There’s a lot to be said for breaking out of the echo chamber. With this in mind, I accepted a friend’s suggestion of seeing Jeremy Corbyn’s much publicised visit to the Brundell Social Club on Monday. While it didn’t win me over (which in fairness to the man was a tough ask, as any of my friends will tell you) the experience did make me think about a few things which it otherwise wouldn’t have done.
You could not fail to be struck by the enthusiasm. An estimated anywhere between 3 and 4000 people attended, mostly labour supporters understandably but also a few sceptics such as myself (and the obligatory small showing from the Socialist Workers Party). Much as labour’s situation in the opinion polls is dire, much as their performance in the local elections at the start of May was woeful, Corbyn clearly has a strong base of diehard supporters who fully sign up to his vision for the country and believe totally in his ability to bring about the change he promises. Many other politicians would love such a devoted personal following. I must admit that, much as I wouldn’t swap it for the 15-20 point lead in the opinion polls that the Conservative party currently has, the sheer passion and enthusiasm at the rally did leave me slightly jealous. People simply don’t turn out in their thousands to listen to a centre-right politician such as Theresa May.
As for the man himself? He was as fired up as ever. If he is dismayed by his party’s current unpopularity there was no sign of it. Perhaps he feels liberated, like a football team who are already relegated and suddenly start winning matches once they can play without fear of failure. There were the usual (and not unjustified) complaints about inequalities and social injustices which nobody can deny are a blight on modern Britain. He was, however, somewhat light on potential policy solutions, and stuck to the clichéd left wing line of blaming the evils of the mainstream media for his party’s problems. In all, he came across as a man whose heart is in the right place, but who seemed more in his element at rallies of the faithful such as this one than making the difficult decisions required of a Prime Minister. Nonetheless, the crowd seemed to lap it up.
Impressive as it was as a spectacle, particularly by the mundane standards usually set by British general elections, I did also feel that the rally betrayed a few of the barriers which stand between labour and holding office (which is obviously the primary aim of any major political party). For one, it is unlikely to have swayed anyone not already a committed labour supporter. Now this does not make it worthless; rallies are an opportunity to fire up the base and encourage them to go out and campaign to win over some of the majority of the electorate who aren’t deeply political. However, the cynic in me wonders how many of the 3000 odd supporters there will be willing to knock on the doors of ordinary voters who don’t necessarily share their love of Mr. Corbyn and what he stands for. Where Corbyn devotees hear idealism, most voters hear naivety. Where they hear a commitment to peace, most voters hear soft on defence. Where they see radical redistribution, most voters hear tax and spend. The bottom line is that labour has to do more than preach to the converted and has to engage with voters who perhaps voted for it in the past but whose priorities are lightyears away from Corbyn’s narrowly focussed rhetoric.
(Image courtesy of ITV)