The problem with rallies
I shared a stage with Jeremy, it’s easy to understand why he thinks we can win.
In September, I was asked to speak at the People’s post rally taking place in Manchester in early October – I accepted, because, despite not voting for him, I was still feeling optimistic about Jeremy’s leadership, and though I’m terrified of public speaking, the opportunity to speak about the causes I was passionate about and share a stage with the leader of the party I was a member of was too good to turn down. Having only become involved in politics that April – I’d never attended a rally, to be honest, I don’t think I even knew they happened. I wrote my speech about anti-austerity, the cruelty of the Tory government, and the need for Labour to tackle this, as I still thought Jeremy was doing a good job of doing. I’d never done any public speaking before, so to stand first time on a stage outside in front of around 6,000 people was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But, with a little much needed encouragement from fellow speaker Owen Jones, I got up there, I said it, and there was a huge applause at the end. People came up to me afterwards, congratulating me, two people actually said that it made them cry. But everyone was full of praise. It was an incredible feeling. I experienced this for an hour. This is basically Jeremy’s life.
Jeremy spends so much of his time around people who admire and idolise him that’s it’s easy to see why he thinks we can win in 2020. It’s easy to see that when he meets literally hundreds of people every day who tell him what a fantastic leader he is, how he’s started to believe it, he’s constantly inside an echo chamber of success. When faced with the choice between a rally full of adoring, applauding supporters or tough questions from a journalist, a media organisation he sees as “hostile” or his leadership rival, Jeremy would clearly (and understandably) choose to speak to his supporters. But therein lies the problem, it seems that Jeremy doesn’t want to reach out.
It’s easy to forget on that stage, in the applause, about the countless people at home who aren’t applauding, the people who are scowling, the people who probably wouldn’t vote for us in 2020. I know I wasn’t thinking about them when I was very briefly in Jeremy’s position on the stage. Because those people (the majority of the voters) don’t attend rallies or protests, one of the only ways to reach out to them is via the media. Through TV interviews and debates. All credit to Jeremy, he’s inspiring at rallies, he inspired me once. But in media interviews, when he needs to earn praise from the people who don’t go to rallies, who follow politics through the news on their TV, he’s barely half as convincing or inspiring as he is on a stage. Rallies provide a great opportunity to interact with supporters, to inspire them to campaign for us, media interviews provide an opportunity to interact with the general public, to convince them to vote for us, and we need a Leader who is good at (and, importantly, actually willing to do) both of those things. That, I think, is one of the fundamental problems with Jeremy, he’d rather be applauded by people who would already vote for him than questioned by those who need convincing. The thing is, in an election, you need to convince, you need to reach out to the people who don’t go to rallies. We can’t win with rallies. They don’t do anything. It seems like a ridiculously obvious point to make but, do you know who have literally zero rallies? The Tories. Do you know who keep winning elections? Also the Tories. This is in no way me saying Labour should be anything like the Tories – I’m just pointing out there is no real correlation between rally attendance and being electable to the general public.
While rallies might be great for Jeremy’s ego and inspire a lot of people who already support us they do absolutely nothing in terms of what Labour needs to do to win in 2020 – in fact, they perpetuate a false narrative, a narrative that says we are winning. We are not winning. When you speak to people who don’t go to rallies, who aren’t members of the party, you get the feeling that we’re losing, and badly. The polls suggest this too – and for those of you who don’t trust polls, remember that they actually overestimated Labour support in 2015. If voting intentions were judged by rally attendance the next YouGov poll would say “Labour: 100%”. Rallies are great, fun, and inspiring, but at the end of the day thousands of people at rallies doesn’t mean that Labour can win an election and doesn’t necessarily help us to.