I thought it would be good to tell everyone (anyone who’s interested anyway!) what really happened at that Owen Smith rally yesterday in Liverpool. Some of the pictures have gone quite viral and Val has become quite the Corbyn supporter of the day – and rightly so. I’m not speaking for Val as she’s more than capable of doing that for herself, as we all know. However I can tell you about my reasons for being there and the actual events as they happened.
So why did I, a Corbyn supporter, go along to a Smith rally? It might seem an odd choice for a Saturday afternoon. I had an email from his team – as did most Labour supporters – a few days before which outlined the event, to be held at Camp & Furnace. As with most Labour Party members, I like to debate, discuss, find information and facts, and I like to question everything. This can strengthen your beliefs, and it can also improve your debating skills for when you’re trying to win people over.
So why not go to the Smith rally?
It’s good to listen to all angles and I also wanted to meet people and talk to them to find out why they think Corbyn is such a bad leader that they want to vote him out. I’ve yet to find a convincing argument beyond the usual line of ‘he’s a terrible leader and can’t win the next election’. I want to know why they think that. Do they know something that I don’t, or can they see something blatant that I’m blind to? For me, if Corbyn is such a bad leader, it should be really easy to convince me with facts.
So I signed up and sent in my RSVP. I even emailed his team to ask if I could officially take photographs. I’m a keen photographer and use everything I can as an opportunity to practice. I also share my photographs from public events and make them freely available for anyone to use as I feel it’s part of my duty for the cause.
I wondered if I’d be the only person there who wasn’t a Smith supporter, and wondered if I’d stand out. But as we’re all members of the same party with the same main aim – to remove the Tories from power and restore rights and equality for everyone – I couldn’t see that my being there might be an issue for anyone. I’d already decided to be open and honest about my allegiances, and that’s already out there on social media for anyone to see. There’s absolutely no point in hiding that.
I asked on a pro-Corbyn Facebook page for questions they’d like to ask if they ever got the chance to ask Owen Smith face to face. Some answers were funny, some were brilliant. I suspected I wouldn’t ever get the opportunity to ask any questions, but had a couple up my sleeve just in case I got the chance. I hadn’t realised just how slim those chances were going to be – I needn’t have bothered.
So on a gorgeous sunny Liverpool afternoon I drove into town and parked up near the venue – which you should really visit if you ever get the chance. It’s a favourite for the locals. As I started to wander over I realised people were walking away from the venue. A woman was standing on a corner holding a Smith sign, chatting to another woman who began to walk away, so I popped over to find out what was going on. “Are you here for the Smith rally?” she asked, and I nodded. “The venue has been cancelled last minute I’m afraid. You can probably guess what’s happened there.” I shook my head and asked what she meant. “You can probably surmise from the cancellation. There has been bad publicity on social media – and you can guess the rest. It’s the usual story.’ I still wasn’t sure what she meant – maybe she was implying that people had made threats? I really don’t know. I’ve not seen a thing on social media myself and when Liverpool people have a campaign on the go, we usually ALL know about it.
So I wandered up towards the green area we’d been directed to. The woman who had just walked away from the Smith woman spotted me and asked me if I was there for Smith. I said “Not really… I’m a Corbyn supporter, here out of curiosity.” She smirked and said she could tell – and this was the theme of the day. Corbyn supporters looking slightly shady, hanging around the edges of the event, and looking at each other with guilty smiles. Sometimes, chatting to each other, laughing a bit and then moving around for a better position.
Val had a Corbyn T shirt in her bag and wondered if she should put it on. Neither of us could see any issue with it. We were there to listen, and who knows – maybe Smith could convert us to his way of thinking. It’s not a crime to think differently. So on the t-shirt went. A few people looked over and pointed in amusement, but it didn’t cause an immediate outcry.
It was announced that Smith would be on in 5 minutes and there was free ice cream and sandwiches for everyone if they came down to the front for them – therefore squeezing the 150 or so (I’m being kind – you can decide yourselves from the photographs) people into a smaller space, which any photographer will tell you looks better. The grassy area is a small square which had been called a park, but is in fact just an area where buildings have been knocked down and replaced with some greenery.
First up was a woman from the Wirral who said a few words, followed by Smith himself who bounded onto the stage with his familiar pressed white shirt with the sleeves rolled up – and who wouldn’t have their sleeves up on such a nice day? His speech was good. I’m not going to lie and tell you it was awful, because it wasn’t. He comes across very well. He speaks well and looks good. He’s confident and fairly slick (aside from his recent slip of the tongue about being pro-austerity). People who like that sort of politician will love him. His speech was littered with pokes at Corbyn, of course, but was also full of his ideas and policies. Smith’s policies are largely similar to Corbyn’s, and you can’t really tell him his policies are wrong when they’re the same.
I could bring up Smith’s background and previous history, but I’m taking him on what I’ve personally seen. And he’s fine. The speech was fine. Maybe at another time I might have voted for him. He was probably brave to schedule a rally in Liverpool at all, so I’ll give him credit for that. We couldn’t fail to notice that the crowd was stuffed full of MPs, MEPs, officials and his team, as well as photographers. These people probably outnumbered actually members of the party or the public, and I know of at least 20 or so Corbyn supporters who were also there, although we all seemed to have arrived separately.
Apart from hair colour, bottled tans and eye lashes, Liverpool people don’t really do fake. I suspect they’re not that into this type of politician. The slickness, the Cameronesque rolled up sleeves, the ‘one of the people’ humour. We just don’t fall for it and will call you out on it. The team must have know this when they threw the rally open to questions and made sure the microphone was handed only to people they knew and only with prepared questions. Some locals did try to ask questions but found themselves without a microphone and quickly shut up if they did manage to shout loud enough to be heard. That’s to say they were shouting their very good questions to be heard, rather than shouting at anyone. One guy asked how the massive increase in membership could be considered a failure. Another started to explain how he’d joined the Labour Party because of Corbyn (I know lots of you have) and was drowned out by Smith asking to see his membership card and members of his team laughing at him. It’s a shame he couldn’t have let these people speak and answer their questions. Of course they probably won’t agree, but the debate needs to be had – not shut down.
I’m well aware that most politicians do this – stuff the crowd full of your team and stage manage any questions. It might have impressed me if the conversation hadn’t been shut down though.
So onto the t-shirt which Val had put on. Val can get quite afraid in large crowds so this smaller rally was better for her, but she still decided to stand away from the main crowd, at the back of the stage, by the ice cream van. We suddenly became aware that two women were carefully standing in front of her. This became a game, with Val shuffling sideways to get a better view, and these women following suit. Eventually there were maybe six people joining in this insane shuffle. Nobody was particularly rude to Val, apart from maybe three or four people who did come up to make comments. Smile and wave, Val. Smile and wave! When people asked her why she was there she explained very politely that she was there to listen. Most people accepted that.
I was asked at one stage why I was photographing people, to which I answered “because I can”… Although I did notice that none of the other photographers were asked this, except for me, standing with Val. I made sure I stayed with Val when it seemed like she was being surrounded – not for her safety but so that people knew she wasn’t alone and wouldn’t be an easy target.
The irony of the photograph of Val standing next to the ice cream van while Smith is talking did hit me…. I heard years ago that during Thatcher’s time as a chemist, she hit upon a chemical which can be put into cream to fluff it up full of air, increasing the volume – Mr Whippy ice cream. At the time I was told this it was said that she had found a way to make the people pay more for something they thought they were getting, but was nothing but air.
And that was it. A venue cancelled, free ice cream and sandwiches (we didn’t partake), a nice speech, some Corbyn supporters looking shifty and us leaving not particularly inspired. It wasn’t a bad speech. He doesn’t have bad policies. He doesn’t strike me as a terrible person. Maybe one day he could actually work with Corbyn and have a positive effect – I don’t know. Stranger things have happened, and most of them quite recently.
But don’t forget, once this leadership contest is all over and we have a democratically elected leader, we will all have to work together in our common aim. I think that most Corbyn supporters are ready to welcome Smith supporters into the campaign, just as I would hope that Smith’s supporters wouldn’t immediately call for all Corbyn supporters to be removed from the party and shunned. This increase in membership and support needs to be galvanised, whoever is the leader. We’re now the largest political party in the UK and the largest Socialist party in Europe. We need to hang onto these members and work with them. We’re in a better position now than we’ve been for years. Let’s do this!
And if you spot a Smith t-shirt amongst the crowd at the Corbyn rally in Liverpool on Monday evening, please show them some courtesy. Give them a hug. Include them in what’s going on. Have discussions with them. We’re all on the same side.
Thanks to Sue Parry and over to
Val Colvin here https://vimeo.com/176863535
This blog will include a range of reports and opinion pieces covering many issues. It will be YOUR Voice.
Running a news based website is fun, time consuming and can be costly. If you would like to help the site keep afloat please use the donate button