So as some of you may have seen, this weekend I had the honour of speaking at Jeremy Corbyn’s rally in Featherstone on Saturday. Then on Sunday I spoke at a Morning Star benefit gig in Hebden Bridge. I thought some people may like to read my speech- what I said at Jeremy’s rally is a shortened version of the one below.
“Hello, my name is Beth and I’ve been a Labour councillor on Todmorden Town Council since May of this year. I’m going to start by telling you a bit about my political journey and how I came around to joining the Labour Party- and before you ask, my arm wasn’t twisted by an old Trotskyite!
I have always been a Labour Party supporter and voted for them whenever possible but as some of you who know me will know, I’ve had my reasons to not trust the Labour Party and keep my distance from becoming more involved. However, that changed in around June last year, when a little known, backbench MP put himself into the leadership race. Jeremy Corbyn spoke to me and thousands of others like me in a way that politicians hadn’t before. He was honest, principled and had seemingly always been on the right side of history. When I was 13 years old, I went on the huge anti-Iraq war protest in London, and whilst other Labour Party MPs either buried their heads in the sand or actively campaigned for the invasion, Jeremy marched alongside us.
Whilst MPs were told to abstain on the damaging welfare bill last year, Jeremy voted against it. Whilst other members of parliament were endorsing the government of South Africa during apartheid and our own Prime Minister- she who must not be named- was referring to Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, Jeremy was being arrested for protesting the grotesque regime- a story that is even more poignant to me as my family are of South African origin. I remember watching the first Labour leadership hustings of last year (it’s a shame I have to differentiate which leadership contest I’m talking about…), and Jeremy opened by saying: “Over the years, we’ve lost our way. We’ve become cowed by powerful commercial interests. We’ve become frightened by the press. We’ve become frightened to stand up for what we absolutely believe in. I want a more equal society. I want a fairer society. I want a world at peace, not at war”. Hearing that was one of the moments in my life I will always remember. Politics became about so much more than “the best of a bad bunch” for me from that moment on. And as I’m sure many of you remember as well, the excitement and the buzz around that whole campaign was unprecedented. I had more conversations about politics in the lead up to that leadership election than I’d ever had before. When Jeremy was announced as leader, I was watching the results with my family, crowded around the TV. We were all pretty convinced that Jeremy would win, but hearing that he had won 59.5% of the vote was absolute madness. We were all crying and screaming. We hugged and drank Prosecco like the ‘Prosecco socialists’ that we are. My mum and stepdad, who both left the party over various issues in the past, were excited about the Party once more.
Since Jeremy was elected last year, the excitement and the movement that surrounds him has just kept growing and growing. Politics has become a more regular fixture in people’s daily lives, which can only be a good thing. I realised how much my life had been transformed when me and my boyfriend got home from work and watched BBC Parliament for 6 hours straight! I started attending branch meetings in around February of this year. I was told that the Todmorden branch of the Labour Party had seen a huge influx of members, and I know Calder and Ludenden branches have experienced similar things. As much as the PLP and the media try to discourage and undermine the new membership increase and try and write us off as entryists and radicals, we know that the increase in membership shows that the Labour Party is returning to its roots as a party of the people and is becoming a party you would want to leaflet for and campaign for. I became involved in Calder Valley Young Labour, a group that didn’t exist until Jeremy became leader of the Labour Party. I put myself forward for the position of Town Councillor for the May elections of last year. Both myself and Steve Sweeney, who was standing for re-election as County Councillor for Todmorden saw noticeable increases in vote share. Every time the Party set Jeremy a challenge, and said that would prove whether he was a good leader (such as the Oldham by election and council elections) he met and exceeded expectations. It’s interesting to see that we are now being told that those same hurdles he was set to show he was a good leader, are now no indication of his leadership.
The impact Jeremy has had on young people is one of the most important factors for me. A large proportion of young people who are able to vote didn’t vote at the last general election. We make up a large portion of the electorate but we are often overlooked and written off as being a non-political generation. But really, we had had no one to be excited about or invested in. Young people of a similar age to me have lived through disappointment after disappointment in our political lives. Politicians lying, entering into illegal wars, hiding their money in offshore accounts or pushing damaging austerity agendas. I’m aware that the Blair government made some positive advances and introduced some very important policies, but he also brought about the introduction of tuition fees, something that has hugely impacted people of my generation. He also entered into the Iraq war, a war which we are still experiencing ripple effects from today. The majority of us have never had any reason to engage in politics until Jeremy Corbyn came along. We finally had someone honest and principled who would hold the government to account on issues that affect us. Our current government has presided over some extremely damaging policies for young people, such as the abolition of maintenance grants for university students and the exclusion of under 25s from the so called “living wage”. Along with the trebling of the already crippling tuition fees for university, these policies act in a way which allows only a select, privileged few to be able to afford university at all, and the exclusion of under 25s from the living wage is hardly an incentive to go out and work. I went to university just before the fees were trebled and I am still lumbered with £25,000 of debt which I will probably never be able to pay off. Is this the sort of start young people should be having? But Jeremy Corbyn would stand up for us. He has spoken of his policy of abolishing tuition fees all together and increasing chances of employment for young people. His policies on arts funding are also very important for people of my generation- so many young people are enthused and happy when they are being creative, which is something that is often dismissed. I know so many people who have either never voted before or have voted for either UKIP or the Conservatives, who have joined the Labour Party to vote for Jeremy. Some of whom have even forked out the outrageous £25 supporter fee as well as paying their membership fees for the right to vote.
As I mentioned before, Calder Valley Young Labour has come about as a result of Jeremy being leader of the Labour Party. Our membership has gone from a 3 or 4 people to around 15 active members, some of which are from the Lower Valley- an area which usually means Labour lose in the Calder Valley due to a large proportion of Tory voters. Our members are as young as 13 and stretch up to the maximum age for Young Labour which is 27. We have put on events and fundraisers and we have an event planned for October where Cat Smith, Shadow Ministers for Youth Affairs and Voter Engagement, is coming to do a talk for members. The surge in youth involvement in politics is an absolutely amazing thing, however as recent media coverage shows- our views are often looked down upon or patronised. We are often told that we don’t know enough about politics or that to have the views we have we must have had our arms twisted or been brainwashed.
Another positive that has come out of Jeremy’s leadership is the creation of Momentum. I remember being on Facebook on the day Momentum was created and seeing their page grow in thousands of likes, and I knew I was witnessing the start of something extremely exciting. As their description says: “Momentum exists to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign to increase participatory democracy, solidarity and grassroots power and help Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century”. Can you imagine over a year ago reading something like that coming out of a group within the Labour Party? Momentum is serving an extremely crucial role, and I am honoured to have been asked to speak about them today. An example of the incredible work done by them is the results of the NEC elections a month or ago. Every single candidate who was endorsed by Momentum from the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance slate won a position on the NEC- the Labour Party’s governing body. For those who may not grasp the importance of this, the NEC are the body who decided whether Jeremy Corbyn was automatically on the ballot paper for this leadership election and they decided to impose the £25 supporters fee, so who represents the party on that board is monumentally important. But as I’m sure you’ve either read in your newspaper or heard on the news, the media has not responded kindly to the emergence of Momentum. We have been labelled as thugs, been blamed for all online abuse of MPs and, worst of all, been likened to Nazi Stormtroopers by Michael Foster, the same lovely man who took the party to the high court over its decision to automatically allow Jeremy Corbyn onto the ballot paper. The portrayal of Momentum as a group of thuggish, aggressive far left nutjobs cannot be further from what I have experienced in my time as a member. Every single person I have met in Calderdale Momentum has been overwhelmingly kind and caring, people who not only call themselves socialists but live their socialist beliefs. Someone I know was posting on various social media sites about how dangerous Momentum was, but when she found out me and my mum were members she said “Oh…I didn’t realise YOU guys were members.” That, to me, says it all. When Jeremy is re-elected as leader of the Labour Party, Momentum will continue to play a pivotal role in the next general election, and in making Jeremy our next Prime Minister. They will stand in solidarity with the rest of the Party and will be ready to take the fight to the Tories. I urge anyone who isn’t a member to go to their local branch and have a chat with them, or if there isn’t already a branch, set one up. The only way we will combat the negativity and bias of the media is by being present in communities and having conversations with people about politics, breaking down the walls that have been built by the media and their constant undermining of us and our movement. Momentum have been discussing doing stalls in areas of the Calder Valley which are traditionally Conservative and handing out flyers about Jeremy and his ideas, starting conversations with people about what they think about him. It will be a slow process, granted, but showing our faces in these areas and trying to overcome the image perpetrated by the press is part of the journey towards that landmark day in 2020 when we announce Jeremy Corbyn is our Prime Minister. Once this leadership contest is over, whoever has won, it is important that we put our differences aside and work together as a party to take on our common enemy. We could be stronger than ever right now, with a huge membership and members old and new all enthused and ready to take on the Tories.
Something we have on our side against the media is the use of social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, platforms which have been well used by Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign and Momentum. I know that there is always the risk of talking to an echo chamber; however it is a fantastic way of bypassing the papers and the news and sending out our message directly to people. When people read the policies and ideas and the country Jeremy and our movement want to build, without any negative spin from the Daily Mail or sadly, papers like the Guardian, they are a lot more likely to vote for them. We are also lucky to have papers like the Morning Star on our side, which reminds us that there are still some media outlets that have not been corrupted.
Seeing Theresa May in Prime Minister’s Questions this week has highlighted even more to me how much we need a credible and strong opposition, and not a watered down version of the Tories. They are ruining the country I love, whilst Labour unnecessarily tears itself apart. There are always going to be differences of opinion but the undemocratic way in which the Labour Party has tried to unseat the leader of the Labour Party and has even taken its own members to court to stop them voting, has made me sick.
Whatever happens, we need to remember that this is a kinder, gentler politics. We will not lower ourselves to their dirty politics of smearing and fear. We still stand boldly on a platform of kindness and with a politics of hope. There’s a quote from Gandhi which reminds me of Jeremy and Momentum- “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Thank you.”