Corbyn Campaign volunteers in East Oxford
by Tessa Frost
in the OLR blog series on the Corbyn Campaign
I didn’t expect to be leafleting for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign this summer, let alone volunteering in the Oxford for Corbyn phonebank. I’d usually be mortified by the idea of thrusting leaflets into strangers’ faces on Oxford’s busiest streets. I don’t even like talking on the phone to my closest friends and family, let alone total strangers in Henley or Newbury or Chichester. But I agreed to one leafleting session and got drawn in. It was really exciting, seeing people go from “I really don’t do politics thanks” to “Oh that actually sounds quite good” and on to “Yeah, maybe I will sign up then”. I wasn’t surprised that Corbyn’s policies appealed. Most people were won over almost as soon as I started talking about his thoughts on the housing crisis and rent controls, which makes sense given that Oxford has some of the most out of control rents in the country.
And that was me rather hooked. I’ve now done three evenings on the phones, with another starting in a few hours time. My biggest fears were dismissed pretty quickly – almost nobody has been outright rude to me on the phone, and many people have been amazing. I’ve had some really interesting discussions of political theory and electoral strategy with these total strangers, and I bloody love it. I still get a bit of the nervous shakes every time I dial the phone, but every night I come away really glad that I chose to spend my evening making those calls and talking to those people.
In my mind I’ve broken down the people we talk to into three rough groups. The first are the firm Corbyn supporters. They need no convincing, and often will be happy to have a brief comradely chat before wishing me luck and getting back to their dinner. The second are the Anyone But Corbyns. These are usually the quickest calls for me, but almost always friendly enough. I don’t want start arguments – I respect that our political viewpoints differ, I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can convince them otherwise in the space of ten minutes, and so usually just thank them for taking the time to talk to me and tell them that I hope they have a nice evening. The third group I find the hardest. They’re the Heads and Hearts, to use the phrase that the political establishment have been so keen to drum into us of late. They love Jeremy, they love Jeremy’s policies and they can’t stand the direction that the Labour Party has been taking for the last couple of decades. They’re basically me. But then they tell me that they aren’t like me – because they want Labour to be electable in 2020, and a vote for Jeremy is a vote for the Conservatives.
The assumption, often implicit but too often made explicit in these phone calls, is that I don’t want a Labour win in 2020. Or at least that I’m not particularly fussed. That with my background (assumed from my accent, or the fact that I’m an Oxford postgrad) it doesn’t actually matter to me if we have another five or ten years of Tory government – I just want to feel good at night knowing that the party is ideologically pure. Tristram Hunt summed up this position on Newsnight on Tuesday: “This is the issue we have with Jeremy Corbyn – the indulgence of people feeling good about themselves in the party rather than doing good for the country”.
Pure indulgence: Corbyn supporters queuing outside Middlesbrough Town Hall in the rain for the campaign rally this afternoon
My support of Corbyn has nothing to do with this sort of “indulgence”. My background is the very reason that I care about this election, that I want Corbyn to win the leadership and then the general election in 2020. I was raised in a single parent family, with my mum on benefits. When I wanted to go to sixth form I felt the pressure to instead get a job and start earning money, rather than continuing to cost money. When I told my mum that I’d been offered a place at Birmingham through clearing, back when tuition fees were a measly three grand a year, the first thing she said was “How are you going to pay for that?”. I know that I would never have gone to university with tuition fees at their current rates, let alone what they will be once the cap is lifted. My partner and I both have physical disabilities with the potential to progress and stop us from working, making one or both of us reliant on benefits. I know that under a Conservative government, people from families like mine will suffer.
But the idea that I support Corbyn not only because I agree with his ideological position but also because his policies will make a huge difference to people like me, and because I think he’s the one most likely to win over the electorate in 2020, is much much harder to explain over the phone. Thankfully the most recent polls do at least some of that job for me – directly contradicting all of the senior Labour figures who chant that he is unelectable, and instead finding that most voters of all parties would be more likely to vote Labour if Corbyn was its leader than for any of the other candidates.
I’m hoping this will be enough to shake off accusations of “indulgence” from Hunt and from Labour Party members I speak to. “Indulgence” to me suggests creamy yoghurts advertised with soft music on TV, or over-priced cat food enjoyed by a silky Persian – not wanting a fairer society, to be able to afford to buy or just rent a house, and to know that you’re not going to be utterly on your own if you find yourself out of work. Now let’s just hope I can get that across on the phone…
Tessa Frost is a postgraduate student at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, Oxford University.
Indulge me Tristram… (images: Amazon.com and GQ)