The polls and the experts say the Labour shouldn't win June's snap general election, but Corbyn this morning made it clear he doesn't play by the rules.
At 10:30am this morning in a hall in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party launched their 2017 general election campaign. The message? Jeremy doesn't play by the rules.
There’s disco music playing in Church House. The building – just across from the street from the Department of Education in Westminster – has a pack of TV satellite trucks parked up outside, having travelled just a few hundred meters down the street from where only two days ago Prime Minister Theresa May announced this surprise, snap general election. On 8 June Britain will be going to the polls, and party machines are stirring into action.
Inside the circular hall a crowd of hundreds has already gathered, the press pack at the back with cameras poised, while loyal Labour party members and staff fill the rows of mustard-coloured seating.
This is an important morning for Corbyn and his election team; while Theresa May and the Conservative Party might have been mapping out their path on the campaign trail for months, Labour found out about the plans no sooner than you or I this Tuesday. It’s not just about prep time – Labour are some 20 points behind the Conservatives in the polls, and all too often these estimations overstate the Labour vote.
But Corbyn knows that right now nothing is impossible. Brexit was unexpected, none of the experts predicted a Trump victory back in 2016, across the Channel in France left-wing outsider Melenchon is storming his way up in the polls in the face of a far-right resurgence. As Corbyn will remind us when taking questions later, just two years ago he was given outsider odds of 200/1 for winning the vote as party leader. Not only was he victorious, he’s fought off another challenge since then. If anyone can do it, they’ll argue, it’s Jeremy.
But the Labour Party is a different beast to the entire population, and a Corbyn victory on 8 June would arguably be one of the biggest political upsets in this decade to date. This morning is a chance for Corbyn and his team to convince us it’s possible.
As the crowd settles down and the disco tunes quieten, it’s immediately obvious that Labour have had little time to prepare. Up in Bolton yesterday where Theresa May launched her campaign for the Conservatives, the Tories had branded placards with their slogan written up for the campaign. ‘Strong and stable leadership in the national interest’, they read, but there are no obvious print outs today showing the underlying message for Corbyn’s campaign. It’s one of the advantages of being the party to kick off the election.
“I’m a proud member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet,” booms the Geordie accent of Ian Lavery MP, Labour’s election co-ordinator, as he takes to the stage. “It’s a great privilege for someone like me to to address an audience like this in London. I’m a former coal miner, not that you’d know it from my accent,” he grins jokingly. Lavery believes in the Corbyn project, but his presence is symbolic too.
This is an important response to much of the criticism facing Corbyn; that while he talks of taking on the elites in Britain he too is a member of an out of touch, London-centric political class. No doubt having voices like Lavery’s taking centre stage in this election will be an antidote to this perception, not that with 40% of children living in poverty Corbyn’s Islington constituency is a playground for the super-rich.
In introducing Corbyn Lavery talks of May’s “there’ll be no election” U-turn, of how having starving children across the country is very much a political choice.”Lets’ face it,” he adds. “Britain would be better under a Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.”
As the crowd gets whipped up into a whooping frenzy, Lavery has a single, final message before he departs. “This is to every member: unity is strength. Colleagues, let the battle commence for the premiership of this nation.”
These remarks are a signal that the party machine are aware of how much infighting could hit any chance of Labour winning, how it’ll only be through uniting behind the leadership that there’s a shot of victory in their campaign.
With Corbyn taking to the mic the crowd goes wild, there’s a standing ovation before he’s even begun. “The dividing lines in this election could not be clearer from the outset,” he says calmly. “It is the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all.”
He talks of tax evasion and Tory divide and rule tactics, of how working people are being shafted while the super rich contribute nothing at all. “That is why we will prove the establishment experts wrong and change the direction of this election,” he continues. “Because the British people know that they are the true wealth creators, held back by a system rigged for the wealth extractors.”
“It is the establishment that complains I don’t play the rules: by which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.”
As the speech comes to an end I’m pleasantly surprised by his vision; he held the audience well and delivered a rousing start to the weeks of campaigning that lie ahead. The I-don’t-play-by-the-rules shtick is important – the rules say he has no route to victory – rejecting business as usual will be his only chance.
With the scripted part over Dawn Butler, MP for London’s Brent South, joins Jeremy on stage. She’s one of the few black women serving as an MP in Parliament, another signal that the Corbyn campaign team isn’t an out of touch, white and male elite.
Unlike Theresa May, who stormed off stage after her launch speech unwilling to take questions, Corbyn turns to the gathered journalists and makes it clear he’ll be responding to their remarks. It’s an important dividing line that Labour are keen to make apparent; we’ll answer your questions, we’ll be open, we’ll take part in TV debates. Theresa May, on the other hand, is showing little willing.
After a few rounds with the pundits the show is over, Butler assuring the audience that the fight is definitely on. This was unquestionably a good morning for Corbyn and his campaign team; his speech was well crafted and cutting, he handled hard questions like an experienced leader, he sounded confident without too much naivety about just how hard this election will be to fight.
Policies like free school meals for all primary school children, a £10 minimum wage, access to the single market and a popular commitment to renationalising the railways took centre stage here, and these are policies that Labour hope will excite an electorate bored of a “Brexit means Brexit” that seems to never end.
The question facing Labour now though is are enough people listening? Is the country open to hearing out this more fine-tuned Jeremy Corbyn or have they already made up their minds?