Articles

Jeremy Corbyn & the sound of the crowd

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2017 by kmflett

Jeremy Corbyn and the sound of the crowd

If you frequent social media you may have seen clips of Jeremy Corbyn addressing a large crowd at a Libertines gig at Tranmere FC on the third weekend in May, a couple of weeks before the Election. He was not there to sing his version of Forever Young or My Way but to make a brief Election speech. The reaction of the crowd was clearly positive.

The usual cynics have noted that Michael Foot addressed a crowd of 100,000 at the Durham Miners Gala in 1982 and still resoundingly lost the 1983 General Election. Up to a point Lord Copper. A labour movement crowd is not the same, either in terms of political composition or age as those attending a rock concert.

A further contrast might be with Neil Kinnock’s Sheffield rally in April 1992 which is attributed to a role in Labour losing the General Election that year, due to Kinnock’s apparent over confidence in victory. While Kinnock may have styled himself as a rock star that event was in fact a Labour Party rally.

The contrast with Corbyn at Tranmere could not be greater. The crowd were there to see the Libertines and others and most had no knowledge that the Labour leader was about to appear on stage, when they, arguably, wanted music. Yet the reception was rock star like.

A comment was made, inevitably on social media, that the occasion was as if Jim Callaghan had taken the stage at a Clash concert in 1979, except that would never have happened.

Corbyn has been attracting large crowds since he became leader in 2015 and has continued to do so during the current campaign, but again these are people that specifically turn up to hear his political message.

At Tranmere we were reminded, although the notoriously history resistant media of course were not, of the days when politics was actually about not just politics but also melodrama and entertainment.

We live in an age of virtual reality TV, social media polls and a combination of voting with entertainment such as Strictly Come Dancing.

It would be hard to find even the most loyal Tory who was prepared to agree that Theresa May can do entertainment or acting. She will not be appearing on stage at any rock concerts.

In the nineteenth century before universal suffrage and indeed the secret ballot winning the popular vote and winning the Election were two distinct things.

For example at Tiverton in 1847 the Chartist George Julian Harney stood against the Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston in a two member seat. Harney had serious criticisms of Palmerston’s imperial foreign policy.

On the day that nominations were called for, a large crowd gathered and Harney and Palmerston made speeches, apparently lasting 7 hours. This was politics as an entertainment before the TV age. At the end Harney won the popular vote on a show of hands and withdrew.

On a restricted franchise- just 275 votes were cast the following day- he had no chance of winning.

 

These days of course the unenfranchised crowd of 1847 has the right to vote- not least thanks to the efforts of Harney and his successors- if they are registered. According to the BBC around 2 million people have done so in recent weeks.

The reception of Corbyn at the Libertines gig may have been more important than the cynics thought. If we are returning to an age where politics, serious at it is, is also viewed as a form of entertainment, a spectacle, but this time with the participants having the vote, then we can begin to understand how a result like that on June 8th came about.

 

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