The last time a Londoner attracted a 10,000+ crowd to St George’s Hall in Liverpool on a dreary Monday night was probably for a public hanging
Two days earlier on a Saturday a certain alleged Welshman – who was born in Lancashire – attracted less than 1% of that figure in a day of glorious sunshine and even offered free ice cream by comparison and both were there for the same thing.
The numbers are staggering and they do have importance as 100 people turned out to listen to Corbyn for every 1 that turned out to hear Smith’s vision of the Labour ‘message’ and with all the advantages of weather and free time that Smith had in this comparison.
If Corbyn is unelectable what does that say for Owen Smith? I choose not to linger on this point yet those who say numbers are unimportant also say Corbyn only appeals to social media in some form of negligible cult yet the ‘Facebook brigade’ only saw 1600 or so saying they were going so did they each forcibly drag along 5 of their friends too to listen to the unelectable cult on a dreary and wet Monday night in Liverpool?!
The not so subtle Guardian had promoted two articles on Corbyn with one saying he only appeals to the Facebook brigade (as did the New Statesman too) and the self-serving Owen Jones 6,000 word anti-Corbyn diatribe that conveniently forgot to mention that NO Labour government would happen ever again due to the loss of 45+ seats in Scotland that Corbyn inherited. Jones also said that mainstream (ie non social) media is all that counts …. with the delicious irony of his diatribe not making this mainstream media and only commented upon on the irrelevant in his polemical view social media!!
Back to Corbyn and I went along with an open mind (never voted Labour and a politics degree) to see what the fuss was about, and it was interesting in three areas of (i) what Corbyn ‘is and my two major concerns of (ii) ‘welfare’ and specifically opposition to it; and (iii) housing. Corbyn is no orator yet he has passion and spoke emotively recalling the Labour Party’s successes of the past as you would expect to rally the troops and specifically stating it is the troops that are the ones that matter inside the Labour Party; and the people – all of them not the chosen few – who matter and pretty much what you would expect.
He included a few subtle barbs at Owen Jones without naming him and his misplaced diatribe of earlier that day as well as some valid barbs at the media in general, though his oratory is nothing of the force of the Bennite ‘medja’ speeches the Labour faithful know well. Again to be expected.
Yet he reached people…
He is a people person and comes across as an honest politician, somebody who is genuine and credible and believable and far removed from the often stilted appearance we see from him on television. Corbyn is a throwback to a conviction politician, one of principle and belief rather than spin and he is often dismissed by his detractors who say he only brings hope and nothing more.
It is difficult to articulate what Corbyn ‘is’ and what he brings to the political table yet one member of the crowd said it so well when being interviewed by the local BBC regional news:
“In the area where I live 30,000 children are living in poverty. Nobody bats an eyelid; nobody’s really concerned … HE IS”
That encapsulates what Corbyn IS and the video footage of that 5 seconds ( 3:54 to 3:59 in here ) is necessary to watch as not only does the tone of ‘HE IS” become more assertive, there is a tiny pause and a nod of the head to where Corbyn was speaking from that the ellipsis above represents before it was said. It is 5 seconds of something that any PR or spin machine couldn’t reproduce with actors, 5 seconds of video footage telling a much much bigger story and so powerfully.
Note too that this 30,000 figure is just one area of Liverpool and also likely to be a cautiously low figure.
The lady speaking, Karen Price, I know well and is a campaigner against welfare cuts that started off with the bedroom tax and coincidentally the Guardian’s report of this event features a picture of Corbyn shaking hands with another local bedroom tax campaigner, and, as is the Guardian’s want, they describe the crowd at 5,000 when even the police say it was 10,000. The BBC regional news also failed to state how many were there but did mention 172 MPs and Owen Smith; make of that what you will!
Karen describes herself and her political belief system accurately as being of right or wrong and not right or left and prior to the so-called ‘welfare reforms’ was not politically active. If a Labour government has introduced the scathing austerity policies wrongly called reforms Karen would be as forcefully opposed to them. Corbyn is reaching the formerly apolitical who are saying enough is enough and something must be done and she correctly focuses on their impacts of 30,000 CHILDREN in poverty in her area as a direct consequence of them.
Corbyn went on to say that a Labour Party under his leadership will never again abstain as Labour did on “Welfare Reform” and that John McDonnell changed the narrative by saying that austerity is not an economic necessity but an ideological choice. Labour will finally oppose and that is long overdue and necessary yet a much greater focus on saying what they mean – 30,000 children in poverty rather than a focus on the policies themselves- is needed.
John McDonnell is right about austerity yet the Labour Party has not convinced the public over it and the near silence from the Miliband Labour Party on opposing ‘welfare’ for 5 years is precisely why the Labour Party is unelectable and not because of who is leading the party for me.
In terms of getting the Corbyn message across on ‘welfare’ then Labour is weak. In addition to fighting the uphill battle of a hostile media, Corbyn’s campaign manager in Steve Rotherham is a noticeable weakness. Rotherham spoke before Corbyn and it has to be said with two tongues as he is also a candidate for the Liverpool City Region’s new mayor. That alone is perverse and would take a very forceful speaker resplendent in the dark arts of sophistry and oratory to pull off … precisely what Rotherham is not.
Rotherham is my local MP and his reading out of the 96 names in the House of Commons was a truly emotive piece of parliamentary theatre that earned him huge kudos. Yet despite this nuance of respect he deserves and his brave admission that under previous leaders he was compelled to vote for policies he was strongly against in principle as part of the (undemocratic) party system we have, he fails to inspire. His apparently brave honesty comes across as weakness which when coupled with running for LCR mayor at the same time smacks of careerism and of him hedging his bets. His role as Corbyn’s campaign manager damages Corbyn.
Corbyn did not say how he would oppose ‘welfare’ in any detail as you may expect and did not say he would abandon the bedroom tax or even reverse the Miiliband Labour position on the overall benefit cap reduction which is THE most negatively impactful policy for people and for housing that may see 7000+ children evicted and become homeless in Liverpool when it becomes operational in 3 months time; yet he did say some further detail over housing. He would regulate private rents and private landlords, more a London message than a Liverpool or Northern one but necessary all the same and to be welcomed by housing and especially by tenants.
Yet what he said about council housing and note council not social housing was significant for the housing sector. He would build council houses and enough that was needed to solve the ‘housing crisis’ in a first term. That is a huge undertaking and he sought to substantiate that and counter the argument that this was a huge additional public sector and therefore taxpayer cost by offering the Keynesian rationale for it. The public purse cost would see in return a huge increase in construction employment and associated supply chains that would generate more in taxes than paid out in ‘welfare’ – an argument that is used by the so-called left wing dinosaur nostalgists in political and practical terms but also by the political hard right in economic terms as the SHOUT report confirms.
Corbyn’s housing solution in a mass council house building strategy is right as in the opposite of wrong and also correct in political terms as it appeals to the political left and the economic right. However, and leaving aside the massive NIMBY objectors to 1 new council house let alone a million or more, Corbyn faces a housing sector that is just as hostile to him and his argument as the media is to him because almost two-thirds of what are called social landlords are housing associations and not council landlords.
Corbyn always states council housing and never social housing and those who thought him saying this at the last Labour conference was a slip of the tongue were mistaken. Corbyn strongly believes in council housing and not (necessarily) in housing association housing and given last weeks ‘best presented’ figures from the NHF that revealed just 13% of all new HA developments were for social rent and 87% not at a social rent level then he has a very strong point indeed as he wants government to serve ALL rather than the few at the core of his beliefs.
While housing associations are fixated on providing ‘sub-market’ housing and here note even a HA social rent is typically 13% higher than a council social rent level, that is not inclusive and for all by HA’s. HA’s are choosing to provide the basic human right of a home to those with deeper pockets than those more vulnerable and is anathema to Corbyn’s belief system.
Council and HA housing, the ubiquitous misnomer of social housing, is always perceived in its political context and regrettably it is not seen as it should be as THE most cost-effective way to house all of the people, or its huge economic rationale that the author of the SHOUT report as a self-stated laissez-faire right-wing economist said the social housing model is.
Corbyn’s solution to the housing crisis, that oft-heard misnomer which in reality is 20 different crises, with a mass council house building programme is right and the correct and best solution: The current Conservative housing policy that focuses entirely on home ownership is the wrong one.
Yet Corbyn not only faces an extremely hostile media and an extremely hostile NIMBY contingent right across the country, he also faces an extremely hostile housing association sector to what is the only and the right solution to the country’s housing needs that will benefit all of the country and for generations to come. In short, not a hope in hell’s chance of it ever coming to fruition, yet something we should all get on board with regardless of political leaning because it is the right solution.
Corbyn invokes political idealism, economic practicality yet rank cynicism all at the same time … interesting yet bloody frustrating! Then again his call to renationalise the railways has huge public support according to the polls so a renationalising of former council housing anyone …. hmm ….