Seb Cooke reports from Corbyn’s rally in Cardiff yesterday.
Around 1000 people rallied in Cardiff on Friday to see Jeremy Corbyn launch Labour’s election campaign in Wales.
The Labour leader had been in Swindon and Bristol earlier in the day, but this was the only open air event he did. The party specifically chose to hold the event in Whitchurch, a suburban village on the far fringes of Cardiff, because the constituency of Cardiff North is held by the Tories, with a majority of just 2000 votes.
Despite the short notice and location, many people made the effort to attend.
Speaking to the lively crowd who came from all backgrounds, Corbyn expanded on his message delivered a day earlier. He told the crowd that Labour would end seven years of austerity and misery under the Tories and Liberal Democrats. He attacked the Tories over their record on education, laying into Theresa May for wanting to divert funds from state schools to grammars. The rich, Corbyn said, would be forced to pay their way and he attacked the Tory government for underfunding local councils and the Welsh Government.
In a message that might have a more mixed response and seem less radical than his election pitch, he praised Welsh Labour’s record in government. To this end he was also introduced by the leader of Welsh Labour, Carwyn Jones, who said that “the time had come for a change” and derided austerity for being a political choice. Usually Mr Jones keeps his distance from Corbyn with barely concealed slights, and often frustrates people for not properly taking on the Tories. But the election, Corbyn’s strong start to the campaign, and his popularity amongst the base has forced Jones to adopt a more radical approach.
After the rally, which saw people hanging out of windows to catch a glimpse of what was going on, Corbyn was mobbed for selfies.
Jo, Dylan and Tom, a group of 18 year old first time voters who all lived in the constituency, came to see Corbyn. They said they were starting to think more about politics and all said they’d vote Labour. “He stands up for what he wants.” said Tom, “he stands up for what he believes in.”
Jo said he didn’t buy the economic argument put forward by the Tories. “I’m more concerned about the social side.” he said. “The Tories don’t look out for the young.”
They all said that they saw themselves as having a relatively comfortable life compared to others but were worried about people living in poverty.
Clare and Martha who attended the rally said they were not sure about Corbyn.
“I came because I’ve always voted labour and I wanted to see what he’s like.” said Clare. “The message you get is always influenced by the right wing media.”
She said she worried Corbyn was too “idealistic” but would certainly be voting Labour. “I agree with him,” she said “I thought his launch was speech was really good.”
Neither were sure if Labour could win, but said they hoped it would turn out like the Brexit vote and defy the odds. But while they were less hopeful about Corbyn’s prospects nationally, they felt they could help Labour take Cardiff North off the Tories. “Our MP’s useless” they said.
This opinion was shared by Morgan, another local and first time voter. “As much as I’d like to think he [Corbyn] has a chance, I’m not sure because of the snap election,” he said. Of the Tory held constituency however, he was more hopeful. “It’s a diverse place, it’s possible to take Cardiff North off the Tories and I’ll do what I can”. He was also heartened by the size of the rally. “To be honest, it wasn’t advertised well so I was surprised. A bright indicator maybe. We don’t get rallies round here so it’s unexpected to have it here”. For Morgan, who earns just £6.10 an hour, life under Theresa May doesn’t offer much. “I can’t see it being a bright future under the Tories.” He admitted. “I agree with all of his [Corbyn’s] policies. He cares about working people, instead of the super rich.”
For Kelsey and Jack, both local students, this was also their first political rally. They came because they felt it was important to show support for Corbyn and get involved when the situation was so important. Jack, a new Labour member, said he thought Corbyn could win. Kelsey, not a member, was less sure but both were confident that Cardiff North was in reach.
Following the rally, welsh news gave it very favourable coverage and reporters were unable to ignore the enthusiasm among the crowd who were certainly not all ‘true believers’, some had come to be convinced.
On social media on Friday night, there was plenty of chatter about how people can get involved to unseat Craig Williams, the MP who holds Cardiff North and who is named among the 24 Tory currently under investigation for electoral fraud. It may be the case that Labour officials want people to stick to their constituency, but those getting active have other ideas. There is an appetite for people to organise amongst themselves.
What was clear from this event though is that these rallies are essential, and could be much bigger and more powerful. Not only are they attended by people who are wavering, but they are also essential in giving people an opportunity to organise against the Tories and developing a sense of power and confidence. May’s strategy is risk free and media managed, but it can be blown open by the kind of big, lively and radical campaign offered by Corbyn and with ordinary people at its heart.