A tonic for the troops: A warning to the plotters
The day began with feelings of solidarity, determination and just a hint of resignation. A heady brew of betrayal and backstabbing, mixed with a potent concoction of media manipulation, had left more than a whiff of despair in the air. I’m used to treading the road least travelled. As one of yesterday’s speakers, a survivor of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, put it so passionately “I know what it’s like to fight against lies and for justice.”
For me and the proud citizens of my city this is now seared into our DNA. But still, as I met my father at Central Station, both of us were utterly convinced that another stitch up was on the cards. Worse still, we feared that this time enough muck had been raked to demoralise those who had swept the Labour leader to power just ten months ago.
We met another friend and made our way to the assembly point, each of us puzzled by the choice of location. Surely there were bigger and better places to hold a rally. Was this confirmation of our fears? Did the organisers lack confidence in a turnout too? I bemoaned the Unions. It’s great for them to cheer us on from the sidelines. Why aren’t they front and centre organising this. Imagine how many would turn out to support Corbyn, if they issued the clarion call.
It’s 11:45 and we arrive at BBC Radio Merseyside on Hanover Street. There’s a few hundred people there. My heart sinks, convinced the campaign of vitriol had hit its mark and sapped our movement of its energy and commitment. Text message exchanges earlier in the week had suggested a few who had supported Jeremy last Autumn were now wavering. It wasn’t that people disagreed with him, nor that they didn’t believe in him. Instead it was this morale crushing sense that he just couldn’t win. The odds seemed insurmountable.
We make our way into the centre of the crowd, waiting for the speakers to start. All around us are homemade placards. Some are just pieces of cardboard strapped to a plank of wood, messages lovingly inscribed in Biro or marker pen. “We Remain In Support Of Jeremy Corbyn” said one; “You’ll Never Walker Alone” another. People had made their own banners, wanting to send their own personal messages of solidarity.
I didn’t see any ‘Socialist Worker’ or ‘Militant’ placards. Though they would have been equally welcome as far as I am concerned, perhaps their absence was symbol of the emergence of a new movement. The torch, it seems, has passed to a newly awakened group; less organised, not as slick perhaps, but no less passionate or committed. How tragic would it be if this spirit of optimism and hope was trodden underfoot by 177 MP’s in their desperate rush to take back control from the people?
The speeches start, punctuated by loud cheers and applause. All the time the crowd is growing in size. From the centre it’s difficult to gauge, so I lift my phone above my head and take a series of pictures from different angles. What I’d captured was several hundred people crammed into the space outside the BBC’s Radio Merseyside station. It may have been more.
So densely packed were we that a second demonstration had formed on the opposite side of the road. They couldn’t hear the speeches so they had taken to singing “Jeremy Corbyn, we’ll support you evermore.” The weather doesn’t know what to do. First rain then burning sunshine. The crowd roar their approval as a message from Corbyn is read out “I am going absolutely nowhere”.
I can feel my spirits lifting. The organisers are clearly taken aback by the size of the support and someone declares “We are marching to Church Street and we are going to take our message to the people there!” More cheers and we’re moving. The sense of spontaneity is palpable and I’m feeling like I’m part of something special, unpredictable and powerful.
We make our way down a side street. I can see the huge buildings of ‘Liverpool One’ ahead and the crowd turning right onto Paradise Street. I blink, because it seems to have swelled in size, I can’t believe how many people have joined in; coming out of shops and marching with us. I look behind and the crowd stretches back to Hanover Street. This is an enormous show of support.
Passers by and tourists stop to film us on their mobile phones. Chants of “Corbyn IN! Tories OUT!” fill the air. Now our heads are held high. The conspirators can throw whatever they like at us. We’ve seen through their lies. The media can twist and contort his message all they like, we’re no longer listening to them.
We turn into Church Street and I am completely taken aback. The place is gridlocked from one side to the other. A few shoppers moan about not being able to get into ‘Primark’ or ‘Marks and Spencer’ but overall the mood is carnival like and the demonstration has now completely taken over the streets. To my right a choir, who had taken up residence outside ‘Forever 21’ were singing ‘The Internationale’. My heart soared.
The movement comes to a halt at the top of the street and yet more speakers stand up to deliver one message of defiance after another. Some had clearly never spoken in public before, but the raw passion in their voices more than made up for their inexperience and the crowd approved. Thunderous applause greeted one man who declared that this was his first demonstration, but he had to do something to support the only politician he had ever been able to believe in.
I remembered a conversation I’d had many moons ago with an old comrade. We were members of the Labour Left in the 80’s and early nineties. We were musing on how our resistance to the then Thatcher government was in retreat. We were full of idealism and anger and my friend remarked “You know it may not be us that delivers Socialism.” At the time it was a depressing thought. We had expended so much energy campaigning and fighting. To think we would fail and that it would be left to another generation to take up the fight was hard to bare.
Fortunately one of the blessings of age is perspective. I can see now that he was absolutely right. We had our shot and came up short, but here we were again. Socialism may still be an aspiration, but we have a movement that is once again championing its cause. It might not be us, or the unions leading it this time, but we are being dragged along joyously in its wake. It’s a marvellous feeling, a tonic for the troops and a warning to the plotters. It is us who have the momentum now.