How Croydon Went Red

by Julian Jackson

18 June 2017

Pafcool2, Wikimedia Commons.

I kicked Gavin Barwell’s arse on election day. Me and about a thousand of my closest comrades. 

About four weeks ago I didn’t know who Sarah Jones was. I’m only slightly wiser now, although I do know she has a passion for education. Why would I put a lot of effort into campaigning for her when I am not even a Labour Party member?

Because there’s only one Jeremy Corbyn – it sounds better if you chant it.

Corbyn has single-handedly revitalised the stale crusted Stilton-rind of British politics. On a personal level, he made me want to get out there and do something after I’d been so disillusioned by Blair and the Iraq War. About a year ago I joined Southwark Momentum (one of the biggest Momentum groups in the country, with 700 members), and was impressed by the passion and diversity of people involved. Labour Party structures, methods, and procedures are ossified, and at a constituency level, stuck in the past. So a new organisation without that legacy resonated with me.

When the election was called, Lewisham Momentum held an open meeting for activists where they announced they were “twinning” with Croydon Central, the most vulnerable marginal, with a 165 majority for Conservative candidate Gavin Barwell. I took an immediate antipathy to him as he seemed to be a housing minister who hates housing. The internet kept the seat a hot topic.

I was only able to commit to campaigning about three weeks ago.  I could feel the burn already through social media. Something was happening. I went down to Croydon, to the Ruskin House HQ on a Sunday morning. About 60 people were there. Sarah gave us a pep talk, a leaflet on her local policies, and we were out knocking on doors. I found I enjoyed it. I was going out to bat for someone that I could relate to.

Barwell voted to take £30 off disabled people. He was beginning to rival Iain Duncan Smith in my Loathed Tories mental hierarchy. I threw myself into high gear – co-organising a mass leafletting at a market in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, flying the flag for Harriet Harman in Peckham Rye, then going to Westminster North because I heard they were short of volunteers.

On June 6th there was a large rally in Croydon, with John McDonnell, Sarah Jones, music, and a fantastic atmosphere. John said, “You’ll want to be proud to say in the future, I stood with Jeremy Corby on June 8th, 2017.” Sarah Jones’ organiser Jack Buck, who I’d met once before, recognised me.  I’d taken the day off on June 8th but didn’t know exactly where to campaign on Polling Day. I felt obliged to promise him I’d be there.  One of the best decisions of my life.

Mid-day Ruskin House. It was already buzzing with activity. More activists than I’ve ever seen in a constituency election were swarming around the place, teams going out with boards, being replaced by more eager campaigners who were given a briefing, anyone with any experience of “running a board” was put in charge of the absurd, archaic, paper-based system used by the Labour Party and they were shoved out the door.  More swarmed in. Feck me they were young! Eight of us went about 200 yards to start checking if pledged Labour voters had actually done so. We were laughing and bandying repartee between us. There were positive vibes all round. Horns honked. Passers-by demanded stickers. There was an incredible diversity of experience, life stories – the most unusual occupation was a woman who I met who abseils buildings for a living! But everyone was drawn together because of a wish for global social justice and a better, fairer Britain.

This is the Corbynsphere – that is, the traditional old left of Labour and the Trade Unions, the new organised movements with a strong presence on social media like Momentum, and people, usually young, who’ve never been involved with any sort of politics before, but Corbyn’s Super Power of laser-like integrity burned straight into them. The hate-fest of the media (I’m looking at you, BBC and Guardian) stiffened everyone’s resolve. Someone said, “Jeremy Corbyn stood with us on a picket line in the rain 20 years ago. I’ve never forgotten that. I’m standing with him now.”

I encountered little hostility. There was a drunk outside a pub whose consciousness dimly regurgitated Tory media attack lines: he can’t lead, terrorist supporter, MPs hate him. Some of my fellow Corbynistas said the most bile had come from Blairite former Labour party supporters, rather than people who voted for other parties.

The organisers said that there were around 1000 volunteers out.  Near nine o’clock, the last doorstepped voters asked us if we were going to win. Older lefties like myself have been traumatised by many defeated hopes, so murmured, “Looking good, but it’s very tight.”

We congregated in the bar at Ruskin House, mentally preparing for the worst. The first TV exit poll exploded onto us. A moment’s stunned silence, then the place erupted. Something big was going on. I can’t really say what the pundits said, because the people in the bar were much more interesting and insightful, amid the boos and cheers as the results came in.  I stayed all night boozing and partying.  Around 3 am the buzz was: results soon. Everyone crammed in. It came up on the screen: we had won – by 5652 votes. A crushing victory. The place became pandemonium, with people screaming, yelling and hugging.  We started singing. I think I know how Leicester City fans felt when their team surged from nowhere to win the Championship.

Later Sarah came in and thanked us, but she seemed a bit dazed by events. We let her have a peaceful moment in the corner while we were all going mad with euphoria.

To misquote that political oracle, The Sun: it was the people wot won it. With social media, peer-to-peer networks, and the bedrock of traditional campaigning, we can galvanise massive numbers of activists in future. Watch out Tories, your seats aren’t safe. Jeremy Corbyn lit the fuse, but we are the ones who will make the explosion.

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Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.