Old Labour and young Labour both agree their time has come with Jeremy Corbyn
The Mirror’s Brian Reade goes on the leadership trail with Jeremy Corbyn to find out why the crowds are flocking to see him.
The queue snaked for 100 yards along the pavement outside the Tyne Theatre in the lashing rain an hour before he arrived.
In a square around the corner, 500 more, unable to get their hands on one of the 1,280 tickets that sold out in five hours, braved the miserable Newcastle night for an open air pre-rally, rally, waiting with rapt anticipation to hear their bearded, peace-loving messiah called JC spread his anti-austerity gospel.
When he finally arrives, 45 minutes late, due to the 1,000 supporters who had delayed him at an afternoon meeting in Middlesbrough, the crowd greet him with raucous cheers and his Obama-esque mission statement: “Jes we can, Jez we can.”
He takes to the outdoor stage with a grace that defies his 66 years. Dressed in his trademark lecturer chic he is a paragon of cool.
And he’s straight into his message: “People want to know how we can make society different and how can we make our party more in touch with ordinary people’s lives? People are crying out for an alternative that should have been put at the last election.”
Each sentence is punctuated with loud roars from the wet, but fixated crowd.
Yet it’s not just the huge, unprecedented numbers of people who are turning up for these Corbyn rallies that should frighten the Labour Party hierarchy, it’s the type of people.
Yes there are characters from hard-left central casting handing out pamphlets, and plenty of old school trade unionists and socialists (some sporting Jezza caps), even veteran film-maker Ken Loach.
But the crowd is more reminiscent of a student union gig than a collection of dinosaurs of yesteryear.
They’re mostly youthful, mostly disillusioned, traditional Labour voters. They’re Old Labour and Young Labour but they want a new Labour. Corbyn is energising them. And giving them hope.
People like retired teacher, Eric Scarboro, 59, who said he became disillusioned under Tony Blair and drifted away from the party.
But Corbyn has pulled him back with his anti-austerity message and his sincerity. “There’s no performance going on. He’s real,” he says.
And the criticism of those who’ve been won over by Corbyn, makes him even more determined to see his man win: “The Labour Party wanted to win back the disillusioned and those who’ve never voted. Then when we come to them, they tell us to go away.”
Inside the Tyne Theatre, I put it to a 43-year-old electrician Rod, that their messiah surely has no chance of winning the next general election on a far-left agenda, meaning at least 10 years of Tory rule.
“Do you really believe any of the other Tory-lite candidates can win?” he replies. “And if they did, on what platform? All three of them have already refused to oppose Osborne’s savage welfare cuts. So what’s their point?”
His friend, Mike, butts in: “I’m tired of compromise that’s brought us nothing. If you’re going to lose, lose on your own terms.
“What did that Mexican fella say? It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
It could almost be the Corbyn slogan.
Inside the hall it feels like I’m back in Scotland during last year’s referendum. There is an electric buzz in the air. A sense of liberation.
When Corbyn speaks he touches their every G-spot: Bankers’ greed, welfare cuts, the NHS, anti trade union laws, the consequences of our illegal wars.
He tells them “the levels of inequality in this country are the worst in Europe. Surely we can do something very different?”
He says he wants to see a “fundamental change to our politics” centred on “a basic humanity.”
He tells them that their “optimism” this summer “has produced a big change in how we do politics.”
When he finishes, all 1,280 supporters leap to their feet roaring their lungs out, yelling for more.
When I take a straw poll of why they are transfixed by a pension-aged backbencher who has spent most of his time in Westminster opposing his party the same words come back. Because he’s “authentic, real, a breath of fresh air, decent, straight, principled, genuine.”
He has been packing out 1,000-plus auditoria across the land for weeks. They’ve had to move rallies to bigger venues and set up overspill rooms.
His own Twitter account following now stands at 104, 000. It was below 32,000 when the campaign begin.
This is a phenomenon, the like of which I haven’t seen in 40 years of watching Labour from close-quarters.
Because it’s feeding off an aching for change that’s coming from ordinary Labour supporters below, not being imposed by rulers from above.
Corbyn stands behind the slogan: “Straight talking. Honest politics.”
He’s using the words a man in the pub uses, the way Nigel Farage did so effectively. It’s unspun, unaffected and unapologetic.
Whatever happens in this leadership election there is a feeling that the Labour party won’t be the same again. This most astonishing of campaigns has changed the party for good.
And it’s no bad thing. Many among the left feel they have been taken for granted and told to bite their tongue for too long.
Told that due to the electoral system it’s no longer about what they want and believe in, but what swing voters in middle England want, and what their focus groups tell the Labour Party to currently believe in.
Too many traditional Labour supporters believe the party has become obsessed with how it is perceived rather than what it stands for.
That rather than put local activists up for election, they choose to parachute Oxbridge-educated advisers into safe seats to give them a route to a future cabinet.
Blame the old Blairites like Tony himself or Peter Mandelson, comfortably living on the millions they made off the back of being voted in by working-class Labour voters, who now have the gall to tell anyone who warms to Corbyn that they need a heart transplant.
They have been his finest recruitment officers.
It may not end wonderfully for the Corbyn camp. Politics is a brutal business. But right now they’re having their say. Their legitimate, democratic say. Under Labour Party rules.
Across the land at these rallies Old Labour and Young Labour are living in the moment.
They feel their time has come.
Originally published at Mirror.