It doesn’t start when I thought it would. Because I’m hopeless and disorganised and depressed and mostly sleepless, I end up calling a taxi to take me to the train station. We chit-chat for all of thirty seconds before I say, all excited, that I’m going to Doncaster to see Jeremy Corbyn.
“Corbyn!?” the driver says in recognition, a massive grin on his face, and I nod. A moment later the import of that makes it’s way through the ever-present fog in my brain. The rest of the journey, neither of us talks about the weather, or how busy the taxi trade is, or anything banal and ordinary. Instead, it turns out he’s a Labour Party member, and we keep telling each other things like:
“He’s the best thing to happen to the Labour Party for years!”
“It’s so brilliant, all this support.”
“He’s got to win.”
“Did you read that bit about…?”
It’s a fact that most people in my acquaintance are about as political as plankton. So this discovery that there are “others” is quite fantastic, although having said that my illness isolates me to a great extent, so it’s possible I’m just not seeing enough people. Probably more than two or three would do the trick.
I make the train, and as I walk out of the station I get directions from someone wearing a Corbyn t-shirt. On the way in everyone gets a winning raffle ticket for free, and the prize is getting to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak.
There’s a kind of low-level buzz of energy about the room while members greet each other, as if no one can quite believe they’re here, now. But we are here. Lots of us. And then we find out there’s another room full of people who’ve arrived after us. Jeremy is talking to them first.
Local man Tosh McDonald, the President of ASLEF, talks to us in the meantime, and it’s a great talk. We are treated to a bit of history about the trains and coal and the miners’ strike. But the theme running under all of it is public ownership. He reminds us that the coal and the mines belonged to us. The trains that moved the coal to power stations belonged to us. The power stations belonged to us. Looking around the room, lots of us are too young to remember, and the past suddenly seems radical rather than historical. Can you even imagine working in a job where you didn’t make money for someone else? A job that is truly for the national interest? No, I can’t either.
Those who do remember are here with us, and it fills you with a sense of how far backwards we have gone.
I learned a lot about trains, and had the strangest sensation as he talked about the rickety old trains that run on our local lines, how they’re rusting and have holes in the drivers’ cabs, and apologised to us for them. Apologised! As if it could ever be the fault of a great union like ASLEF, as if at some point some invisible and onerous charge had been laid at their feet to protect the railways for all time, even as everything was privatised around them. No. It’s not their responsibility. Their only responsibility is to ensure the welfare and working conditions of their members. It’s the responsibility of a government we’ve been waiting much too long for. A government we should have had from 1997 onwards, but that was somehow stolen from us.
And he went on to say things I’d never heard before, about that privatisation. About how parts of our rail network are run as a private concern by the state rail services of other countries in Europe, who take the profits from the high fares we pay, and poor investment we put up with, and use them to subsidise their own countries’ state run rail services, aided, abetted, and partly financed by our own government. It makes the blood begin to boil.
I’ve been reading the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists lately, because I thought it was time I really did, and I recall some thought of Owen’s in there: if the people only knew how they were cheated. Owen goes on to think that they don’t want to know. Well, there’s a difference around now, because people are starting to wonder. Even as self-isolated as I am, I know that’s true, otherwise there wouldn’t be this wave of support for Jeremy Corbyn.
He talks about Thatcher, and a low sound reverberates around the room, and that’s okay, because I’m from one of the mining heartlands, and I was born in 1976. We were brought up to hate her in our playgrounds, and as an adult, I don’t hate her any less. Because the jobs we used to have are gone. The lifelong security of that work is gone, and what’s left are much too poorly paid, zero rights wastes of time. My Dad used to work in the steel industry when I was a child (before it packed up and disappeared), and he brought home enough to raise us, to keep a family, so that my mum could bring us up herself at home without the need to claim for anything. Imagine that? I can’t now. Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, and people mistook it for an observation instead of a prediction of what she’d leave us with. Nothing.
Anyway, despite all that it’s a fairly rousing, inspiring talk. We all want those things back. We want our society back. We want public ownership again. Many of us have been wishing heartily for it for years. And just as I’m sitting there, he mentions New Labour’s shift to the right, and how there wasn’t anywhere for the core Labour vote to go, but now there is. And I’m guilty because I’ve voted Labour in General Elections because I have no other choice, but voted Green whenever I can the last few years.
Tosh says the SNP and the Greens have positioned themselves to the left of Labour, and I silently agree. What’s to be done? And then he says: “They won’t be to the left of a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn!” And I applaud because I want to come home. I nearly can. We only have to win, at least for now. And it is “we” not Jeremy Corbyn. I’m not voting for him to make choices for me, or to do the job of things I don’t want to think about. Voting for him is a vote for us: the forgotten, the abandoned. We, who’ve done nothing wrong except for be born working class while the Tories took everything away (including the “working” part of our identity) and New Labour did next to nothing to stop them, even when in government. What’s left isn’t work, it’s glorified slavery to fill your time until you die, poverty for all supported by the state.
We want to win, and we want to see Labour be great again. We want to move forward. And it’s time, isn’t it? Because the main event is coming in the room now to a standing ovation before he’s even said a word.
It occurs to me I’m seeing one of two things as he stands before us, quietly assured, confident and humble all at the same time. Either he is a man who will lose the leadership election to yet another pretender or pale imitation, or he has the potential to be the greatest Prime Minister this country has had since Clement Attlee. If he wins, he’ll have an army at his disposal, because if I’m sure of anything, it’s that those who want him to win the leadership want him to win the General Election in 2020 as well, and are prepared to do anything and everything they can to ensure it, whatever nonsense the papers say. I know because I include myself in that.
When he talks he hardly ever stops for the frequent spontaneous rounds of applause, and I’m glad because it means that at heart this isn’t merely a performance. And it definitely is not about adulation or hero worship, however much of it is present in the room. It’s a speech of conviction, a conviction that we’re all rapidly beginning to share.
You know the things he talked about, because you’ve been watching his videos, attending his meetings and rallies, reading his policy documents. You know what he says about housing, education as a public good, the environment and trident. I’ve read Northern Future, and whatever the challenges a Corbyn-led Labour might face, whatever the challenges a Corbyn-led government might face, it’s not just desirable and reasonable to want the things he advocates – it’s necessary. If the story of this country truly is one of progress over time, of people fighting for things, for rights, for education, decent housing and healthcare, and winning them; then it has to be him now. There can’t be any fear or hesitation. There is no alternative; there’s no other, easier, way. Standing before us is the real thing, and he doesn’t tell us: “This is what I’ll do.” Never. Not once. Instead, he says: “This is what we need to do together.”
He encourages us to read the policy documents and comment on them, to debate them, to suggest more things, better things. He is a leader that a movement can gather around and grow. He is a man we can have in common while we debate these things for ourselves. He is unity and inspiration, and we need him.
If I had to boil down the essence of Jeremy Corbyn’s message into a few words, it would be these:
The job of a government is to ensure the economy works and provides for all. Growth, prosperity and care for each other and our environment are not just possible, are not just dreams. They are necessary, now more than ever, and they are natural consequences when that first condition is met.
If you do anything important this week, this month, this year, or in your life. Register and vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s the way forward.
Thank you for reading.