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A Magazine for Sheffield

Jeremy Corbyn A Quiet Voice For A Mass Movement

Jeremy Corbyn's campaign to become leader of the Labour Party cannot be ignored. As he softly explains his vision of a compassionate society, it is striking that these ideas have not been articulated so loudly, by so many people, in 30 years.

Jeremy corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn at the No More War event at Parliament Square, August 2014.

Garry Knight

In the interests of transparency, I'm a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and have been helping to coordinate the campaign for his candidacy in Sheffield. I want to make this clear, in contrast to the undisclosed bias of much of the media. For those of us who campaign for social and environmental justice, a superficial and pro-corporate media often reduces us to frustrated ranters, as our most important causes are ignored or distorted.

One cause that cannot be ignored at the moment is Jeremy Corbyn's campaign to become leader of the Labour Party. Whether it's to trash his "old fashioned" ideas with hackneyed quotes from New Labour has-beens or to mock him personally, he features daily in every media outlet across the (limited) political spectrum.

You could have easily overlooked the quiet man standing outside WH Smith at Doncaster station. Considering the fact that he’s midway through a tour of Yorkshire, where over 4,000 people in four cities gathered to hear him speak, it's not surprising that Jeremy Corbyn has been losing his voice.

But as he softly explains his vision of a compassionate society, it is striking that these ideas have not been articulated so loudly, by so many people, in 30 years.

The Labour Party is elected in May 2020. What are your policy priorities for that government?

To expand the economy to create jobs, particularly for young people, to create a welfare system that works for all and an environmental system which is supportive of defending our planet and the environment that goes with it. But above all, a government that would be human, inclusive, for everybody, and to close the ghastly inequality that exists within our society.

In Sheffield we have had loads of non-activist Yemeni, Somali, retired, students, workers - all sorts - getting really involved and excited by the campaign. Win or lose, how will those people be kept mobilised and organised?

Fantastic mobilisation of people around this campaign, which is exciting because it's about hope. It's about inclusion. It's about saying we can all do things strongly together, whatever our ethnic background, faith or anything else. And we have these enormous numbers of people mobilised. After 12 September, whatever the result, we're going to stay together.

How are we going to do it though, practically?

We'll have to have regional conventions. We'll have to have national conventions on economic policy, social policy, environment policies, peace policies for the whole planet. We've got a movement here, a social movement, and it's having a huge effect on politics as a whole in Britain.

Look at the way in which the political debate has already changed in the past two months. Austerity has now been questioned for what it is - a political process, not an economic process. When Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman come out in our support, Nobel Prize-winning economists, I think that shows we are having an effect.

It's fantastic the numbers of people who are getting involved because we're open, because we're inclusive, because we're discursive, and we're not electing a dictator, we're not electing a celebrity, we're not electing a personality - what we're doing is electing ourselves.

If the sort of ideas that you're advocating are the programme for the next Labour government, what's to stop a massive financial assault? We saw the European Central Bank hammer Syriza in Greece and hold it to ransom. What's to stop a reaction like that?

Well, we're not in the Eurozone and therefore not under the same control levels of the European Central Bank, but it's a fair question. Financial institutions have often assaulted Labour governments in the past that have done their best to try and redistribute wealth.

We've got to be strong, we've got to be determined about it, and we've got to re-balance our economy away from one that's solely dependent on financial services into manufacturing. This is a forward-looking campaign. This is about developing sustainable green industries, a million jobs through green energy revolution. There's an awful lot we can do in this country and, above all, we're determined to do it. That's the difference.

It’s so much easier to be motivated by things that threaten us, whether it be terrorism or "swarms" of migrants, than conceiving of the things that can be built up positively, isn't it?

The Right play on insecurity, the Right play on fear, the Right play on the negative. This campaign, our campaign, it's about positives. It's about hope. We are not blaming migrants, we are not blaming the poor, we are not blaming the marginalised. What we're saying is a decent, fair society does not allow people to sleep on the streets, doesn't blame victims of war for being victims of war, instead looks to the causes of war, looks to a foreign policy that does not promote yet more wars and more weaponry in the Middle East.

Do you think there are specific obstacles in being part of the European Union that would stop some of your programmes, such as nationalisation?

There are big issues surrounding Europe. One, of course, is the one you've just referred to - the issues of challenging the European Union on its rail directive, for example. There are also issues that David Cameron appears to be trying to sign away what remains of the social chapter - workers' rights, environmental protection and social solidarity. I think we, all of us, should be part of that debate now, demanding workers' solidarity, demanding universal workers' protection, but above all, also closing down the EU-sanctioned tax havens which mean that companies like Boots can evade their tax responsibilities in Britain by merely shifting themselves to Switzerland.

Are there different strategies for winning back UKIP voters who are former Labour in Rotherham, in our area, or SNP voters in Scotland, or non voters, people who were lost under Blair or since?

The strategy, I think, is the same for all of them. I spent a lot of the last election campaign in Thanet, where Nigel Farage was trying to become the MP. What I found was, once he got past the blame game of migrants, of Eastern Europeans or Romas or anybody else, and got onto issues of wages, issues of jobs, issues of security, issues of the lack of investment by councils and central government in education and health, you've begun to develop a whole process of solidarity.

You have to end the blame game, get the collective going, rediscover ourselves as a party based on working class culture and working class values of providing collectively for all, rather than individually for the few. And it does win people back, trust me.

People have come into the party over a very brief period of time and they've felt excited. How are they going to tackle, on a day-to-day basis, that entrenched right-wing culture within the Labour Party - the parliamentary party, but also on a local level?

Well, there's 250,000 members of the Labour Party, 300,000 and more if you add in the supporters [Ed. Note: 610,000 final count at time of publishing]. I want the supporters to become members. I want the party to become more democratic, policy making from the grassroots up, not from the leader's office down, and I'm sure my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party will understand that an election that's involved 300,000 people is a voice of people who actually are the ones who knock on doors, who promote the party, and I'm sure they will fully understand that the times, they are a-changin'.

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