be a vote winner. I have to say that I think this will be proved true of Jeremy Corbyn. It is true that people turning up at rallies doesn't necessarily translate into votes, but they are a sign of something. It shows a level of popularity which isn't reflected in the polls. It also gives heart to supporters, gives them arguments to put forward on the doorsteps, and generally creates a level of momentum around Labour's campaign.
Incidentally, I remember the 1983 election and Michael Foot's campaign. This is really nothing like it. The rallies are much more spontaneous and young. They are usually really impromptu. There is no third party like there was in the form of the SDP in 1983 with over 20% in the polls. And the surge for Corbyn is part of an international revulsion with the effects of decades of neoliberal policies. This is like Bernie Sanders in the US or Jean-Luc Melenchon in France.
Ireland: this politically motivated blame game is bad history
With the Tories slipping in the polls, we can expect more cheap slurs and dirty tricks in the attack from the right. The latest is about Jeremy Corbyn refusing to condemn the IRA. Actually, he didn't - he said he condemned all sides in the conflict. A couple of points here: this was a conflict which arose out of the absolutely justified campaign by Northern Ireland Catholics who were denied jobs, council houses and civil rights. The 70s and 80s were marked by military conflict in which of course the IRA was involved but so was the British army, the secret British state, the exclusively Protestant police force and Loyalist groups. All of these carried out killings. Whatever you think about the years of conflict, the idea that it was IRA bad, everyone else good, simply does not stand up to any serious historical scrutiny.
We now also know that the British government was in secret talks with the IRA for much of this period, despite its public condemnations of them. Now Sinn Fein is in government in the north and a major political party in the south. While it doesn't take its seats in the Westminster parliament, Sinn Fein representatives work there. Martin McGuinness shook hands with the queen. Which makes this row particularly ludicrous. But we should remember that the Tories had and still have very close ties with the Orange state - the Conservative and Unionist party. It is tapping into the Orange vote in Scotland. The partition of Ireland nearly 100 years ago still plays its part in British elections.
Votes do count
Today is last day to register to vote. The Tories and the Right are quite content with the poor, the young and ethnic minorities being disenfranchised. Anyone you know who isn't registered, they have till tonight. I hope the Labour plan to waive tuition fees from this September will spur on young people. I also hope that if there is a Labour government, there will be a change in the law so that people register automatically. In an age when so much information about us is available online, surely this is not difficult?
Stab in the front and stab in the back
One of the big questions this leads to is what on earth do some Labour MPs think they are doing in this election? I'm prompted to ask this having received the only communication about the election from my former MP, Meg Hillier, certain to get re-elected in this very safe Labour seat of Hackney South and Shoreditch. I have very little time for her, given that she is both on the right of the party and ineffectual. I found her leaflet pretty dispiriting, to be honest. It doesn't mention anything about Jeremy Corbyn or the popular national policies like nationalisation. It has several fairly anodyne demands which would be hard to disagree with but also hard to motivate people with.
These leaflets are a disgrace, and attempts by mainly mediocre MPs to claim that they have a local mandate to continue their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. The egregious Neil Coyle, MP in Bermondsey and Southwark, said in an interview 'my name is on the ballot paper'. What the hell does that mean? Does he really think they are voting for him, that he is some kind of popular hero in Southwark? And if so, why is he bothering to stand as part of a national party? People vote Labour because of what it stands for, historically and in the present.
In Hackney, there is not much enthusiasm for it but far less for the Tories, which shows good class instincts. But it is these, rather than the alleged charisma of its candidates that drives the vote. I sincerely hope that these MPs will have the decency to get behind Jeremy Corbyn after the election. But I'm not expecting much good behaviour anytime soon.
The Brexit effect
Isn't it interesting that this is not turning out to be the Brexit election after all? Farron's Lib Dems who are fighting on Remain are, if anything, falling in the polls, UKIP are tanking, and the Tories are being forced to fight on domestic issues. The Tories will do their best to take it back to Brexit, both through calls for strong leadership and through, as I'm sure we'll see, increased talk about migration in the last weeks of the election. But Labour's leadership has called it right on this: whatever way you voted in the referendum, this is about what kind of society you want to have in Britain. And it's obvious that increasing numbers of people are saying that they don't want one ruled by Empress Theresa.
One very good reason to increase taxes on the rich
The coverage of the wedding of Pippa Middleton to a hedge fund manager (quaintly described in one paper as a tycoon) has been everywhere. In case you're planning one yourself, you might want to take note of the costs. The dress was a modest £40,000, food and drink came in at £87,000 and there was a glass marquee. Are we seriously to suppose that these people can't afford rather a lot more tax?
I was fairly near the site of the Berkshire wedding myself on Saturday, speaking at the annual Levellers' Day festival, which commemorates the three Levellers shot on Cromwell's orders for mutiny in Burford churchyard, in the beautiful Oxfordshire Cotswolds. The Levellers were the far left of the English revolution, and I was proud to lay a posy of rosemary and wildflowers for Cornet James Thompson, the first to be shot. Then a march, through this very Tory town, to the recreation ground, where our marquee was made of canvas and we discussed the future of movement building. There were local Labour and Green banners, and trade unions.
I thought the modern day Levellers were in very good heart, and are definitely up for a fight.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- The price we pay for the prince – weekly briefing
- The Individual and Collective in Women's Liberation - video
- Police bill: the protestors aren’t for turning – weekly briefing
- Vaccine bounce or Starmer slump? – weekly briefing
- How do we end violence against women? - video
- Who polices the police? – weekly briefing
- Sarah Everard killing: can women ever be safe?