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Jeremy Flogs a Dead Horse

On Thursday 9 July, I attended a public meeting in Birkenhead Town Hall where Jeremy Corbyn delivered a speech as part of his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party. The meeting attracted some 250-300 people, male and female, young and old alike. Outside all I had seen were a handful of sellers of The Socialist and leafleters for the People’s Assembly and a Socialist Appeal campaign for ‘Red Labour’. Although I arrived with five minutes to spare, inside the vast majority were already seated. With hindsight, this was the first clue this wasn’t as independent a ‘public meeting’ as first appearances suggested. As the platform warm-up speakers progressed, it became clear that the platform were the rabble-rousers and we, the audience, were the chorus line. Our chorus? Enthusiastic applause on cue. This seemed more like a Labour members’ and trade unionists’ rally and the absence of comedian Mark Steel (who was billed) didn’t seem to matter. 

Without Mark Steel, it was altogether less humorous, with trade unionists and a Labour councillor speaking before Jeremy pushed some left-wing buttons. He was in CND, he was against austerity, he supported the trade union link with Labour and was leading the Stop the War Coalition. His tones were reminiscent of a less inspiring Tony Benn, but actually less contemporary. Corbyn had been in the Campaign for Labour Party democracy since its inception in 1970, it seemingly never occurring to him to stop flogging a dead horse. He also raised issues from his constituency in London, not something of interest to the Birkenhead audience.

His supporters were keen to talk him up, but he himself wasn’t so much, for Labour party leaders and followers this isn’t always effective. His conclusion was interrupted loudly by a lady from the Woodcraft Folk. ‘Span the world with friendship, Jeremy’, something about as inane as children’s programme My Little Pony’s slogan ‘Friendship is Magic’. Questions followed the standing ovation, but the level of support made meaningful discussion pointless, so I left early.

DJW