With a new poll predicting a landslide victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race, a student campaign volunteer in York offers his personal perspective
A new opinion poll, conducted by YouGov, puts Jeremy Corbyn on an astonishing 53% of first preference votes in the Labour leadership election. This gives Corbyn a lead of 32 points ahead of his nearest rival.
Nobody expected this on Monday 15 June. On that day - with just one minute and fifty seconds to spare before the deadline - Corbyn secured his 35th nomination from the Parliamentary Labour Party to be added to the leadership ballot. The hard fought grassroots campaign by members to convince MPs to lend their nominations to Corbyn, in order to widen the debate and give the left a voice, was merely a glimpse of what was to come.
A month later - and with several endorsements from the country’s biggest and most influential unions including Unite and Unison coming in - the first opinion poll emerged, putting Corbyn way ahead of his rivals on first preferences. That polling lead has now been further extended.
Corbyn’s success appears to have come from a campaign which focuses on hope rather than fear. While his rivals have fought the campaign on rhetoric built around fear of what might happen if they don’t win, Corbyn has spent the campaign arguing for a fairer, more equal society.
This success has obvious parallels with the current left-wing movements elsewhere in Europe, where Syriza fell just a single seat short of a majority under a proportional electoral system in Greece, and Podemos leads the polls in Spain, having recently won some of the country’s local elections.
Indeed, it would seem that major political breakthroughs for the anti-austerity movement and the Left in the UK has been long overdue. However, there have been indications of what is possible, including in some unexpected places.
At my further education college in York we ran a Socialist Society which frequently filled the room we had, with people resorting to sitting on the floor or window ledges when we ran out of seats. We operated with an inclusive approach,welcoming Labour supporters , Greens, students who sympathised with the far left but the majority of attenders being teenagers without a political allegiance but with a thirst for ideas to explain the world they will grow up in.
It felt like we had our very own developing movement, and this was in York—far from the most revolutionary of cities. Jeremy Corbyn recently came to York and there were people standing at the edges of a large venue to hear his speech,. He famously had to address supporters from a fire engine on a street in London because the venue was overflowing.
The grassroots movement has not been exaggerated. The London phone banks are regularly 150 volunteers at a time strong, and the York branch, although significantly smaller, is full with as much enthusiasm, with a group of people who span across generations.
As volunteers for the Corbyn campaign, we began by calling already registered supporters of Jeremy in order to turn them out for their local CLP nomination meetings. Although the CLP nominations have no real effect on the ballot, history has shown that the candidate with the most CLP nominations has gone on to win the election. Both Jim Murphy in the Scottish leader election and David Miliband in the 2010 leadership election (he won the election amongst Labour members) had the lead in the CLP nominations.
Not only that, but by increasing the number of Corbyn supporters attending the meetings, we gave the left a bigger voice to argue not only for Jeremy Corbyn, but for the values of the left in general. The CLP nominations are now closed, with Corbyn leading on 152 CLPs to Burnham’s 111, Cooper’s 109 and Kendall’s 18.
Now that CLP nominations have closed, the phone banking effort has focused on traditional telephone canvassing. This allows us to gauge support and attempt to sway undecided voters and create discussion.
Twenty years after Tony Blair initiated the abolition of Clause IV, it’s great to hear the majority of Labour members agreeing with Corbyn’s pledge for nationalisation not just in the traditional top down Labour sense, but of the workers being in control of their own industry. These values never left Labour members; it’s just taken this long for them to have a platform to campaign for them on.
Win or lose, the Corbyn movement has inspired a generation. The Corbyn campaign has already forced Burnham and Cooper to the left in their rhetoric, with Burnham now pledging renationalisation of the railways and cutting tuition fees (albeit both highly watered down). And the thousands of people that have been inspired now know what it feels like to be part of a mass movement.
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