Everyone has been, over the last decade or so, bemoaning the disengagement of ordinary folk from politics. Suddenly we have had two historic examples of the masses being motivated to join political parties en masse.
Firstly the SNP’s campaign for a Yes vote energised a nation and indeed the subsequent reaction to the UK parties now infamously broken Vow (which persuaded many undecideds to vote NO at the last minute) saw the membership of the SNP treble in a couple of weeks, with it now standing at approx. 115,000 members. Now, that’s engagement. Was it welcomed? No. because the established political class do not really want mass political engagement as it threatens to take the reins of power from their hands and actually change things that political leaders only pay lip-service to changing. God forbid the 99% gain power, eh Tristram Hunt?
Then we had the astonishing Jeremy Corbyn affair. A man who was considered so out of touch by the Labour Party grandees that they felt comfortable to condescendingly allow him onto the list for leadership of the Labour Party. Wow. Talk about out of touch? Due to his inclusion ordinary members of the public joined Labour in an unprecedented surge. Why? Because, for the first time since John Smith, here was a figure who, when he spoke, spoke for people long discarded by the New Labour Project, discarded in favour of Tony and Peter’s new rich and powerful friends whom they considered capable of delivering more votes by editorial support than the committed Labourites could manage by persuasion.
But, as the subsequent events illustrated, these were shallow votes, votes that could disappear in an instant because while Labour might have won the votes it did not win the hearts. These were votes at a high moral price. These were votes at the editorial mercy of a man (Murdoch) who supported fully the illegal invasion of Iraq. And to those who complain that Iraq was over 12 years ago, I say, well, it’s not 12 years ago for the people of Iraq. They are still living every moment of every day with the consequences.
Many true Labour people left the party or ceased considering Labour a party worth voting for after that. Many of those who remained did so only because Labour was the least bad option. How inspiring, eh. Iraq however was just one factor. Remember the troubling scenes when an old party member was bodily lifted out of a Labour Party Conference for heckling the platform? The party members thrown out the party in the late 1990s purge? The support for Tory party policies and the surrendering of Labour party principles?
The doffing of the cap days were not only not fought against by the Blairites but actually sought after as somehow being the best protector of working people’s living standards. Let’s suspend judgement for a moment and suppose this was a misguided attempt to lessen the blows on the working class in the post-Thatcher world. Resistance was now unfashionable. Bowing to the supposedly inevitable was in. Many who argued against this narrative were misrepresented, marginalised, excluded, maligned, defeated.
Then came Corbyn. A man who had never left the party and whose party credentials were impeccable. A man who opposed the war. A man who never ceased challenging all the weak and superficial narratives that were spun and now were unravelling. A man who garnered support from many of the people who had ceased voting years ago.
Russell Brand was castigated for daring to point out the obvious - that there was very little to choose from electorally between the main parties. In fact, there were ironically similarities with our new politics and Old-Style Soviet political system in that you could stand for election as long as you didn't challenge the status quo, the allusion suggesting that Labour and Tories were now just two wings of the same establishment party.
And now here came a man who offered an option. An opportunity for Labour to reach out to the millions it had considered unworthy of the party's attentions, to those it had forgotten, and to the millions who simply had not voted for decades. Here came a man who offered these people something that had been forbidden them for a long, long time. Hope. Hope that their environment, employment prospects, wages and conditions might be once again on the table. Hope that trillions wouldn’t be wasted on pointless weapons and wars and hope that mass murder would no longer be committed in their name. A man who is as we speak is inspiring thousands to go back out into the rain for Labour, to argue a case that has not been properly argued for a long time – the case for Labour.