Animated, engaging, inspiring, but still uncertain over Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn comes to Royal Leamington Spa.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke today in front of Royal Leamington Spa Town Hall: metres away from a large statue of Queen Victoria, a stark reminder of Britain’s imperial past. Activists from WASPI (Women against Pension Inequality) and SWKONP (South Warwickshire Keep Our NHS Public) were among the first to arrive; prior to the Labour leader’s speech a member of the latter group stood up and appealed to the large crowd in favour of Labour and against NHS privatisation, an ongoing programme under the Conservatives.
Corbyn began his speech by talking about healthcare, first bemoaning the abolition of bursaries for student nurses and the state of healthcare more generally. He affirmed Labour’s principle that the NHS must be universal and free; that Accident and Emergency access is in crisis; that 1 million people are currently on the waiting list for social care; that we have a mental health crisis. Not only did he voice these problems, but he situated them in terms of national values. How we want to raise our children was something to which he drew attention: Labour will ban adverts for ‘junk food’ before the watershed, and this linked to the policy of free school meals for primary school children. The wider point of sentiment here was that children should all eat together and grow up together. What he’s alluding to here is associating food with community, friendship and enjoyment, all psychologically important for raising healthy, happy children.
Corbyn then went on to describe the educational anxieties faced by teachers, parents, and students alike. These were mostly related to funding and, like the health service, the Labour party is promising a large injection of funding to education if elected; in rhetorical contrast to the belt-tightening of the last 7 years. He also emphasised that education would be properly funded everywhere, regardless of postcode, this again contrasting with the stated Conservative Party policy of reintroducing grammar schools.
This focus on national investment led the leader of the opposition into his four point plan for improving the whole country’s economy: increased wages; investment in infrastructure, especially outside of the South East where public transport is poorer and jobs are fewer; investment in public services; increased taxation on the richest. Investment is to have an emphasis on high-tech fields and environmental sustainability.
He went on to discuss housing, and promised to eliminate homelessness as Prime Minister, emphasising the visual harm of seeing others sleeping rough, something especially resonant in Leamington Spa, a wealthy town with a prominent homeless population. In promising to build 500,000 new homes, Labour want to make it cheaper for renters and potential buyers alike, rather than rewarding speculators. Corbyn claimed that all of Labour’s policies have been fully funded, which remains to be seen. He also seemed to slip slightly when discussing Britain’s relationship to Europe and when promising that his party’s manifesto will be released ‘very soon’.
to restore kindness to politics, to make the British people happier and our society fairer
But most of all Jeremy Corbyn spoke of a politics of togetherness. Not seeking to blame others for problems, but working together to build a better society and community where we can all thrive. We must not let the vulnerable suffer, because it hurts even the non-vulnerable to see this happen. He called for a society of empathy and an economy which works for all and he did so with the passion and vigour of a man who sees an opportunity for real change.
Corbyn’s vision for this country is starting to become clear and it is compelling. Indeed his leadership credentials must surely be becoming more viable, as he speaks with increasing confidence and coherence. It cannot be denied that this Labour Party is offering a programme of real change, of invigoration to the tired and pessimistic British people and our sluggish economy. Look beyond media accusations of incompetence and really assess these policies and his vision for Britain against what else is on offer. Yes, Labour need a clearer strategy on Brexit, with their leader delivering it confidently. But aside from this, Corbyn and his party’s message is there: we want to help you, not rule you. He wants to restore kindness to politics, to make the British people happier and our society fairer. Perhaps this is jarring to the cynical British electorate, but maybe Corbyn can help us learn to trust again.
Images: Clare Clarke, The Panoptic