Over 1,000 Labour members and supporters heard Jeremy Corbyn speak in Aberdare, South Wales, last Saturday. It was the biggest political meeting in the Valleys for decades, and a real tonic.
It showed the strength of support by ordinary Labour members for Corbyn’s leadership. Julia said, “There’s some people that are still too Blairite, but the grassroots of the Labour Party support him.”
The meeting was organised by Cynon Valley Labour Party for the annual Keir Hardie lecture to commemorate one of Labour's founders.
Corbyn told the meeting, “Our party would not have achieved what it’s done in the last century without Keir Hardie’s clarity and vision. But many of our members and supporters feel that Labour lost its way.”
Many people said they felt the party had been won back from the right. Nigel said, “Jeremy is the first person to speak sense in years. Labour in the general election was a sham—Ed Miliband was Tory-lite.”
Gareth, the Unison union Cardiff and Vale health branch chair, said, “The Blairites are just doing damage to the Labour Party. They should be rallying behind the leadership.
“Corbyn has doubled the membership—of course he can win.”
Under Tony Blair’s leadership, Welsh Labour played up its left wing credentials. But now Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones has distanced himself from Corbyn.
Many at the Aberdare meeting weren’t sure why Jones did this and said it could be “damaging”.
To thunderous applause Corbyn told the meeting, “A proud son of this area, the general secretary of the PCS union Mark Serwotka, has joined the Labour Party. He is very welcome.”
He added, “We’re going to fight the Trade Union Bill in the House of Commons. When we’re elected, we’ll repeal it.”
Not everyone was convinced. Martin said, “I joined Labour when I was 16 and was very active, but left when Blair got rid of Clause 4 [the commitment to public ownership].
“I’m thinking about rejoining, but I’m not sure if it’s going to work.
“I don’t trust Labour—it is so full of corrupt people who won’t let this happen.”
Corbyn’s left wing tone in Aberdare was different to his speech a few days earlier to the British Chambers of Commerce. There he called for “cooperation—between public and private, state and market, government and entrepreneurs and workforce and employers.”
Under the headline “Corbyn talks business with corporate chiefs” the Financial Times newspaper’s chief political correspondent wrote that “anyone expecting the bearded socialist to explain his strategy for the ‘overthrow of capitalism’—once advocated by John McDonnell, his right-hand man—would have been disappointed.
“One observer said, ‘You could have put most of that stuff into a George Osborne speech without frightening the horses’.”
Corbyn told his audience of sceptical businessmen, “You may not like everything we say, but on skills, infrastructure, and investment, we are natural allies.”
Corbyn’s policies will not be defended by compromises with the right, appeals to Labour unity, or internal manoeuvres.
It’s in fighting—not waiting for a Labour victory—where the strength of both Corbyn and the Labour movement lies.