FOR someone derided in the mainstream press as hopelessly out of touch, Jeremy Corbyn can draw a pretty big audience.
His campaign launch in Salford at the weekend filled the Lowry Theatre to capacity and with 1,800 people showing up was about 20 times larger than that of his challenger Owen Smith.
The ability to pack out venues in this country is generally restricted to rock stars and A-list celebs. Politicians struggle to generate such enthusiasm, which is presumably why Corbyn’s many critics are so clueless as to who makes up these crowds and what they represent.
Such demonstrations, they allege, are either full of far-left infiltrators or people who aren’t members of the Labour Party at all, but belong to other political groups.
These accusations fall rather flat. For one thing, until Corbyn won the leadership the ability to attract members of other political parties to your cause was seen as rather a good thing.
Indeed, when the whole Blairite mantra claims to be about reaching beyond Labour’s traditional supporters it is difficult to understand why Corbyn’s unparalleled ability to attract the young and those who have not taken an interest in politics before leaves his critics cold.
For another, veterans of left and labour movement politics will be flattered at the idea that they can fill a hall to bursting with a snap of the fingers or flood the streets with thousands of militant communists to make a point.
Sadly Smith’s lonely address to a half-empty room is more familiar fare to most of us (as it was to Corbyn for many years, so perhaps with a few decades’ dogged campaigning Smith will start to make some progress).
Smith has unveiled a raft of left-leaning policy positions, realising that Labour members are in no mood for reheated Blairism and that only a socialist platform will get a hearing from the members.
This is all to the good.
It shows the cosy consensus that holds the market is always right and worships at the altars of privatisation and deregulation is broken — tribute in itself to how much Corbyn has changed British politics already.
Nonetheless, the gulf between the two candidates’ rallies shows the members are not taken in by a handful of left-wing proposals. Anyone can see this is not an honest competition between two socialists over who can best take the party forward.
Smith’s challenge is the product of an act of parliamentary sabotage, a carefully choreographed attempt to bully Corbyn out of the leadership.
He took part in a bid to decapitate the party at a juncture when opposition unity was sorely needed. He has added his voice to a pernicious narrative portraying Corbyn supporters as bullies, misogynists and anti-semites, charges which fly in the face of the evidence and are hardly likely to win over the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who have joined Labour because they want to help change this country for the better.
Unless he publicly calls for the absurdly draconian suspension of constituency party meetings to be lifted he will be seen as complicit in the anti-democratic lockdown imposed by the Labour Party bureaucracy.
Smith styles himself “Labour’s future.” But a glance at any social-democratic party in Europe shows there is no future in continuing the old way of doing things.
Labour grandees should be delighted that, in stark contrast to other countries, Britain’s left revival is swelling and reinvigorating the traditional party of the left and not taking place outside it.
If they cared about their party they would embrace the mass rallies, the packed-out halls and the half-a-million membership that show Labour is going places.
Their sullen hostility to all three suggest their loyalties lie elsewhere.
This article appeared in The Morning Star editorial of Monday 25th July