The Labour leadership election vote is upon us – well some of us – so the time is right for this post about Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to York on August 8th which I attended. It contains a large chunk of audio, and eight pieces of video including a joke about Michael Gove.
Why is there a report about Corbyn and not Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham? Simply because they didn’t to my knowledge visit York, and I had no real interest into what two of them were saying because they were rehashing the sort of uninspiring, vacuous rhetoric that I’ve come to mistrust. Corbyn for his part was speaking in a language of social unity and socialism that resonated with me. At least it resonated with me from 1983 when I was 20 years old.
York is, for the most part, a comfortable tourist city. Its wealth also emanates from the church and from the old money that surrounds it in the farms and large houses of the North Yorkshire countryside. There are a few areas, specifically Tang Hall and Acomb that are seen as ‘troubled’ by many of the less hard-up citizenry. York was also the location of the Seebohm Rowntree study into poverty in 19011.
That context should go some way to help describe the solidly middle class, reasonably well off North Yorkshire group of people who meandered into the events room of the Royal York Hotel. While not a good cross section (from the people I spoke to, a minority) of classes, the audience did comprise a wide mix of age and gender. This being York, the racial mix was pale verging on ivory white.
Aside from Corbyn being slightly late, there was a notable absence in the form of local York M.P. Rachael Maskell. Apologies for this no-show were made appropriately at the time. I tweeted about this announcement at the time. Rachel picked up the Tweet (she would, I mentioned her directly as a point of information). She sent me this later:
@GasheadAu Is there anything you need to raise about this?I'm visiting my parents, as the Corbyn meeting was going to be on 31st then moved.
— Rachael Maskell MP (@RachaelMaskell) August 8, 2015
I promised to print it here. Make of it what you will.
Onto Corbyn. Essentially I’d like you to watch the shaky video I took. I don’t have professional kit such as a tripod, also I wasn’t expecting to shoot so much footage, so apologies for the one armed shake, but the audio is available both from the candidate and from the crowd.
Was I impressed? Sadly not too much. I was moved by nostalgia. I was moved by and agreed with many of the things said about worker’s rights in this new world of Amazon, zero-hour contracts, uneven globalisation with its concomitant international union solidarity; and of course massive wage and compensation discrepancies between worker and manager.
Much as the language and sentiment used by Jeremy resonated with me, much of it was couched in an old language of socialism. That form of anti-internationalist, parochial, mainly male, socialism that saw the unions eat themselves alive and the post-Atlee Labour governments seeking viable projects.
Corbyn himself looked very much like a man slightly dazed, slightly shocked at the position he finds himself in. Certainly he came over as a man of many principles and certainly a man who has moved the debate within the Labour party back into balance and away from the woefully sheepish right-of-centre, economically cowardly and unimaginative state it has been slithering into since 1999.
Corbyn’s take on the Welfare Reform Bill, the welfare cap, and the sheer lack of business logic that sees in-work benefits cut, the minimum wage renamed but unsupported, also made sense. As did his thoughts on the principle of taxation and national insurance. His practical responses, however, were largely unstated.
He is definitely worth listening to with one ear to history and one to a modernising, yet socialised future. Frankly he is also saying the sort of things that John Prescott should have been yelling in Tony Blair’s ears.
So, here’s the haul, I hope you get something from it.