Some 900 people turned out to see Corbyn speak at a rally in Leicester last Saturday. Many more were turned away at the door, even though the rally hadn’t been widely advertised.
Corbyn acknowledged that Labour faced a “huge challenge” over the next few weeks in its campaign to win the general election on 8 June.
But he got enthusiastic cheers as he tore into “greedy bankers” and “tax dodgers”, who have rigged the system and would hate to see a Labour win.
Corbyn said the election was “a chance to break free, to create a society in which people are no longer held back by a system that is rigged for the rich”.
And he described growing resentment at years of Tory rule.
“This Tory leader sat alongside David Cameron in government for six years,” he said.
“Does she think people will forget what the Tories have done to this country, how they’ve actually treated working people?”
Corbyn’s speech in Leicester came ahead of a similar event in Leamington Spa on Monday of this week. And it came after another rally in Manchester celebrating Labour’s victory in the mayoral election.
John Lockwood in Leamington told Socialist Worker, “I’d say there were over 700 people who turned up to see Corbyn.
“That’s very significant with only a day’s notice and the timing being the middle of the afternoon.
“At times the police had trouble trying to keep the road open. It was quite remarkable.
“He got a very enthusiastic reception and cheers.”
Right wing Labour Party members have sneered at the rallies. But Labour can only win with a campaign that enthuses and inspires supporters—and builds a sense of a real popular fightback against the Tories.
And it has to be linked with broader fights against austerity and racism.
As Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said last week, Labour has to “come out fighting”.
In some towns Labour members have joined other activists—including people outside of Labour—for campaign days of action against austerity and racism.
Members of Stand Up To Racism, Stop the War, The People’s Assembly, Momentum, the NUT union and Keep our NHS Public campaigned alongside one another in Cambridge town centre last Friday.
A cardboard cutout of Theresa May provided shoppers with a chance to vent their anger by fixing comments on her.
Activist Richard Rose told Socialist Worker, “Campaigners said they’d thrived on the sense of solidarity the day gave and want to repeat it.”
Similar events are planned in Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham—and activists in other towns should set up their own.
In Wigan a large meeting of
activists organised by the trades council vowed to campaign to defend the NHS.
Barry Conway from the trades council said the meeting was an opportunity to build the fight against the Tories.
“The argument we always hear at meetings is, ‘Let’s get out on the knocker for Labour’, but we have to get people out onto the streets.”
The results of local elections held across Britain on Thursday of last week are an urgent warning of what could happen at the general election.
The Labour Party lost a total of 320 council seats while the Tories gained more than 550. Labour also lost control of seven councils as the Tories gained 11.
In some of the mayoral elections Labour was well ahead of the Tories. Labour won three times the Tory vote in the Liverpool city and Greater Manchester mayoral elections.
Labour did better than expected in the West of England mayor vote and came second—with a pro-Corbyn candidate.
But in Tees Valley the Conservatives secured a shock win. And the Tories also very narrowly took the West Midlands mayor.
In Scotland the decline of Labour—which long pre-dates Corbyn’s leadership—continued. Right wing Labour MPs said the results showed working class people had been driven away by Corbyn’s left wing policies.
Former MP Alan Johnson said Labour did not have a “god-given right” to support from working class people. He suggested the party was “blasé” about “losing touch” with “working class communities”.
That’s rich coming from a key cabinet member in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour governments. As health minister Johnson oversaw cuts to social care, and as Ed Milliband’s shadow chancellor said Labour had to be serious about making cuts.
Some of Labour’s worst results last week were in areas where its councillors have rammed through cuts, such as in Durham and Derbyshire.
In Durham Labour lost 20 seats after strikes against a pay cut for teaching assistants became a lightning rod for anger at the council. The seats went to a variety of different parties and candidates, including independents, some right wing.
Teaching assistant Megan said the councillors that voted to slash their pay were “not Labour at all and definitely not with the principles and beliefs of Corbyn”.
“I have been trying to make the distinction between Labour locally and nationally but some people are so angry they can’t get past it.”
Labour peer Margaret Beckett blamed the Tories for Labour’s council cuts. She said the Tories had “done a good job” of getting people to blame Labour.
But Labour councils have only themselves to blame for the anger at the austerity they’ve forced through.
Only a bold campaign offering a real alternative to austerity would see Labour avoid a similar defeat nationally.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle