We are two members energised by the General Election to get involved with the party, and then after the election to step up our involvement – taking on responsibility for community organising. Here in Leeds North West CLP, our Chair has already written about our new approach to this on the Labour List website. Hyde Park Unity Day on 25 July was an obvious event for us to be part of. Leeds Labour was, as usual, represented at this local community festival – which takes place on the border of the Labour Constituency, Leeds Central, and of the 2015 General Election key seat Leeds North West. The event attracts a large number of younger people, but people of all ages attend from both constituencies and further afield in Leeds. We decided to use the medium of the leadership election to engage with people there.
We followed the example of our near neighbour, Elmet and Rothwell Constituency, who asked people at the Rothwell carnival which Labour leadership candidate they would vote for. Like them we had coloured balls which people could use to indicate a preference for candidates. We had four boards with statements from the candidates either sent directly or from their websites.
We spent four hours talking to well over a hundred people – many more than in previous years. There was general recognition of the fact that a leadership election was under way, and of the candidates. Most people stood and chatted with the volunteers at the stall. Nearly everyone who dropped a ball in a bucket was keen to share their views on Labour and on one or more of the candidates. The level of engagement was phenomenal, as was the time people spent speaking to us. We gave out over 50 of the forms to join or register as a supporter.
We didn’t count the balls. We didn’t have to. The result was clear. Corbyn by a landslide. By 3 o’clock, placing a vote for him was akin to a tough game of Jenga such was the difficulty of placing a ping pong ball on top of all the others. It was a lot closer in the race for second place with Yvette Cooper looking marginally ahead of Andy Burnham. Liz Kendall was clearly the least popular totting up a total of 12 votes.
Why did we see such an outpouring of support for the man who at the beginning of the election was priced by almost all of the major bookmakers at 100/1?
The most obvious reason to point to is the event itself. Unity Day is a free festival in Woodhouse, Leeds – an area that combines underprivileged families from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds with students who attend one of the cities two major universities. This make up, combined with the nature of a free festival (itself an exercise in socialism such is the way that people come together collectively to provide for the community) would be obvious fertile ground for Corbyn’s firebrand politics.
But it was not the young people, described so often by the media as naive and idealistic, who we found were placing their votes with Jeremy Corbyn. It was working mums, carers, social workers and teachers many of whom were ex labour voters who could remember the 1970’s and the 1980’s. They had seen their ways of life squeezed by successive Governments who never fundamentally challenged Thatcherism and a Labour Party who didn’t seem to have a plan to transform their communities. In Corbyn they could see hope.
New Labour, led by Tony Blair, achieved great electoral success in 1997, 2001 and 2005 by targeting marginal constituencies, using focus groups to find policies that might appeal to ‘Mondeo man’ or ‘Worcester woman’. This has come at a cost. Turnout at elections has been decreasing as people cannot see the difference between the two major parties. For those who are voting, they are casting their ballots in ever greater number for the so called ‘protest parties’ such as the Greens or UKIP. In Scotland, Labour’s heartland, the SNP romped to victory as Nicola Sturgeon seemed the only option for those who opposed Tory austerity. Labour will not win an election unless it starts to win back its base. It seems, to that end, that Jeremy Corbyn is the only hope.
Sara-Louise Allison – Community Co-ordinator, Leeds North West Constituency Labour Party and Nik Rutherford – Leeds Central Constituency Labour Party