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.