It’s been a while since that first tiny meeting at the Newcastle Irish Centre so many weeks ago, so the best question to ask is where did we start from, where are we now, and maybe even how we got there.
Way back on Sunday July 12th we were mostly resigned to hitching our wagon to a principled man and his ideas which were ours as well and knowing we’d never get out of last place because let’s face it, who would have wanted to vote for a lefty like Corbyn? The day before I’d been out canvasing in South Heaton on the Chili road with Mick Bowman and few others of our ilk and had declared that given the choices, we’d rather go down with the ship with principles intact than support a candidate who would quietly bury us in the history books come 2020. Armed with this fatalistic, doom laden “now is a good time to die” approach, some of us dove in feet first and waited to see what the man was like in person.
Not disappointed, from his entrance into the packed function room that holds about 200, Corbyn walked in, knocked over the music stand of the singer who will now forever be known as that lass who sang at the Corbyn do, helped her pick up her bits and pieces, thus making him the only man she’d ever had to bow down to. With the candidate Once on stage, Ben Sellers, David Stockdale and all the others who had come to or organised the event were treated to a fairly direct and honest Q&A with Jeremy Corbyn. Ranging from the soft and flippant to the harder edged serious questions, the veteran Islington MP managed to keep an even, sincere tone while never wholly shaking that image of a man thrust into a strange new place despite himself. I can’t speak for others, but I knew from about the second question in, I liked the man. He reminded me of the great lefty activists I used to know when I lived in Montreal, sincere to a fault and unlikely to shrink from a fight if forced into a corner. Those who mistake his laid back nature for weakness do so at their peril, there is a sharp tongue and even sharper mind in that head and he’s not a jumped out of nowhere phenom with no policy, unlike last year’s flavour of the moment, UKIP. It’s likely that barring a few meetings, that was the last time Corbyn would speak to a room as small and the last time any of us would feel as suicidally principled. But you know even as the meeting was breaking up, the photo ops and souvenir shots taken and the man was going out the door, I still hadn’t shaken the feeling we were anything but a valiant last stand of the real left.
A week later on the 20th of July, Harriet Harman put on a three line whip and ordered to our horror Labour MPs abstain on the welfare bill. As it happened, 48 broke the whip including only one leadership candidate. From that day onward our fatalism became anger, the public who were till then somewhat supportive but incredibly sceptical of the chances of a good man, a mensch, surviving the process let alone getting elected leader, turned on the Labour establishment with a flashing anger and determination not to give up. From that day, we started collecting, first in ones and twos then in whole groups, people who wanted to at least register their support for the one decent, good candidate that spoke their language. Then those who had come to our fairly large tent started to believe we should try, could even make a fight of it. New people from the trade unions, community groups, young, old, native, immigrant, well off, poor , men, women, hopeful , disillusioned etc… all of them came wanting to join what was becoming a wave, a movement.
I knew we had come to that no turning back moment when a mate who shall remain nameless , Ed, co created Kittens for Corbyn. When you have kittens, all other arguments become invalid and Mum's net declares your man sexiest man on Earth. You can't make it up.
I want to take a step back here now, a few years ago when I first came to Newcastle I said that the complacent comfortable, dare I say presumptuous air of the Labour Party in the North East could easily be swept aside in a tsunami of populist, charismatic , hope renewed politics. When UKIP came along, it shook us a bit but not enough to dislodge or create a wave, the Greens and Tusc hurt us but no so much that we lost ground, if anything Labour picked up votes on the back of a real desire to stick it to the tories, at least in the North. But if there had been an SNP candidate around, I can tell you that we could have had a nasty shock on election night. The SNP did to us what the rotten empty shell of the Labour party deserved. It swept it aside in a popular wave that took even great hard working MPs in its wake. So imagine my relief when the next wave, the one that would have washed the last remains of the old Labour Party was a Labour man from North London riding the crest with his sensible suit and socialist beard, bearing the ideas and the tools to take the barely standing shell and fill it once again with strength, principle and volunteers.
The next big thank you I have is to Tony Blair…. The day he informed us we needed a heart transplant, there was no turning back. Those still wondering and waiting, waited no more. If there was a day on which this race was lost by the right, it was that one. Everything else has been second third and fourth helping of Sh… . Just when I think there is no more mud to sling they scraped a bit more off the bottom of the barrel. Tis a miracle it is we have kept our tongues civil, but we shall march on knowing we have the people and the truth with us.
So roll on a few weeks, add to the mix a relentless smear campaign against Corbyn by all but a few so called journalists and political types, fold in a generous dose of paranoia fed by all the talk of purges and threats from infiltrators…. and you have an establishment running scared. Nothing sticks, his numbers grow, and his ratings are incredibly strong even in places where we should be weak. This is an election like none other, in all my years I have not seen the likes of such a thing. In one constituency where we should have been beaten by a huge margin, we are in fact 10 points ahead of the rest. Suffice to say where we are strong; the numbers are at times so hard to swallow we have to check twice to make sure we aren’t somehow imagining it all.
Days away from the close of the vote, Ladbrookes having paid out on wagers, any result other than a win will be seen as tampering of the first order. What the Grandees and PLP have done is just insure that when the change does come it will not be the one they wanted or nearly as nice to them as it would have been. We on the left have been asked by our leader to turn the other cheek, be nice, and not play their game. Well most of us won’t, at least not in the open, why should we? We’ve already won; we’ve won because we are no longer the long shot, the crazy ones, and the disconnected unelectable ones. We are the future, we had been before but no one was listening, in giving us Corbyn the party gave us the two things we needed to win… a platform and a candidate. We will not now be ignored, we will not now be cowed, and we will not now be robbed of our party and our leader.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and you win. Transformed since July from the unwilling standard bearer of the left into the smooth front runner with the confidence to confront the worst of the dirt thrown at him, Jeremy Corbyn has done the one thing none of the others have done; produce popular, vetted and principled positions that resonate with the party and the public. On the night he came to Newcastle the second time I saw him in his dressing room alone with his son and an advisor, composing himself. Let me tell you, the defiant, confident powerful speaker we saw, come from deep inside a private man who knows he is the holder of the dreams, desires and demands of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. The mantle we have laid on him lays heavy but he is equal to the task.
Fool to fighter and winner in such a short time, Jeremy Corbyn has been the figure head and vessel for an entire movement that slumbers no more, what the party does with us in the next few days will go far in determining if there is a Labour Party after 2020.