Corbyn comes to town.

JC speaking on EU in Brum

11/06/2016

by J.C

Jeremy Corbyn was in town on Thursday on that rarest of nights in Birmingham, a glorious, hot one; to try and persuade us to vote in favour of staying in the EU. A tough gig in anyone’s book.

After his unfortunate non-appearance on Saturday he was a man in demand. Even my mom and dad wanted to see him and normally wild horses couldn’t drag them away from an episode of Peaky Blinders (although as it happens they got home for it, but more on that later).

So I arrived with the aforementioned parents at The Venue (a tough one to explain to a cab driver) in Edgbaston in hope and expectation. A few Momentum supporters (big thanks to Mick, Sue, and Michael for their efforts at this point) gave out some leaflets to the punters (including Billy Bragg, not the biggest fan of his music but all-round decent chap), receiving a good reception for the most part, and then we all found ourselves a seat.

What’s fascinating, and reassuring, is the response that Jeremy still generates after 6 months in the job. 500+ people came to see him, were excited to see him and wanted to listen to what he had to say. Can you imagine that for virtually any other Labour figure right now? He is enormously popular in his party.

It was also terrific seeing that a lot of the audience weren’t just the Labour old-stagers, there were plenty of young people. Hopefully a few of them will join Momentum in due course…

When he appeared the audience were on their feet, cheering him, loudly. The last time I’ve seen my dad react like that was when Blues won the Carling Cup. I’m sure that when he (Corbyn, not my dad) stood for the leadership (was it really a year ago this all started?) that never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d be doing all this now as leader of the party and being cheered to the rafters just for being himself.

Proceedings were chaired by Neena Gill, who seems nice enough. After everyone had taken their seats we began the lead up to the main event. First up was Billy Bragg, who made a pretty good fist of the progressive case for staying in the EU, and the progressive case for engaging in the political process more genuinely, despite things often looking like they are stacked against us.

Next up a young business student who gave us a few facts and figures about the consequences of leaving. the oratory wasn’t masterful but as it was her first time speaking in public we’ll give her a free pass I think.

Then Jack Dromey. Put it this way, I am not entirely convinced of his Corbynista credentials, and his speech didn’t set my pulse racing, but he made a few valid points. I won’t dwell on it.

And finally Corbyn. It’s been commented that he is half-hearted in his support for Remain. He is a critic yes, and he has changed his mind. But that’s allowed, and in fact it’s a good thing when people do when they’ve thought things over. It shows courage and a flexibility of mind that we on the left need.

There is a lot wrong with the EU and a lot will need to change. But we have to weigh that long term aim up against what will happen if we do walk away now, and who will benefit. And I remain unconvinced that it will be the labour movement. So I think Corbyn’s view, that staying is the least bad option right now, is the correct one and actually the one most likely to win over the waverers.

I don’t think Corbyn is going to be remembered as the greatest public speaker the world has ever known. But his argument on Thursday, that public services, the economy, workers rights and the environment are best served by staying in, and that we need to fight within the EU for radical change on a socialist basis along with other leftwing governments across the continent (we live in hope) is an eminently sensible one. To be honest I can’t see another strategy available to us.

To finish, another loud ovation. And that was pretty much that. Jeremy went on his way and we were done for 7:30, just under an hour after we started. Whilst it might have been nice to have questions and contributions from the floor, I have to confess to being slightly pleased to be able to be home for 8. I’m getting old, clearly.

*****

I’ll conclude on a slightly darker note. As the referendum campaign has progressed I’m getting more and more uneasy. The polling, the response when I’ve been campaigning and anecdote after anecdote I’m hearing are convincing me that this could easily go to the Leave side, and not the left-wing one.

If we lose, it won’t be for the want of trying on Jeremy’s part (despite what the media and Labour “grandees” will tell you). He has been criss-crossing the country at an exhausting schedule of events and meetings making the case to stay.

It will be because of a centre-right political class that have treated working class people with contempt and disdain, and an even nastier right-wing political and media coalition who have exploited the justifiable anger and feeling of powerlessness that has been fostered by blaming foreigners, as they have done over and over again throughout history.

Thursday night was enjoyable and I was in the company of a large crowd of people who saw the world largely as I do.

But out there is an even larger crowd who really, really don’t and we are running out of time to do something about it.

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One thought on “Corbyn comes to town.

  1. Michael Trevallion

    In case you haven’t seen this contribution to the discussion on Brexit, here is John Pilger on his blog:

    Sunday 26 June 2016
    John Pilgerjohnpilger.com The films and journalism of John Pilger John Pilger quote Palestinian Girl
    HomeBiographyFilmographyVideoDVDsArticlesBooksLinksContact
    Why the British said no to Europe
    25 June 2016

    image.jpg
    The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media.

    This was, in great part, a vote by those angered and demoralised by the sheer arrogance of the apologists for the “remain” campaign and the dismemberment of a socially just civil life in Britain. The last bastion of the historic reforms of 1945, the National Health Service, has been so subverted by Tory and Labour-supported privateers it is fighting for its life.

    A forewarning came when the Treasurer, George Osborne, the embodiment of both Britain’s ancient regime and the banking mafia in Europe, threatened to cut £30 billion from public services if people voted the wrong way; it was blackmail on a shocking scale.

    Immigration was exploited in the campaign with consummate cynicism, not only by populist politicians from the lunar right, but by Labour politicians drawing on their own venerable tradition of promoting and nurturing racism, a symptom of corruption not at the bottom but at the top. The reason millions of refugees have fled the Middle East – irst Iraq, now Syria – are the invasions and imperial mayhem of Britain, the United States, France, the European Union and Nato. Before that, there was the wilful destruction of Yugoslavia. Before that, there was the theft of Palestine and the imposition of Israel.

    The pith helmets may have long gone, but the blood has never dried. A nineteenth century contempt for countries and peoples, depending on their degree of colonial usefulness, remains a centrepiece of modern “globalisation”, with its perverse socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor: its freedom for capital and denial of freedom to labour; its perfidious politicians and politicised civil servants.

    All this has now come home to Europe, enriching the likes of Tony Blair and impoverishing and disempowering millions. On 23 June, the British said no more.

    The most effective propagandists of the “European ideal” have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21st century zeitgeist, even “cool”. What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as “neoliberalism”.

    The aim of this extremism is to install a permanent, capitalist theocracy that ensures a two-thirds society, with the majority divided and indebted, managed by a corporate class, and a permanent working poor. In Britain today, 63 per cent of poor children grow up in families where one member is working. For them, the trap has closed. More than 600,000 residents of Britain’s second city, Greater Manchester, are, reports a study, “experiencing the effects of extreme poverty” and 1.6 million are slipping into penury.

    Little of this social catastrophe is acknowledged in the bourgeois controlled media, notably the Oxbridge dominated BBC. During the referendum campaign, almost no insightful analysis was allowed to intrude upon the clichéd hysteria about “leaving Europe”, as if Britain was about to be towed in hostile currents somewhere north of Iceland.

    On the morning after the vote, a BBC radio reporter welcomed politicians to his studio as old chums. “Well,” he said to “Lord” Peter Mandelson, the disgraced architect of Blairism, “why do these people want it so badly?” The “these people” are the majority of Britons.

    The wealthy war criminal Tony Blair remains a hero of the Mandelson “European” class, though few will say so these days. The Guardian once described Blair as “mystical” and has been true to his “project” of rapacious war. The day after the vote, the columnist Martin Kettle offered a Brechtian solution to the misuse of democracy by the masses. “Now surely we can agree referendums are bad for Britain”, said the headline over his full-page piece. The “we” was unexplained but understood – just as “these people” is understood. “The referendum has conferred less legitimacy on politics, not more,” wrote Kettle. ” … the verdict on referendums should be a ruthless one. Never again.”

    The kind of ruthlessness Kettle longs for is found in Greece, a country now airbrushed. There, they had a referendum and the result was ignored. Like the Labour Party in Britain, the leaders of the Syriza government in Athens are the products of an affluent, highly privileged, educated middle class, groomed in the fakery and political treachery of post-modernism. The Greek people courageously used the referendum to demand their government sought “better terms” with a venal status quo in Brussels that was crushing the life out of their country. They were betrayed, as the British would have been betrayed.

    On Friday, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was asked by the BBC if he would pay tribute to the departed Cameron, his comrade in the “remain” campaign. Corbyn fulsomely praised Cameron’s “dignity” and noted his backing for gay marriage and his apology to the Irish families of the dead of Bloody Sunday. He said nothing about Cameron’s divisiveness, his brutal austerity policies, his lies about “protecting” the Health Service. Neither did he remind people of the war mongering of the Cameron government: the dispatch of British special forces to Libya and British bomb aimers to Saudi Arabia and, above all, the beckoning of world war three.

    In the week of the referendum vote, no British politician and, to my knowledge, no journalist referred to Vladimir Putin’s speech in St. Petersburg commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941. The Soviet victory – at a cost of 27 million Soviet lives and the majority of all German forces – won the Second World War.

    Putin likened the current frenzied build up of Nato troops and war material on Russia’s western borders to the Third Reich’s Operation Barbarossa. Nato’s exercises in Poland were the biggest since the Nazi invasion; Operation Anaconda had simulated an attack on Russia, presumably with nuclear weapons. On the eve of the referendum, the quisling secretary-general of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, warned Britons they would be endangering “peace and security” if they voted to leave the EU. The millions who ignored him and Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, Obama and the man who runs the Bank of England may, just may, have struck a blow for real peace and democracy in Europe.

    Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger and on Facebook

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