As Jeremy Corbyn visits Southall, Morgan Daniels reports on a campaign that is gaining momentum
It was a dank afternoon in Southall, West London. The rain just never let up, and the sky remained a dispiriting colour, sort of grey, sort of blue, sort of something else. But very little was going to shift the three-hundred-strong crowd who had been waiting at the front of Manor House Gardens for a good hour: Jeremy Corbyn was in town, after all.
This crowd was not unnoticeably young. One woman, in her late teens or early twenties, muttered that she would like to be out leafleting more at the moment, but she’s got exams on. A decent swathe of attendees had come straight from school. There was a message of hope to be heard and spread, for sure, and Jeremy did not disappoint, delivering a twenty-minute stump speech that was impassioned, at times playful, and always socialist.
Togetherness ran as a connecting thread through Jeremy’s words. After a short introduction by Virendra Sharma, the local MP since 2007, he described Southall as a place that the far-right had sought to divide, alluding to the racist murders, violence, and demonstrations carried out in the area by the National Front and others throughout the 1970s and 1980s. ‘There is only one answer to those who seek to divide us’ Jeremy said. ‘We unite ourselves even stronger every time.’
These sentences underwrote everything that followed. For it is clear that the past seven years have seen very great division in British society. And as Jeremy made clearer-yet in Southall, Labour’s 2017 manifesto is geared not just towards reversing those divisions, but the creation of a Britain in which problems are met with collective solutions. To this end his speech ran the gamut, from the NHS and social care to housing and climate change, offering up a vision for this country far, far removed from the one found in the Conservatives’ manifesto. (Jeremy did, however, give the Tories credit for one ‘cutting edge, hi-tech, twenty-first-century idea’: bringing back fox hunting.)
It’s subtle, this togetherness thing. Take that commitment to free school meals for all primary school children. ‘What I’m suggesting is that when children go to school, they go to school together’ said Jeremy. ‘They go to school to learn together, they go to school to learn to live together. They go to school to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, achievements and disasters, and they help each other out. And so, if every child sits down at lunchtime together, to eat together, they talk all these things through. It’s far better than dividing them up between those who get a free school meal, those who bring in sandwiches, and those that get something else.’
The proposal is a fairer world. But it will have to be fought for. ‘Put everything you can into winning this election’ Jeremy implored at the end. ‘Let’s show that the general election of 2017 was one that was won against the odds, where those that have been condemned and isolated came together in strength’.