IT BEGAN WITH TALKING. Not just to friends but to acquaintances, people I bumped into on the street. I progressed onto social media. I couldn’t stop it. Some people might call it obsessive. I call it politics.
7 July For the ‘Meet Andy Burnham’ event, my question is prepared, “Given the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, in particular his anti-austerity policies, if you win, how would this inform your policy making?”
Burnham’s introduction, low on policies and full of clichés like “Labour needs to make an emotional contact with people again”, was expected. Then he told that awful story about meeting the ex-Labour, now UKIP, voter who complained of being the only English speaker at his work’s canteen. So before I put my question I described my experience campaigning against Farage in Thanet South, told him it was AUSTERITY that was the problem. Burnham blinked, a rabbit in the headlights look, responding with vague “we have to learn to talk to ‘ordinary people’ in their own language” sort of stuff. When I tried to challenge his response I was silenced by his MP minder but, when four further questioners took up the theme and he saw he was losing his audience, he quickly moved his position.
8 July Parliament Square, the afternoon of the Budget. Jeremy Corbyn came out of Westminster to speak to demonstrators as news of the redistribution of wealth from poor to rich sent Tory backbenchers apoplectic with triumphalist joy – and the rest of us seething with indignation. When Jeremy finished, wardens, backed by police, stormed through the crowd in protective gear, removing a sound system that had been playing John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance to the crowd in the sunshine of a summer afternoon. You couldn’t make it up … really. I was outraged. It was then I decided, we HAVE to stop the Tories, and I realised the ‘we’ meant me – it was time to make the political deeply personal.
9 July Brockley station in South East London was the first stall. I was joined by a new comrade recruited on Facebook, her mother of 80 and Jeremy’s niece (a local in the area). I had LRC leaflets, T shirts, badges, copies of Labour Briefing. I repeated the mantra, “Vote Jeremy Corbyn for the anti-austerity leader of the Labour Party!” The response was immediate and enthusiastic.
So much for Jeremy’s supporters being the young and politically naïve; I find supporters coming out of the woodwork are in the 60-plus age group… and mostly women. These lapsed Labour voters became disillusioned as New Labour set the Party on the quest for that mythologised, Blairite, political Holy Grail of the ‘middle ground’, whatever they believed it was. I had always known New Labour’s strategy was a chimera, a shape-shifting ploy to dissolve ideology and people-politics into Murdoch-palatable sound bites that would lead the labour movement to oblivion.
11 July My best friend’s daughter’s wedding. The bride is from a family of Jewish, left wing, anti-apartheid campaigners. It sounds like a setting for a strange rom-com but I just happen to speak to the bride, the groom, a number of the guests and get eight signed up as registered supporters. What better way to mark the optimism of a wedding than voting for Jeremy? It worked. Not only did they text, they went on to campaign with their friends. That’s grassroots.
16 July The Honor Oak stall was emotional. Joined by two male comrades, the response was overwhelming, cars and even a London bus, laden with rush hour passengers, stopping to grab leaflets from our hands. One woman sticks in my mind in particular, a night cleaner at a hospital, walked towards me, laden down with bags of shopping and the two children dragging at her heels. She said she knew nothing of politics but had been told at work about the cuts which would affect her paltry wages and her tax credits. Even though she looked exhausted we talked for 15 minutes, her asking questions and me sharing my thoughts. She put her bags on the ground, I held the children and she texted to become a supporter. A grassroots supporter.
19 July At the end of a Bristol weekend visiting my son (and of course dropping off LRC Support Jeremy Corbyn leaflets for him to distribute) we get to the Tolpuddle Festival. It’s a beautiful day. I take my turn on the stall. The level of interest means even with three people there’s almost always a queue. Jeremy badges and T shirts are everywhere. When Jeremy arrives he’s surrounded by well-wishers. Jeremy’s not set to be on the main stage, ridiculous as it seems – but we’re told he will speak after the formal end of the festival for any that are interested – and it looks like most are. At last Jeremy begins to speak and he tells of the Martyrs, of the history of agricultural labourers and their unions, of the history of struggle, of the great accomplishments of the labour movement. We plan for the future by remembering the struggles of the past. And then I realise, if Jeremy becomes leader, it will change my life, the personal and the political.
23 July Lewisham stall. There were the self proclaimed anarchists who took 50 leaflets to distribute to their mates, the Eastern European builders, the 60-plus men and women and the younger voters as before, a whole load of professional looking black women, but for the first time there was also anger – from two (youngish, middle class, white) Labour Party members. And they were livid. “You’re destroying the Party!” they insisted. “Don’t you get it? You’re making us unelectable!” I repeated their statement back to them word for word. They were stunned. It obviously hadn’t occurred to them that, as far as I was concerned, it was they, and their New Labour politics, that had destroyed Labour’s electoral base.
1 August On the surface it might be hard to see why marching on a protest against deaths in the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, with fascists baying at our heels, protected by a police cordon, and speaking on the same afternoon to a meeting of potential Corbyn supporters in Broadstairs, are linked.
In South Thanet, the constituency where Farage failed to be elected (though we do have the only UKIP council), austerity is made palatable by stirring up hatred against, mainly non-existent, immigrants taking ‘our jobs’ and overwhelming our services. News of a 13 year old killed in the Tunnel trying to get to England, and the unwillingness, some might call it cowardice, of the Labour Opposition to actually oppose the Welfare Bill, initiates a group of like-minded locals to discuss the Corbyn 4 Leader campaign and think what we can do, apart from screaming at the radio every time a politician calls human beings a “swarm” or worse. We decide to march on the Tunnel. Never mind there’s a meeting later in the day, we’ll make sure we get to both.
At the Corbyn meeting I speak to a packed room of mostly older, many ‘we once voted Labour’, locals. They are enthused. Jeremy has made a video responding to local issues. We end on one note – the campaign to win the next election for anti-racist, anti-austerity politics starts here, we happily agree.
From then on we were on a roll. Stalls in Ramsgate and Broadstairs, even in Folk Week, much to the annoyance of some local UKIPers who believe politics should be banned from folk music; I don’t think they have much sense of history. There was contact with comrades in Medway, supplying T shirts and always… talking, talking. It hasn’t stopped. Like I said, this is the start of the campaign that can win for Labour, for a Jeremy Corbyn led government in 2020. And that’s got to be a grassroots movement.