Let me get this clear right at the very beginning of this blog in that classic McCarthyite response ; I am not, nor have I ever been a member of ….. any political party. Although I have been interested in politics since a teenager and I have flirted with various political organisations, I have never felt captured enough by any individual politician or party to actually join up as a member. My political activism has always taken the form of organising activities and attending rallies and meetings .
Although my politics has always been broadly left wing I always found my personal beliefs and opinions at odds with the likes of say the Socialist Worker Party or the Labour Party. Although influenced by the ideas and writings of such great Labour stalwarts as Keir Hardie and Aneurin Bevan and I was lucky enough as a young man to be represented by that Labour legend S.O.Davies party politics never had any allure for me.
At election times I have tended to vote Labour as broadly I suppose I support them more than anyone else and up until the last general election I have always lived in a Labour constituency but on occasions I have voted for other parties.
In February this year I had attended the Welsh Labour Party conference in Swansea, not as a party member or supporter but because my work had sent me. Ed Milliband had been there and quite a lot of the other Welsh Labour party hierarchy and it had struck me how staid, static and smug they were in their skins and quite confident at the time that they were poised to return to power. Obviously, as we know now, that was not to be the case.
Following the 2015 general election I felt increasing disgust with the UK election system due to the blatant political machination of the media, who were obviously supporting particular powerful elite interest groups and an electorate that seemed to be becoming increasingly self-cantered , isolationist and frankly xenophobic, hence the growth of dreadful parties such as UKIP.
When the Labour party leadership contest started I was sort of vaguely aware of Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper but really had no idea as to who Liz Kendall or Jeremy Corbyn were. If you had asked me at this point who I would have supported I would have unhesitatingly said Andy Burnham. However, as the contest developed, although I have to admit it was not something I was following too closely, my opinions started to change. I quickly started to realise that although I had no idea as to who Liz Kendall was her utterances seemed completely at odds to what I thought Labour was. Obviously the party had changed quite a bit from last time I had paid any attention.
What really bought the difference to the candidates home to me was the welfare vote in July. Harriet Harman the interim leader of the party had said for Labour MPs to abstain??? WTF was that all about??? Yet another attack on the poor of this country and the leader of the supposed party of the working people of this country is saying to abstain??? At least one of the candidates Corbyn had the courage to vote against it. That is the first time I remember him coming to my attention. It was also the time that Burnham and Cooper started to go down in my opinion. Why, if they were against austerity did they not vote against this attack on the poorest in society?
Increasingly the name of Corbyn was being brought to my attention mainly through the attacks the other candidates and others within the party were directing toward him. What was it about this man and his politics that they were so afraid of particularly considering he had been an MP for so long? I did a bit of research and reading about his background and history and saw that he wasn’t the ordinary Oxbridge PPE party apparatchik, he was someone who had stayed true to his values all his life, something that seems incredibly rare these days.
I began to talk with friends, colleagues and on Twitter about the upcoming Labour party leadership contest and other people were picking up on the difference of the Corbyn campaign. I said I had some sympathy for his approach and people urged me to sign up either as a member or supporter to vote for him. I did seriously think about it but decided I would have been a hypocrite as I had never been involved in the party before and who was I to say who should be their leader. My attitude was, let them pick their leader and then, if they pick Corbyn I might consider joining. That, in itself was a pretty major change on my behalf as I had never ever considered joining a party before.
In August Jeremy Corbyn came to speak in South Wales. He spoke at a number of venues but one was the Aneurin Bevan memorial in the Sirhowy Valley This is an historic venue, where Nye Bevan used to hold open air meetings and somewhere right in the centre of my stomping ground. I turned up at the meeting more than anything to see what the fuss was all about and because it was a nice afternoon to spend walking about the mountains of my beloved Welsh valleys. I turned up early as I thought there would be a good turnout. Although I turned up a good three quarters of an hour early there was already a good crowd there and more than that there was a real carnival feel already. The Red Choir were already there. Being Wales we have a strong choral tradition and the Red Choir have been going years and they often perform at rallies and political meetings. People were around chatting and talking of the buzz of the Corbyn campaign. People were catching up with friends and family and there was a real “valleys” feel to the event.
Then the man himself arrived. No fanfare, no announcements, no hyperbole, he just walked in to the midst of us and started chatting to people, you know like a normal human being. No minders, no security, no obvious hangers on he just walked in to the centre of the gathering and started chatting. I was stood chatting with a group of friends a couple of yards away and one of my group just went over and started chatting to him in a very natural way. When I had been at the Labour party conference earlier in the year I just couldn’t have imagined that happening with Ed Milliband.
Corbyn then started to address the crowd, very unassuming, very naturalistic and not a particularly good public speaker. He started to talk about the historic significance of the spot but more he talked about the late great Ray Davies. Ray was a local councillor, activist and character that I bet most local people in the crowd had come across at some time. It was obvious that Corbyn knew Ray as a person, it wasn’t as if he had been briefed by one of his aides, he had connected with the terroir of the South Wales valleys, no mean feat in itself and something that cannot be faked.
The man talked, I wasn’t particularly impressed or overwhelmed but I just thought here is a genuine guy and that in itself, I am sorry to say in this day and age, is an impressive quality in a politician. He spoke, he took questions and there was discussion and debate. No spin, no managing the event, politics as politics should be, ideas not personalities. I was impressed by the approach, the social movement not by just the man himself. Although not a great orator the man spoke with passion and from the heart. Without notes or script but with genuine conviction, when was the last time we saw that with all our staged managed politicians?
Well to cut to the chase dear reader that night when I got home I signed up as a Labour party supporter do you know why?? Because I could see hope, I could see a vision of a different way of doing things moving away from the bland, self-centred and self-obsessed politics that seem to have dogged us since the late 1970s. Although I had previously had reservations I wanted to be part of this opportunity to change things.
Since attending that meeting on the mountains of Sirhowy I have been increasingly disgusted by the antics of the other three candidates, including Burnham, in their personal attacks on Corbyn which he has had the good grace not to react to. Who knows what the result will be?? I cannot believe the Labour Party machine will allow a Corbyn victory as there appears to be those in Labour who think they know better than democracy. This I believe is a real opportunity to change politics in the UK. Even if people don’t think that Corbyn is the right person to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom he is the right person, indeed the only person on offer, to lead the opposition to this hateful destructive Tory government for the next five years.