A guest post by Wanda Lozinska
Facebook is a very powerful medium and played an incredibly important part in getting Jeremy Corbyn elected to the Leadership of the Labour Party, on 12th September 2015; a memorable day that should go down in history.
After the disappointing result of GE2015, I was lying in the bath (as one does), and thought to myself that what Labour really needed was a leader who could inspire people by giving strong, passionate speeches, which covered issues that were important to ordinary people, like they used to do years ago. And also one who understood, and was prepared to say, that austerity was hurting the poorest and not reducing the deficit (as it was supposedly designed to do), and that the bedroom tax was grossly unfair, etc, etc. However, the initial candidates were so uninspiring that when someone put a poll up on Facebook, people clamoured for an option of “none of the above”!
The next I knew, a post appeared on Facebook saying that someone I’d never heard of, called Jeremy Corbyn, had stepped forward and was standing for the leadership on the Left of the Labour Party. This was very good news, except that the accompanying photograph was absolutely awful! It was taken at night, obviously hurriedly, with the light from the flash shining on his forehead and accentuating his rather long, knobbly nose. I think he might even have been wearing his “Lenin” cap. So, I groaned and thought “oh, no”!! This was because I realised that the electorate had been used to handsome young chaps over the last few decades and only older people, such as myself, remembered the days when Leaders and PMs were much older and not elected because of their looks. However, I had for some time been a follower of Michael Meacher’s blog, an MP who I greatly admired and respected, so I was reassured to see his name amongst those MPs who had nominated Jeremy.
I later learned that a small group of left-wing MPs had met in Westminster to decide which of them should stand for the leadership. They went round the table, one by one; many had already tried for the leadership in the past and failed, and a few who hadn’t weren’t prepared to stand. Apparently, all eyes then turned to Jeremy, who was told that it was “his turn”; he replied something on the line of, “oh, alright then”. At the time, it was thought that he couldn’t expect to achieve anything other than give a “voice” to the left, so it was rather brave of Jeremy to step forward as a “sacrificial lamb” for the cause.
I and others were then made aware that he was going to struggle to get the required number of nominations to go forward to the actual contest. Someone in the know supplied us with lists of the e-mail addresses of the MPs who hadn’t yet nominated anyone, and later on listed the e-mail addresses of those who had nominated candidates who had dropped out. So loads of us pestered them saying that “the left needed a voice” and that it would be undemocratic if they didn’t let Jeremy stand for the leadership election. So, I reckon it must have been many of us on Facebook who helped to get Jeremy the required number of nominations!
Many people who voted for him had, like myself, never heard of him before, and many hadn’t had the opportunity to get to any of the hustings or his rallies, although I did – and discovered that he’s brilliant (and lovely)! However these were filmed and posted on Facebook, which greatly enhanced his popularity, as people liked what he was saying, together with the passion he put into his speeches. One thing that struck me straight away, after the first couple of hustings I saw on TV, was that the other candidates were being booed whereas Jeremy was receiving enthusiastic applause!
After Jeremy was nominated, the next step was to get people to register to vote. Like me, many hadn’t heard of him but knew of and respected Michael Meacher, so many agreed to back Jeremy because they trusted Michael’s judgement, and of course because they wanted a candidate to stand for the Left of the party.
Most didn’t realise they didn’t have to join the Labour Party to do so, so this was the first point we had to get across. I and very many others therefore made sure that people were aware that they could vote for him even if they weren’t members of the Labour Party and we guided them over various stumbling blocks.
Many members of the Green Party were so disappointed that they weren’t permitted to vote, that they resigned from the Greens and some even joined the Labour Party, just to make sure their vote would be valid! We also encouraged people to spread the word far and wide.
Then came the fact that people could register by texting VOTE to 78555 at a cost of £3; I even spoke to complete strangers in my town (a nice, friendly place) and some sent the text right there and then, as I explained what to do! Again, at first many hadn’t heard of Jeremy (I’d tell them, “you WILL”) but Tony Blair did him, and we supporters, a great favour when he stuck his oar in; people were only too glad to register then! Probably on the principle that they were against Blair, so anyone that he himself was against had to be worth supporting! Thank you, Tony!
Although many people were unable to attend Jeremy’s rallies, these were recorded and posted on Facebook, so more people got to hear his speeches than would otherwise have done so. Camden was particularly memorable; he filled the main hall, two overflow rooms and also gave a speech from atop a fire engine to the hundreds who were still unable to get in! There was a lovely photo of four youngsters who had climbed up on a wall to reach a window, just to hear him speak! None of this appeared in the papers, as they were all supporting other candidates, but they were widely shared on Facebook.
Finally, just 48 hours or so before the deadline, loads of us posted and shared information on Facebook, advising people that if they were going to vote it was now or never. The Labour Party’s computers crashed, as so many tried to register just before the deadline. They even had to extend it a few more hours to cope with the demand. Well, I’d like to think that was also down to us!
We really worked hard as we thought he’d have to win on the very first ballot, as we felt that second preference votes could not be relied upon (although we later discovered that this wouldn’t have been the case). Also, he was already getting so much very bad press that we feared many would believe all of these spurious articles and be put off voting for him. In the end, he got 59.5% of the vote (and would have won on the member’s and affiliated supporters’ votes alone, even if the £3 supporters hadn’t been included). The grand total was an amazing 251,417 votes, which was almost as many as all the other three candidates put together! So us lot on Facebook also beat all of the National Press!
I thought it was about time I did something worthwhile in my life so was glad of the opportunity. Isn’t modern technology wonderful!!
It’s not often that I get the chance to blow my own trumpet, but it wasn’t just me, but hundreds if not thousands like me, and of course organised people in the background who made all the information we needed available to us. I believe that John McDonnell started the ball rolling with this. And, of course, not forgetting Jeremy himself, who was brave enough to stand in the first place, even though he expected to be ridiculed, and who, through his speeches, greatly inspired so very many people.
One of the things that’s so good about Facebook is that you can inform a handful of people, who each then inform another handful, and so forth. In the run up to GE2015 I ran a group called “The Real Voice of the People” which only had 35 members to start with and now has over 1,000, with more Corbynistas joining daily. There are also very many much larger groups supporting Jeremy on Facebook, including one for over 50s (like me) who were somewhat put out when an emphasis was frequently placed on his younger supporters. His appeal stretches to all ages, races and backgrounds. I’ve even seen posts by former Tory voters who say they will vote for him in GE2020.
No one asked us to support him, or to do any of the things we did. We just did it off our own bat and were happy to encourage others to follow suit, tell their friends, families, colleagues, etc.
It’s not often that ordinary people get the chance to make history! One day, someone will write a book or make a film out of all this!
What drove most of us was the hatred of what the Tories are doing, to the vulnerable, the country, the economy, society in general, the NHS and everything else we hold dear. This used to be such a lovely country but it now seems to be consumed by greed; run by the few for their own benefit at the expense of the many.
We were badly let down by Labour. Gordon Brown was a disaster in 2010 as he just didn’t have the right temperament to be PM or get elected; people just didn’t like him. Ed Miliband was far better but allowed himself to be destroyed by the press, even if he hadn’t done anything wrong. Michael Meacher wrote a nice piece about Ed*, highlighting some of the extraordinary successes he’d achieved, which had been long forgotten, but his advice on the economy was ignored by the people who prepared the Labour Party literature.
We’re thrilled to bits that Jeremy won the Leadership and that Labour now has a champion who is upholding the Party’s original values. I’m sure that everyone in the country would prefer to live in a fairer and more equal society and we’re looking forward to his becoming PM in 2020.
“….. ideologies evolve under pressure from the broad sweep of events and the gathering momentum of human aspiration. The belief that, while the market has its proper place, THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES UNDERPINNING SOCIETY SHOULD BE EQUITY, SOCIAL JUSTICE, EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY AND DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY is a rallying call that evokes a universal response. It is a fundamental change of direction which once launched knows no bounds.” Michael Meacher, “The State We Need” 2013
6th February, 2016
“Miliband himself has some priceless qualities which his party should be talking up, not bad-mouthing in dark corners. He has integrity, honesty and vision, none of which Cameron has, and he has courage – he took on Murdoch over BSkyB, the Tory tabloids over Leveson, and Cameron over a missile onslaught on Syria and yet another Middle East War, and won in each case, which no previous leader of Labour in Opposition has ever achieved – certainly not Blair. The sooner Labour members recognise and promulgate the assets of their leader, the quicker they might learn to stop throwing the election away.”
By Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher MP
Let’s hope Labour won’t make the same mistake with Jeremy, as some MPs were talking about a change of leader right up to GE2015.