It’s frightening, the crowd.
Frightening because there are too many people in this room for safety. So we unbolt the double mirrored doors I’m leaning on. The doors that, on a more normal Saturday night, would be reflecting rowdy wedding guests, uncomfortable in suits. Like the ones who threw the condoms that dangle from four of the brass chandeliers.
Frightening because we’re not natural, stereotypical constituents of this party. We’re not members of a trade union. Not working class victims or heroes.
We’re middle class. Vintage Cava socialists. (Champagne’s too expensive, Prosecco too flabby.)
But tonight, amid the pints and halves of beers, we’re here – and drinking red, red wine. Compensation for my Tory-blue top.
I dressed with art in mind, I must admit. ‘Blind Spots’. A show at Tate Liverpool of works by Jackson Pollock, an artist not to everyone’s taste.
It was good, the exhibition. I understand him better now. But a foot-slogging gallery visit wasn’t ideal preparation for this evening.
The doors opened ten minutes ago for a start in an hour’s time and already people are standing two deep around the edge. Soon it’s three, four, five.
It seem as if the speechifying will never begin, but at last the union leaders shilly-shally on stage and struggle, in turn, with the microphone.
I used to have that natural antipathy to unions that being born of middle class Conservatives sows in your repertoire of tolerances.
Then I took my first real job, in London – and met Joan.
Joan’s office was next door. She was the union rep.
Joan was – it seemed to me, at all of 22 years old – getting on a bit. She dyed her hair, I reckoned. Black – or very dark brown. Hobbled a bit, like my old English teacher, Miss Hayes.
I liked Miss Hayes. Mary, her name was. Single and died of breast cancer. Kind. Like Joan, the union rep.
I liked Joan, despite the union – and for the first time I began to understand why unions existed. Why they were valuable. Why they were needed.
In my later working life I had a lot to do with unions. In 1996 I spent a memorable evening at the Labour Party conference sitting next to a passionate union leader, patently amazed to find a utility company boss who was sympathetic.
And tonight I’m at a union rally – and I’m not a union member.
The crowd’s loud, fizzing with barely suppressed enthusiasm. Expectation brimming over.
The main-man barks at us, it’s ‘a political rally, not entertainment,’ but there are Socialist Singers for a warm-up.
They sing the Internationale. Hardly anyone joins in. Now I’ve looked it up I realise why.It’s like hymns we sang at school. The language isn’t exactly everyday.
As the chorus dies out the crowd chants, ‘the workers, united, will never be defeated.’
And the man walks on.
The man over a thousand people have come to hear.
The man who almost wasn’t part of this race. This slow race to leadership of the only leftist party left in England.
Jeremy Corbyn. Or, as abbreviated in my notes, ‘JC’.
I feel a bit shocked at that – and it disturbs me a little.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, said Jesus Christ.
The crowd at the Sermon on the Mount could well have reacted this way.
And yet I have friends who are religious but can’t stand socialism. I have friends who are religious but don’t like shaking hands with others at church.
And I wonder, what would Jesus think? Would he approve of this JC?
Well, whatever you think or don’t think of Jesus, or Jeremy Corbyn, both can rouse a rabble.
And a rabble roused can be an intimidating thing.
So we join in. It’s hard not to – and as he speaks, genuine bursts of enthusiasm stir my hands in applause.
Education – yes! Half a per cent on corporation tax to end tuition fees. Did he really say that? Does it add up?
Collect taxes from evaders. Right on!
He doesn’t care what kind of school it is – staff it with people qualified to teach. Yes!
And more of the same. I feel myself being caught up – lifted on the shoulders of this outpouring of long-suppressed socialist emotion. I take a mental step back. I need my critical faculties to be in charge, to regulate my emotions. I know where emotions unleashed can take crowds.
But it’s hard not to admire, approve, support, a man who has beliefs that are so plainly humane and heartfelt.
‘Call it anything you like,’ he’s saying now, ‘I prefer to call it socialism, you can call it humanism …’
He wants a future government ‘to be measured by all the normal economic indices, but also by the number of people sleeping on the streets’.
He believes that if society pays for the training of a good doctor, lawyer or engineer we all benefit.
That the recession, ‘was not caused by the overpayment of nurses or street cleaners’.
As a party member with a vote, perhaps I’ll vote for this man, with his gift of being genuine in a world that panders to populism and wallows in dissimulation.
Or perhaps I won’t.
Whatever I decide, I know that this member of our parliament has ordinary, decent and vulnerable people in his heart.
The media think his campaign’s electoral suicide. That only radicals thinks this way nowadays.
But plenty of people think like him. They’d just given up on politicians.
If he can appeal to me and the two young men standing in front of me, to the aggressive, shaven-headed woman in front of them, to the quiet man with many tattoos on my left and the nice young woman with long shiny hair and pretty eyes on my right – well, maybe he’ll confound the know-alls.
He’s not to everyone’s taste – much like Pollock. And I’m sure he, like Pollock, has his Blind Spots. But after tonight I reckon at least he has a heart – and it’s mostly in the right place.