A Sad Night Out
This really is written in sorrow.
Well I thought it would be a fun evening, after all politics is my thing. In the event I came out seriously disturbed. What I am talking about is the Jeremy Corbyn rally in Dundee last night 26th August.
Perhaps I ought to set out my prejudices. I come from a line of political activists, I was at one stage of my carreer a Union branch vice-chair. When I am in Scotland I am active with a voluntary group providing welfare rights support, I support Scottish Independence. I believe passionately in social justice. I am not affiliated to any particular party however. I went out of interest and criousity.
My great-grandmother was ridden down by a mounted policeman at a rally; my Grandfather, her son-in-law, burned letters from Keir Hardy rather than be charged as a political extremist at one point; my parents were keen Labourites when they met. You will understand that I wanted Jeremy Corbyn to be impressive and was willing him to succeed. In the event I was sadly let down.
The meeting was in the smaller Hall within the Caird Hall complex, which seats about 300 and using it meant that the place would be full, rather than sparse. This was in sharp distinction to some of the massed rallies one has seen.
As soon as I sat down were given the words to the Red Flag, which I must frame I guess.
The evening was fractally wrong. I were treated to a music group which was of the folk variety, and meant, amongst other things a really awful rendition of that great anthem the Internationale It was a version which did not have much of a tune and in a style more akin to a light ballad. I was already feeling that it was like some populist Evangelical rally where well-meaning folk gather to talk about Jesus without being able to get more than a passing glimpse of holiness. So you get guitars and choruses instead of prayer and hymns.
The music was thus a matter of playing at approachablity and no depth to it. I was sitting behind a group of young people who were ecstatic at certain buzz words, and whooped accordingly, but preaching to the converted was all very well. They were, I think, working hard at being good enthuiasts, making a memoryof a rally, when they could say after they had been there later. Back to the music, though, which included a nice song about the clearances, sung in Gaelic by a nice middle class lady, who quite possibly never struggled in her life. I felt it was patronising, and was rendered nauseous by an attempt to draw a parallel with Syrian refugees. Cultural appropriation squared I thought. The real tragedies of the clearances and the situation of the Middle East were reduced to a feel-good gesture. Very hip, very missing the point thrice, given that singing about the clearnaces does not sit easy with Labour being Unionist.
Of the speakers , We had some sincere stuff from the usual type of suspects , Labour activists of different sorts. All very earnest and OK, as far as it went, even if the organisation was a bit cringe making. All of the speakers managed to slide in digs at the SNP. We heard a bit about how wonderful JC is, and some self-congratulatory bits about how wonderful that they had won council bye-elections. The idea that Tories had voted Labour tactically as Unionists was not mentioned oddly enough nor the fac that a winning concillor had expressed herself open to Independence… There was a degree of complaining about the coup, and several urges for those unattached to join a union and to join the party. This last ought to have been music to my ears, given my family history and that the struggle is one I relate to. Yet I was left with a serious doubt at buzz words and claims of socialism from people who barely touched on real help for the poor, as opposed to policy and campaigns.
Just like the music, there was no real feeling of engagement. Just words and gestures. This may seem harsh, but again I was reminded of the sort of weak Christian rally where intentions are expressed, by well fed people who never stop to speak to homeless people and whose idea of love is a donation to Tear Fund.
It is no reflection on anyone to say it was all very predictable. Neil Findlay was about the best speaker, although blaming the SNP for cuts is a bit rich; they do operate within the limits set by a Tory Government in Westminster, and one would have hoped for a better understanding. More cheers from the faithful .
Then the big act came on, “Please be upstanding for JEREMY CORBYN!!!” So most of us stood for the big man. All very staged. The same is true of the picture taking at the end when we were asked to raise the placards provided (the result can be seen at https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cq0IRXWWAAA2MQH.jpg:large
which also shows the comparatively sparse attendance.)
And so we sat and listened. And it was then that it REALLY went down hill. We had some nice points made about austerity and its roots in the economic theories of Milton Friedman. Yet there was the strange feeling that he was missing the point. The tone was very reasonable and informed, in a way. This was not political oratory; one felt like one was hearing a lecture from a retired teacher to an evening class. In the back room of the local library it would have been good. From a man with aspirations to be prime minister it was dreadful.
Some talk about the importance of the arts was all very nice, but again it was missing the mark. Basically we got a rehashed bit of left overs from what was probably a popular speech amongst the lovies at the Edinburgh Festival. In the city that has some of the worst social deprivation in Scotland he talked about the arts. I am not denigrating arts funding, but whilst I am all for cultural participation I would rather have a functional social security sytem, sure that was touched on, but again no fire, no effort.
Talk of a nice investment fund for Scotland was almost greated with indifference.
There were two elephants in the room. One was the whole issue of independence. This was never directly mentioned. This was happening in Yes city, Dundee ,of all places and the issue was ducked.
The other elephant was actually physically presnt. There were several SNP supporters and a few activists present. Yet what was said about the SNP was purely part of a denigration of all other parties. No suggestion of any rapproachment, no common cause. Just blame them for cuts. This was not adult politics, this was not the new approach he has talked of in the past. He clearly does not get Scotland, and he will not without an effort. The political landscape north of the border is not what it was.
If we hoped for a rousing send off we did not get it. “That is the the society we are building, thank you” and then raptuous applause from party faithful. I saw a few sit on their hands. (We may as well have had a sign up saying “Applause”.) It did not feel natural, rather just what was expected, not a show of warmth.
Then we were asked to hold up the placards provided for THAT picture-link above -. again very much staged, and I took mine home as a relic of a bad meeting. Then the meeting broke up quickly as we were treated to a truly awful number with guitar accompanyment , “We support Corroorbeen”. The best I can say is it was well meant.
There was a concession just as I was walking out where “some comrades” wanted to sing the Red Flag, I might have enjoyed that but it was an animated corpse. I wanted to weep.
This was not the Labour party I wanted to see. I wanted to see the old movement revived, I wanted to see and hear a real left wing, aware and fighting party, I saw and heard platitudes. There really was no blood, no vitality, no fight to it. It was a mediocre political meeting, more akin to a Student Union talking about a minor boycott than any thing revolutionary.
Labour need to get some revolutionary zeal back, they need that spirit which fought and won, that built the great victories, they do not need a polite retired lecturer figure. Jeremy Corbyn is awfully nice and honest and even likeable, but he is no great inspirational leader.
Just before the Holyrood elections I went, in the same spirit of enquiry, to a parallel event, also in a stuffy room, with about the same numbers, for Nicola Sturgeon. I was surprised by her. She electrified the audience, she encouraged, she enthused us. Change was shown to be possible. Corbyn by comparison was a soothing chat.
Along with many nationalists in Scotland (although I am not an SNP member) I have defended Corbyn. I have argued about his poor coverage in the press, I have wanted to see him win. The Labour party is doomed if it does not get a left wing , anti-asterity programme together. It needs a left-wing leader. What they have in Corbyn is a left wing, decent bloke, but not the leader they need. What he has done is allow the possibility of a left wing activism within Labour. But there optimism stops.
Sadly I came out feeling that with JC as leader they are going nowhere. He is, at best, badly advised on many issues. I fear that he is unelectable, and the Labour Party is not going to win a general election.The best hope is he win and then Labour get another new left-wing leader soon, meanwhile I fear Labour is terminally in decline.
So I went home in mourning.