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Monday 28th
posted by Morning Star in Features

What is it about Jeremy Corbyn that has thousands of people flocking to join – or rejoin – Labour? EMILY MAIDEN investigates

A CLUTCH of new words entered British consciousness over the summer of 2015 — all variations on a theme.

“Are you a Corbynista?” you might have been asked on the commute to work; “What about these Corbynists, then?” may have been heard between that pint of semi-skimmed and the seeded rolls in the local supermarket.

One thing’s for certain, when socialist backbencher Jeremy Corbyn put his name forward for the Labour leadership election all the way back in June, he certainly achieved his stated aim of “widening the debate.”

While Blairites were busy wringing their hands about “not being trusted with the economy” and other such blame games and nonsense, the grassroots had already set about restoring the apples to the cart.

Somewhere between the local party activists and the legacy of the Blair years, the Labour Party had suffered an identity crisis.

A Labour Party which championed academy schools and PFI while failing to vote against Tory welfare cuts was not the type of Labour Party that the country wanted.

The general election wasn’t lost because the public thought that “Red Ed” was too far to the left and, quite frankly, at one point it seemed as if no-one could be “trusted with the economy.”

When Corbyn threw his hat into the ring, thousands of those with traditional Labour values drew a collective sigh of relief.

Finally, someone who conducts his politics in a refreshingly open and democratic style, free from spin doctoring and vocal coaching — a real alternative is possible after all.

In the midst of what became known as “Corbynmania,” I spoke to some of Corbyn’s supporters to find out exactly what it was about the 66-year-old MP for Islington North that had managed to reach out to so many people with such ease — after all, it’s something that the so-called “grandees” and careerist politicians have been attempting (and failing) for years.

Jeremy had achieved it seemingly by just being Jeremy. It must have driven his rivals to despair.

Back in August, Phil, 57, a former shipyard worker declared the Corbyn campaign to be “Britain’s Syriza moment,” and explained that whatever the outcome of the leadership election “the socialist genie is well and truly out of the bottle.”

After the result, Phil’s optimism was still evident.

“The future of the Labour Party has taken a very positive turn for the better, and this has happened as a result of the momentum generated by an increasingly social and political movement … people are genuinely excited by the prospect of the Labour Party genuinely representing their hopes and aspirations.”

This excitement saw 15,000 people join the Labour Party as full members within 24 hours of Corbyn’s election as party leader. 

The incredible momentum of his campaign has continued beyond the announcement of the result, and it is now estimated that well over 50,000 new members have joined the party since Corbyn’s victory on September 12. Some suggest that the actual figure is around 62,000 and rising.

This membership surge is nothing short of incredible in a country which has some of the lowest political party membership rates in the whole of Europe.

Tim Farron, new leader of the Lib Dems, proudly boasted of his party’s growth in numbers since the general election while claiming to offer the only “credible” alternative to Tory rule.

This statement was massively undermined by the fact that Labour gained more members in one week than the Lib Dems have in their current membership books — even with Farron’s boast of an extra 10,000 members since May.

Quite something, wouldn’t you say, Mr Farron, especially when you’ve accused Corbyn of being “unelectable”?

The grassroots of the Labour Party elected this — ahem — “unelectable” leader with almost 60 per cent of the total votes cast.

Ex-shipyard worker Phil perceives this grassroots movement as inspired by the policies that Corbyn put forward during his campaign which are “not the result of focus groups and triangulation. They have largely been canvassed from the bottom up.”

This “bottom-up” approach has proved hugely successful, partly due to the fact that it gives people a real sense of ownership over their party.

The gap between the grassroots and elected MPs has been allowed to develop into an undeniable gulf that must be slammed shut while the chance remains.

The media pundits talk of “uniting” the Labour Party, yet the Labour Party cannot be united until the views of the grassroots are those reflected and fought for by the elected representatives.

Jeremy Dodd, 45, also spoke with me earlier in the summer about his optimism that “a form of progressive socialism could have a national impact.”

Jeremy joined the party as a full member once Corbyn had secured his leadership nominations — the first time that he has ever joined a political party. “Before that, there wasn’t one in which I believed.”

One of the inspiring outcomes of Corbyn’s campaign and eventual success has been the huge numbers of people signing up to be members of a political party when they’d never dreamed of doing so just four months ago.

The author of left-leaning blog PoliticalSift explains that he feels “proud to be part of (the Labour Party)” now that Corbyn has been elected, “but most of all I feel empowered … people have enthusiastically joined the Labour Party because they feel that they have a voice, that they are part of something.”

A testament to Corbyn’s ability to attract large numbers of people is the fact that members of other parties are resigning their membership and joining Labour.

Rebecca, 27, used to be a member of the Green Party until Corbyn’s leadership victory.

“My natural home in politics is the Labour Party, however, in recent years I’ve seen the party lose its focus, hence why I joined the Greens. I have witnessed the Labour Party restore its true values and reason for being and am now a fully paid-up member. I just feel like we can really build something with Labour.”

Jennifer Churchill, former Lib Dem councillor for Richmond-upon-Thames Borough Council has defected to Labour “in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”

In a blog for the Huffington Post, Churchill praises Corbyn’s “intelligent taxation” and explains that “he has stood up for many of the issues that I have been concerned with over the last 11 years, such as the war on Iraq. He oozes authenticity and political courage.”

For some, joining Labour has been part of a wider call for unity on the left in the hope of restoring a political strength to the labour movement, capable of winning at the ballot box.

Andrew Jordan, 27, was a member of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) for 10 years, rising to the very top of the party as president. Resigning this position was not an easy decision for Andrew.

“I have a great deal of affection and respect for SLP members but I do not believe division between smaller parties is the way to take the trade union and labour movement as well as country forward any longer.

“I believe we have a real opportunity for change and a real opportunity to build a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party.

“After more than 10 years of being an SLP member and more than four years of being president I have decided to step aside from it.

“I hope that my example will encourage many from across the left to leave their baggage at the door and to constructively engage in unity by joining the Labour Party. It is perhaps easier to be sentimental or to stay in your own personal comfort zone in a smaller party but that really is no longer the best way forward and will be of no help to communities and people across Britain that need help today and hope for tomorrow.”

Richard Burgon MP has recently held an informal social event in his constituency for old and new members of the Labour Party.

“It was really well attended, with a great mix of young people getting involved in a political party for the first time and more seasoned Labour supporters joining or rejoining.

“There was a friendly, open atmosphere of enthusiasm and determination. I’m always interested in finding out what inspired people to become political activists and what inspired people to join the Labour Party, so I asked everyone in the room to share with everyone else what made them decide to join the Labour Party.

“Almost everyone specifically said that it was Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, his message of hope and his call for a new kind of politics that had inspired them to join up.

“It was fantastic to see so many local people enthused to get involved in political activity. They’re all up for taking on the Conservative government and its political choice of austerity.”

From #LabourPurge to #LabourSurge within a matter of weeks — Corbyn has reinvigorated the grassroots of the party, something which has not been evident for almost a generation.

Burgon explains why Jeremy was the man to do it — “a managerialist, Establishment approach would never have inspired such an incredible surge in Labour Party membership.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is about a new kind of politics — and not just down in Westminster, but in local communities right across the country.

“The political and big business backed media Establishment doesn’t want ordinary people empowered to drive the political process towards creating real change. Jeremy Corbyn does.”

  • Richard Burgon will be writing for the Morning Star on Wednesday.