Alan Gibbons, author and Liverpool Labour Party member writing in a personal capacity, reports on the 10,000 strong rally in support of Jeremy Corbyn that took place yesterday (1 August) in Liverpool
A rally of ten thousand people, called at a few days notice, held in rainy conditions on a Monday evening, would be significant in London. In Liverpool, a city of 465,700 people it is extraordinary. When viewed in the context of a whirlwind tour of York, Hull and Leeds with crowds also numbering thousands, it should be seen as a turning point in a dynamic and fluid period of labour movement history.
Monday night’s open-air mass meeting was the biggest gathering yet in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to win a second Labour leadership contest. It took place against a background of fierce opposition from the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Even before Corbyn won the Labour leadership last summer, opponents in the PLP were briefing against him. There is a narrative that ‘Jeremy just doesn’t cut it’ or that he ‘did not reach out to the PLP.’ This is nonsense. For months, his opponents sat stony-faced behind him at Prime Minister’s Questions to the delight of the Tories. They briefed against him. Then came the most disruptive tactics of the lot, hourly resignations from the Shadow Cabinet and a vote of no-confidence.
Many political figures would have buckled under this pressure, but Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters stood firm, facing down legal action and the challenge of Owen Smith who responded to queries about his political platform by adopting much of Corbyn’s. None of this would seem to make sense. Surely Corbyn is just too unpopular, his opponents cried, but the poll gap between the Tories and Labour opened dramatically because of the divisions created by the tick-tock resignation campaign, alternatively known as the chicken coup. The Labour soft left and centre wanted to attack alleged electoral unpopularity by wrecking the party’s election chances.
What makes sense of Corbyn’s decision to fight on for a second leadership mandate is that this is not just a campaign confined to the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. Confined to the corridors of parliament, he would surely be doomed to defeat. Corbyn is no run of the mill Labour leader, even of the Left. He has a direct and principled appeal to the party membership because of his decades-long devotion to the causes of peace, working class rights and social justice. The division is not one of media presentation. It is about politics, what sort of party goes into the next election and people want a mass socialist party. They are flooding into the Labour Party in a way not seen in generations. That explains why Liverpool has become fortress Corbyn. Last summer two thousand people crowded into the Adelphi Hotel. There was a similarly huge rally in the Wirral, across the Mersey. Just last month, there was a demonstration called at days’ notice to back Corbyn against the media and PLP attack.
Thousands turned out in pouring rain yesterday to march through the city. There were echoes of Liverpool’s history of struggle in the rally on Monday evening. Corbyn addressed the crowd from a fire engine, organised by the FBU. There were union flags fluttering amongst the onlookers. There were people from the Black Lives Matter campaign. On St George’s Hall’s famous steps there were banners from Cammell Laird shipyard, threatened with redundancies, the battle against the Blacklist and another that read Unity is Strength. One of the loudest roars was when Steve Rotherham, my local MP in Walton, spoke of his and Corbyn’s support for the twenty-seven year fight for justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Corbyn linked Hillsborough to Orgreave, the scandal when the same South Yorkshire police ambushed the striking miners and falsified statements against the arrested pickets.
What was noticeable as the light started to fade over St George’s plateau, was that the more Corbyn referenced working class struggles, injustice and the need to end poverty, the louder were the roars of approval. This was a working class audience, intensely aware of Liverpool’s history. St George’s plateau was, for example, the site of the great transport strike rallies in 1911. In the hall itself, Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill, Derek Hatton and Tony Mulhearn spoke to huge audiences in the 1980s.
In so many ways, the rhythms of Monday’s rally were rooted in the great battles and injustices of the past, but more importantly, it looked forward to addressing the pressures facing working people today. The enthusiasm of the ten thousand strong audience promised a significantly different, mass membership Labour Party, an outward-looking, campaigning social movement, a new, radical socialist politics. On the basis of such a rejuvenated Corbyn leadership campaign, not only can the Owen Smith challenge be seen off, but the basis for a left-led reforming government can be laid.