Jeremy Corbyn made a surprise appearance at a central London rally on Wednesday, ahead of his leadership election campaign launch.
The Labour Party leader got a standing ovation from the packed Conway Hall before making a speech that was reminiscent of his campaign rallies during last year’s leadership contest.
Corbyn said, “So we go into another leadership contest. This campaign is going to be about the kind of world we want to live in.”
Speaking of plans to resolve the housing crisis, defend public services and stop climate change, he said, “We offer something different. It’s about the idea that a collective grouping campaigning in communities can give hope, inspiration and enthusiasm to the next generation.
“We don’t pursue the policy of attacking the most vulnerable.”
At least 200 people filled the hall at the Keep Corbyn rally, which was organised by Labour left group Labour Assembly Against Austerity. Many of the audience were people who had only recently joined Labour or signed up as supporters because of Corbyn.
Robert Mayers from east London was one of them. He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve only recently joined Labour because it seems like this is a crucial moment to not just vote for a party but to vote for policies.
“Jeremy Corbyn has a lifetime of credibility behind him. I think that’s unique.”
Student Elena Christodoulou said, “It’s important for younger people to get involved. He’s campaigning for things that will benefit us.”
But Elena was also angry that Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) had stopped members from voting if they had joined in the past six months. And she was frustrated that the NEC had also decided to suspend local party meetings.
She said, “I’ve been trying to get involved with my Constituency Labour Party. That’s more difficult now that they’ve banned branch meetings."
Camilla, a north London housing campaigner and NUT union member was also angry about the fee she had to pay as a supporter. She said, “I think it’s disgusting that we’ve had to pay £25."
The rally came ahead of Corbyn’s official campaign launch this morning, where he defended his record as leader.
Jeremy Corbyn has a lifetime of credibility behind him. I think that’s unique
Corbyn will face off against just one opponent, Owen Smith.
Smith has pitched left in an attempt to attract wavering Corbyn supporters while appealing to the right as the candidate to reunify the party.
A survey of regional Labour released by the Guardian newspaper last night suggested that Corbyn’s support was waning.
But the survey was at odds with a YouGov poll released on Monday that 56 percent of Labour members support Corbyn, 34 percent back Smith and 10 percent are undecided. And some 185,000 people had registered as Labour supporters ahead of the deadline yesterday, with the vast majority of them expected to vote for Corbyn.
Speakers at the rally urged people to get involved in the campaign. Labour shadow health secretary Diane Abbott said, “This will be a very tough summer. But we know it is our chance to change the direction of politics in this country.”
And former Derby North Labour MP Chris Williamson said Corbyn’s few supporters in parliament, “can’t just do it on their own”.
Quoting the Percy Shelley poem The Masque of Anarchy he said, “Ye are many, they are few. Let’s use that as our battle cry”.
Others encouraged supporters to join the Labour Party and to keep fighting internal battles after the leadership election.
MP Richard Burgon said Corbyn’s opponents want “every single Labour Party member who supported Jeremy Corbyn to leave the Labour Party.”
If Corbyn’s support had appeared to dissipate in the past few months, it’s because the thousands of people who supported him last year had been offered no focus.
Momentum, the Labour group set up to build on Corbyn’s support had concentrated on winning internal Labour NEC elections.
The rally last night shows the next few weeks will see the reappearance of the huge campaign rallies in support of Corbyn last year. This will be a new opportunity to channel that support into movements against austerity and racism that can boost Corbyn—and the left more broadly.
Elena said she hoped there would be more rallies soon. ““The whole idea from the right is that Corbyn’s unelectable,” she said.
“So it’s right to keep having rallies like this and make sure they are publicised so people realise there’s support out there.”
Robert agreed, saying they needed to keep “mobilising and finding as many ways as we can to engage with people.”
And Camilla said, “Corbyn’s so isolated in parliament even among his own party. Maybe the best way to defend him is on the streets.”