After the disappointing result of GE2015, I was lying in the bath (as one does), and thought to myself that what Labour really needed was a leader who could inspire people by giving strong, passionate speeches, which covered issues that were important to ordinary people, like politicians used to do years ago. And also one who understood, and was prepared to say, that austerity was hurting the poorest and not reducing the deficit (as it was supposedly designed to do), and that the bedroom tax was grossly unfair, etc, etc. However, the initial candidates were so uninspiring that when someone put a poll up on Facebook, people clamoured for an option of “none of the above”!
Then, a post appeared on Facebook saying that someone I’d never heard of, called Jeremy Corbyn, had stepped forward and was standing for the leadership on the Left of the Labour Party. This was very good news, except that the accompanying photograph was absolutely awful! It was taken at night, obviously hurriedly, with the light from the flash shining on his forehead and accentuating his nose. I think he might even have been wearing his “Lenin” cap. So, I groaned and thought “oh, no”!! This was because I realised that the electorate had been used to handsome young chaps over the last few decades and only older people, such as myself, remembered the days when Leaders and PMs were much older and not elected because of their looks. However, I had for some time been a follower of Michael Meacher, an MP whom I greatly admired and respected, so I was reassured to see his name amongst those MPs who had nominated Jeremy.
I later learned that a small group of left-wing MPs had met in Westminster to decide which of them should stand for the leadership. They went round the table, one by one; many had already tried for the leadership in the past and failed, and a few who hadn’t weren’t prepared to stand. Apparently, all eyes then turned to Jeremy, who was told that it was “his turn”. Michael in particular told Jeremy “you’ve GOT to stand”; so he eventually replied something like “oh, alright then”. At the time, it was thought that he couldn’t expect to achieve anything other than give a “voice” to the Left, so it was rather brave of Jeremy to step forward as a “sacrificial lamb” for the cause, after so many others who had gone before him had failed.
We were then made aware that he was going to struggle to get the required number of nominations to go forward to the actual contest. Someone in the know supplied us with lists of the e-mail addresses of the MPs who hadn’t yet nominated anyone, and later on, the e-mail addresses of those who had nominated candidates who had dropped out. So loads of us pestered these MPs, saying that “the left needed a voice” and that it would be undemocratic if they didn’t let Jeremy stand for the leadership. So, I reckon it must have been many of us on Facebook who helped to get Jeremy the required number of nominations!
Many people who voted for him had never heard of him before, and many hadn’t had the opportunity to get to any of the hustings or his rallies, although I did – and discovered that he’s brilliant (and lovely)! However these were filmed and posted on Facebook, which greatly enhanced his popularity, as people liked what he was saying, together with the passion he put into his speeches. One thing that struck me straight away, after the first couple of hustings I saw on TV, was that the other candidates were being booed whereas Jeremy was receiving enthusiastic applause!
After Jeremy was nominated, the next step was to get people to register to vote. Like me, many hadn’t heard of him but knew of and respected Michael Meacher, so many agreed to back Jeremy because they trusted Michael’s judgement, and of course because they wanted a candidate to stand for the Left of the party. Most didn’t realise they didn’t have to join the Labour Party to be entitled to vote, so this was the first point we had to get across. I and very many others therefore made sure that people were aware that they could vote for him even if they weren’t Labour Party members, and we guided them over various stumbling blocks.
Finally, just 48 hours or so before the deadline, loads of us posted and shared information on Facebook, advising people that if they were going to vote it was now or never. The Labour Party’s computers crashed, as so many tried to register just before the deadline; they even had to extend it a few more hours to cope with the demand. Well, I’d like to think that was also down to us!
I thought it was about time I did something worthwhile in my life so was glad of the opportunity. Isn’t modern technology wonderful!! Without computers, e-mails, Facebook and Twitter, I doubt that any of this would have been possible. Social media, when used to great effect, can be very powerful indeed. It’s not often that I get the chance to blow my own trumpet, however it wasn’t just me, but hundreds if not thousands like me, and of course organised people in the background who made all the information we needed available to us; I believe that John McDonnell started the ball rolling with this. And, of course, not forgetting Jeremy himself, who was brave enough to stand in the first place, even though he expected to be ridiculed, and who, through his speeches, honesty and integrity, greatly inspired so very many people.
In the run up to GE2015 I ran a group called “The Real Voice of the People” which only had 35 members to start with and now has over 1,000, with more Corbynistas joining daily. There are also very many much larger groups supporting Jeremy on Facebook, including one for over 50s (like me) started by people who were somewhat put out when an emphasis was frequently placed on his younger supporters. His appeal stretches to all ages, races and backgrounds. I’ve even seen posts by former Tory voters who say they will vote for him in GE2020.
No one asked us to support him, or to do any of the things we did. We just did it off our own bat and were happy to encourage others to follow suit, tell their friends, families, colleagues, etc. It’s not often that ordinary people get the chance to make history! One day, someone will write a book or make a film out of all this!
We have been badly let down by Labour in the past. We’re thrilled to bits that Jeremy won the Leadership and that Labour now has a champion who is upholding the Party’s original values. I’m sure that everyone in the country would prefer to live in a fairer and more equal society so we’re looking forward to him becoming Prime Minister in 2020.
“….. ideologies evolve under pressure from the broad sweep of events and the gathering momentum of human aspiration. The belief that, while the market has its proper place, THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES UNDERPINNING SOCIETY SHOULD BE EQUITY, SOCIAL JUSTICE, EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY AND DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY is a rallying call that evokes a universal response. It is a fundamental change of direction which once launched knows no bounds.”
Wanda is based in Stroud and originally posted this article on the 'Turning the Tide blog' in February 2016. She has updated it for Gloucestershire Radical in time for Jeremy Corbyn's first full year as Labour leader.