How Corbyn’s traditional approach returned to the mainstream in Sheffield

Jeremy Corbyn rally in Tudor Square: the MP begins his speech
Jeremy Corbyn rally in Tudor Square: the MP begins his speech

“He seems a really nice chap.” Not a rallying cry to send the country to the barricades maybe, but the description of Jeremy Corbyn by Crucible Theatre staff was echoed around the 2,000 or so people attending Saturday afternoon’s rallies in support of the bookies’ favourite to become the next leader of the Labour party.

“He came over very well,” said Bob Clayton, watching the overspill event from Starbucks in Tudor Square. “Very impressive,” said Bob’s wife, Lesley. “Although I don’t agree with all his views.”

“People can relate to him,” said Maisie at the Crucible. “He’s not a typical posh boy.”

While the other candidates do their best to fill community centres, the Corbyn campaign tends to book a sell-out and overspill rally everywhere they go: Corbyn noted that Sheffield was event number 83 of his tour, the second of the day preceded by Derby and followed by Manchester.

Media teams from France and Belgium were among those chasing the MP for Islington North through Sheffield Theatreland.

“It’s only a contest between four candidates, it’s not a general election, but there are so many people here,” said Sarah Halifa-Legrand of le Nouvel Observateur. “Wow.”

“People were so enthusiastic, about someone with quite radical ideas who’s been in parliament for over 30 years,” said Lauwke Vandendriessche of Flemish TV station VRT.

“There was a standing ovation, with people jumping up and moved to tears. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Jeremy Corbyn probably wasn’t expecting that either when he nailed his last-minute election nominees in June. Neither were his supporters.

“Even last year I didn’t think I’d hear a mainstream politician talking about opposing austerity, and renationalising the railways and energy services,” said student Rich Woodall.

“I was very moved. I hadn’t expected to hear a politician saying things like that in my lifetime,” said fellow student Emily Thew. “He’s a hopeful voice in horrible times.”

In response to questions from Brussels, the candidate drew parallels with similar campaigns in Spain and America, and said: “Although at one level this is the election about a position in the Labour Party, it’s also a very interesting empowering of optimism.”

Annette Taberner from the Sheffield organising team was as filled with optimism as one could imagine. “It’s lovely to feel some hope,” she said. “For me and thousands of other people around the country, this campaign is just a breath of fresh air.” Even if he doesn’t win, the movement will continue, she said.

In Tudor Square, pensioners and teenagers joined Labour stalwarts returning to the fold to hear Corbyn spell out how he’d lead the party.

“We need an alternative, and it has to come from the left, it’s not going to come from anywhere else,” said 16-year-old Marianne Morgan. Up until now, the perceived political apathy among young people came from there being no such alternative, said her dad, Sean.

Kerry Brier was watching the rally from a pub on Tudor Square. “It was very rousing, he speaks common sense and I think he has street cred now with everyone,” she said.

‘JezWeCan’ ideas like building houses and starting new industries to stimulate the economy are new to 20-year-olds.

“We’ve grown up with a political mainstream that was very Conservative,” said Rich Woodall. “Jeremy Corbyn has put a lot of ideas back into that mainstream political debate that had been forced out over the last 30 years.”

Bob Clayton observed that with so many young people attracted to his politics, a Labour party led by Corbyn would be hard to campaign against. “People think he’s got no chance of winning a general election, but I’m not too sure. A lot can happen in five years.”

“He’s the first politician I’ve believed to be genuinely trustworthy, and politics needs that,” said Emily Woodhouse, 25. “I think this campaign has been the beginning of something new in politics and it’s not going to disappear come results day.”

“He’s refreshingly human,” said Rich Woodall. “It’s like seeing a unicorn.”

n Talking Politics, p16