Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier (No 11)
By Michael Murray
Facebook: Michael Murray London – a commentary/digest of political news for busy people.
Dictionary definition of “foot soldier” “…a dedicated low level follower.”
In this entry:
- A month is a long time in politics
- Up the polls
- (3) The Young Vote
(1) A month is a long time in politics
A month ago, just after Theresa May called for a ‘snap’ general election, immediately welcomed enthusiastically by Jeremy Corbyn in full “bring it on” mode, the diary entry read: “Please tell me why you are smiling at the prospect of a General Election which is going to be dominated by Brexit – a major fault-line right through the Labour Party, criss-crossing the other fault-line of a totally divided Parliamentary Party?”
A month later? Newspaper headlines saying: “Poll firm predicts shock losses for Theresa May’s Tories at General Election,” by the Political Editor of The Times, no less. The Tory lead in the polls cut day by day almost until YouGov came up with their most recent findings: the Tory lead could be down to as low as 3 points. From a 24 point gap to 3 – within a month ? To top it all, Jeremy Corbyn’s preference for Prime Minister polled higher than Theresa May’s for the first time in London with a 37 to 34 margin for Corbyn compared to 38 to 32 margin favouring Theresa May last month. A second YouGov survey (2nd June: Evening Standard) gives Labour a 17 point lead over Tories in the capital. So, in a month, we’ve moved from an impossibly high Tory lead in the polls to predictions that the Tories will fall short of what seemed to be a cast iron guaranteed overall majority. Now the real possibility of a “hung parliament” looms and the threat of the emergence of what May called a “coalition of chaos” to represent the UK in the Brexit negotiations, the preliminaries of which are scheduled for a fortnight after the election. Whatever the outcome, Theresa May is in deep trouble. She has gone “from being the Tories greatest asset to being its greatest liability, “ Nigel Farage said today (2nd June) Ergo: the Tories are no longer the “Strong and Stable” party but on the verge of another heave.
(1) Up the polls
Do I believe the polls? How do they tally with my electioneering experience in the last month? On the polls: taken together there is a wide range of results being reported. And then there are the arguments among the pollsters on methodology, which raise doubts about the accuracy of the predictions. One aspect of this I find particularly intriguing, and that is: there is a consensus that a line drawn through 45 year old voters gives a majority to Labour below the line and to the Tories above it. Associated with this, older voters polled are more likely to actually vote on election day than the youngest cohort (18-25 years old) or the next cohort (25-35 years old). Factoring, or not factoring in that weighting makes all the difference in predicting Labour’s chances. it seems.
At the beginning of this election campaign, we focused on our own ward. I was struck by the number of under 35s, on our sheets based, as they are, on the electoral register, and in previous election canvassing identifying themselves as Labour Party supporters, who said they were voting for the Lib Dems this time. The reason? The Lib Dem position on Brexit, compared to Labour’s. I ask them how the felt about the Lib Dem’s role in the Tory coalition government. Some half-hearted arguments would be offered, such as: the Tory cuts would have been much worse without the Lib Dems in the coalition. And the tuition fees issue? Shoe shuffling and averted glances. Okay. “Well, thanks for your time.” As for the wider constituency of voters: either you met the core Labour supporters, or people with blank stares.
That was then. Less than a month ago. Now the Lib Dems are not in the reckoning. Labour’s policy on Brexit is the only game in town: accept the referendum result and fight the threatened Hard Brexit. And, anyway, much to my surprise, I readily admit, immediate social policy issues, not Brexit, but the state of the NHS, nationalisation of the railways, pensions, education have dominated the conversations on the doorsteps and in the media. The Labour Manifesto has been powerful ammunition for canvassers: hegemonic, John McDonnell, the chief mover of this comprehensive political and economic programme, would say. I have no doubt that many of those wavering Labour supporters will do the right thing come polling day. And the recent polls support that gut feeling. Beyond that, the election took what seemed like an interminable time to ignite, but in real time that was only a couple of weeks.
In those moments you get irritated with the frustrations of actually making contact with your constituents, in every sense. Not least, the multi-occupancy houses with a dozen bells mostly not working. No intercom, or a non-functioning intercom with spiders’ webs all over it. Large blocks of gated flats with neither intercoms nor outside letter boxes. And the “churn” – the big turnover of private flat dwellers typical of our constituency of Hackney North. You rang the bell, or walked up the stairs to canvass the occupants of a flat who had moved out months before. The present occupants didn’t know how long they might be staying there. Then on to the next house. A fellow canvasser, with whom I often had a drink after a bout of canvassing, decided in the first week she was, in future, going to spend her weekends canvassing in Birmingham, where her parents lived, rather than endure the central London scene. She yearned for streets with single family occupancy of terraced houses. In that first week, I met another canvasser, a tall, handsome polite and friendly young man who introduced himself as Jermaine Jackman. Son of Nigerian parents, about 22 years of age. I was told after the canvass this was the 2014 winner of the Voice UK. Now at University and living up the country, he’d joined our local branch at 16. At the time of meeting him I was disappointed he’d not experienced canvassing at its livliest and most engaged. I needn’t have worried. Today I see him on YouTube, plugging Labour and Corbyn. Committed.
And then. Soon we were all drafted to help out in marginals in the greater London area, looking after our own safe seat a lower priority. We were working with other comrades from other constituencies, in my case, in Croydon at one geographical extreme and Kilburn at the other, plus yet still unfamiliar parts of Hackney. The pace had picked up. The tide began to turn. I rang the bell of a multi-occupancy flat in my own ward. It turned out that the person on my electoral list had moved. No change there. Before I could get a word out he said: “How do I join the Labour Party? How can I help out?” This wasn’t atypical. Lots of people in the streets were asking how they might help. Suddenly, it was great to feel part of a movement that was going to make an effort to make a difference.
It’s not all about winning, I think, not this time. Too much self damage has been done to the Labour Party. They haven’t gone away, the Blairites and their followers. A study just a few months ago, when the Tory lead in the polls was still way up there, estimated that at least 5% of the Tory-Labour gap in the polls was accounted for by people’s perception of the internal goings on in the Labour Party. That surely is an underestimate? No. It’s about pegging back the arrogance and the rapacity of the Tories as far as we can. It’s about bringing about durable, meaningful change in the political culture. “Just bate before you,” an old Irish proverb says, “The future will take care of itself.”
(3) The young vote
If a higher number of 18-24s vote than has been the case historically then there is the possibility of a close run election. Most seem agreed on that. And that’s what gives me great hope. Young people who support Labour like to communicate this almost compulsively, when approached. Look at YouTube over this last month. Let’s start with the music group Captain SKA’s protest video “Liar, Liar.” At 18.19 this evening (the Labour Affairs editor’s deadline is 18.00) “Views” on one site alone exceed one and three quarter million. Now apply the multiplier effect as it’s shared on line. (Have a listen, it’s quality – as music and “agitprop.” Though produced by an unlisted band, has hit Number One spot on a whole number of charts, including iTunes.) Or, look and New Musical Express JME interview with Jeremy Corbyn the other week. Over a quarter of a million views on the I-D site alone. Now apply the “share” multiplier to get a fuller sense of Jeremy’s impact on young people. Or, the YouTube video of Jeremy speaking at a music concert in the Tranmere Rovers’ ground in Liverpool about music and creating greater access within the educational system. About taxing Premiership teams’ media income to fund youth participation in football countrywide. The Guardian told us (May 31st) that Labour dominates the political discourse on Twitter. According to a recent survey a whopping 84% of the 18-24 age group get their news online, not the mainly biased main stream media. And, it’s good to hear, according to the Oxford Internet Institute, the majority (53%) of the content is sourced from quality professional news sources from a politically radical perspective.
The youth of the country has the opportunity, and the means, to make a difference. If that happens, I’m prepared to revise my usual curmudgeonly response to seeing a bunch of young people in a pub or restaurant grinning into their smart phones rather than talk to each other. I can begin to believe they’re actually phone-banking for some just cause.