‘Jez we can!’: On the frontlines of the Corbyn campaign in Manchester

Vada Voices

by Jacob Bloomfield

On Saturday morning at the Mechanics Institute on Princess Street, cries of ‘Jez we can!’ and some actual crying immediately followed the announcement that Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North and veteran left-winger, had won the Labour leadership contest with nearly 59.5% of the vote. Andy Burnham, the runner-up in the contest, finished a distant second with 19%. Yvette Cooper and the Blairite standard-bearer Liz Kendall rounded out the pack with 17% and 4.5% of the vote, respectively.

The crowd gathered at the Mechanics Institute consisted of a cross-section of Corbyn’s core supporters: trade unionists, left-wing Young Labour activists, and comrades who fought on the front lines against Thatcherism in the 1980s, when Corbyn was first elected to Parliament. Corbyn’s striking victory, however, shows that there is support not just within the traditional Labour left, but across the Labour Party, for a firm anti-austerity platform.

The sheer scale of Corbyn’s victory should give pause to even the most persistent of skeptics who question Corbyn’s ability to appeal to the political ‘mainstream’ which, in itself, is a nebulous, largely unquantifiable assertion. Aided in large part by hundreds of thousands of new members joining the party due to his candidacy, many of whom were seized by palpable political malaise until now, it is evident that Corbyn’s platform strikes a chord with a sizable swath of the electorate beyond just the hard left.

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For some, this victory was the culmination of many decades toiling away on the margins of political discourse. Ruth from Chorlton, who said that she had been involved in left-wing politics for thirty years, which mostly consisted of working out of ‘little rooms’ was unrestrained in her jubilation.

‘This is just an absolute dream come true to have those politics on the main stage,’ Ruth said. ‘The poor people, the vulnerable in this country have got a voice in mainstream politics. It’s just beyond my wildest dreams. I’m incredibly happy.’

Still, the celebration was tempered with a sense of sobering realism as everyone in the room acknowledged that the fight was far from over.

‘We are about to get hit with an unbelievable, unprecedented amount of shite… It’s going to be hard,’ said Adam White, the Corbyn campaign’s North West Field Organiser. ‘And the only way we’re going to do it is if everyone in this room and everyone across the country gets stuck in. Gets fighting for the ideas that Jeremy’s won this election on.’

Both White and Leigh Drennan, Chair of North West Young Labour, emphasised the importance of continued grassroots organising and trade union membership. Drennan punctuated this final point with a visual metaphor. ‘I see the Labour Party and trade unions as the left and right arms of a prize fighter,’ Drennan declared, ‘and Muhammad Ali wouldn’t have won as many fights with one arm tied behind his back.’

The event was summated with White reciting a quote not from Jeremy Corbyn, but a more traditional leftist icon: Nye Bevin. ‘We have been the dreamers, we’ve been the believers, we’ve been the sufferers, and now we are the builders.’ So, in the spirit of Nye Bevin, let’s rally together to seize this auspicious moment and work with Jeremy Corbyn to build a just, fair, and equal society for all.

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Jacob Bloomfield is a third-year PhD student at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on the history of male cross-dressing performance in England between 1930 and 1970. He is originally from Brooklyn, NY. In his spare time he is an amateur drag queen known as Cupcake and loves things like cocktails, repertory cinema, glitter, eyelash glue, and YOU.

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