The first of a series of Labour Roots events, held in Leeds on Saturday, showed the continuing support for Jeremy Corbyn. But activists also spoke to Socialist Worker about their concerns for the future.
Labour Roots says it is “a rolling series of open events bringing together activists and the public with Jeremy Corbyn and members of the shadow cabinet”.
It is designed “to break down the barriers between the public and their representatives”.
Three sessions in the afternoon on anti-racism, climate change and public services saw 400 people in total listen to some of Labour’s leaders and also take part in discussions.
And in the evening around 600 joined a rally with speeches and music.
There was plenty of enthusiastic backing for Corbyn’s anti-austerity message, his call for a general election and his denunciations of the Tories.
His most popular was when he denounced “the very rich, those who don’t pay their taxes, those who hide their money in tax havens”.
But the atmosphere is different to Corbyn’s triumphal rallies during the 2017 general election.
And it’s not hard to see why. In 2017 there was a feeling of surging forward.
Today, despite the shambles of a Tory government, a Labour victory seems far from guaranteed. Yet there was little discussion of it.
In the recent European elections across Yorkshire and the Humber region, Labour came second and was almost beaten by the Liberal Democrats.
In the Leeds local authority area Labour won 36,000 votes, the Brexit Party took 53,000.
Some Labour members think Labour must adopt the demand for a second referendum and to come out clearly against Brexit.
Mobilisations around austerity and racism would make a huge difference. Without action, the divide over Brexit won’t go away.
Matt from Chapeltown in Leeds told Socialist Worker, “We should stop trying to balance between Leave and Remain and come out clearly and say Brexit is a disaster that has unleashed all the worst aspects of society.
“Brexit Party voters won’t back us anyway. I know a vote on a deal will be difficult, but Brexit is worse.
“Lots of Labour members in my area think this.”
But Anne from Guiseley disagreed. She told Socialist Worker, “I don’t like it when Tom Watson and others just announce that we need a people’s vote. Leave voters weren’t all stupid racists. Why should we insult and abandon them?
“I think Corbyn’s right when he says we need to bring people together and that other issues matter more than Brexit.
“I’d just like to get beyond Brexit and start talking about poverty and the NHS and not enough money for schools. That’s what I’m interested in action over.”
The problem is that Labour seems paralysed and is not mobilising, even as the Tories fall apart. Of course, there are election campaigns—but no demonstrations and no concerted attempt to put people on the streets against austerity, job losses, climate chaos and racism.
There’s no demonstration for a general election. There was no call on Saturday to join protests against Donald Trump.
These kind of mobilisations would make a huge difference.
And without action, the divide over Brexit won’t go away.
And too often Labour has retreated under attacks from the media and the right wing in the party itself.
Throughout the day there was discussion about the rise of the racist and far right forces in Britain and across Europe.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said, "It is so important to combat the far-right.
"They breed division, fear and anger. They pull communities apart. And the Labour Party's mission is to bring communities together."
And at both the anti-racism session and at the rally in the evening Abbott said that everyone “including those who ought to know better” should stop claiming that immigrants lower wages. She added, “It’s not immigrants, it’s predatory employers and weakened trade unions that lower wages.”
Abbott praised campaigners “including Stand Up To Racism” for the defeat of Tommy Robinson in the European elections.
Local MP Richard Burgon told the rally that there was a “clear and present danger of a super-Thatcherite government under Boris Johnson” and that scapegoating and racism had to be challenged everywhere.
These are good messages. They have to be followed with action.