Imagination fires the revolution
Photograph by Russell Hart from the CWU rally 5.10.15
If you’re not fortunate enough to live in Manchester you might well assume, from the media coverage, that all that’s going on here this week is a bunch of tories with an undemocratic mandate making unpleasant pronouncements and waving metaphorical bunches of £50 notes at us from behind a ring of steel. Here at A Fine Lung we cheery revolutionaries would like to let it be known that another world is possible, indeed that it has been in evidence these last few days.
First we had flash mobs at Piccadilly station on Saturday, letting conference delegates know, as soon as they stopped off their trains from their leafy southern villages, that they were not welcome. ‘Can’t we just go to Bournemouth?’, we hope they started asking early doors.
Then on Sunday we had 85,000 or so anti-austerity demonstrators marching in the sunshine. The march took 90 minutes to go past. A gorgeous banner of red and white knitted squares reading ‘Don’t stitch us up’ was carried by five women, there were a lot of NHS undertakers – sadly, but reasonably enough – and the creator of Peppa Pig should chase up image rights royalties given the number of posters on which she featured. So then one lad in a suit and a tory delegate lanyard, Union Jack hanky in his breast pocket, thought it was a good idea to witness the march and found himself with egg on his face as a result. To many in the media this seems to meant that the story could be written up as the demo being a near-riot – the perky dogs and snoozing babies in the giant crowd of Peterloo peace people tell a different story. Twas ever thus.
The People’s Assembly and friends have worked tirelessly to bring together a great range of protest events all through the conference – music, comedy, all the sort of fun stuff the conference delegates won’t get. On Monday morning they all complained because it rained on them (did I mention Bournemouth as a future option?) while they had to queue for ages to get into the conference, apparently because G4S were too slow in processing them through. That cheered my Monday no end, I can tell you.
So to Monday evening. Some months back Communication Workers’ Union general secretary Dave Ward had asked Jeremy Corbyn if he’d speak at a rally in support of the People’s Post campaign. Yes, he’d said, and yes, now with his new status he did, transgressing the ‘etiquette’ that says that the leader is not supposed to be in town when your opponents are having their conference. A thousand people crammed into the cathedral – I only jibbed in by the skin of my teeth. You can always count on United mates – and 7,000 stood outside with the speakers going on outside to address them after they’d talked to those of us lucky enough to get a seat. CWU banners were ranged along the side walls of the cathedral, and the Canon of Theology and Mission was invited to start the evening with a prayer, a nice touch and he rose to the occasion with a message of social justice.
Two CWU speakers spoke about their campaign. Owen Jones talked his powerful sense, and told us we had to go away and do something (which is why I am sitting here writing this at 1 in the morning). Natalie Bennett slipped a climate change message into her postal worker envelope, and quoted Shelley, well slightly misquoted him actually but the sentiment was good. 17-year old Abby Tomlinson was unbelievably articulate and composed in her first act of public speaking, despite later saying on Twitter that she’d been shaking throughout. Lindsey German talking about the Chartists was a powerful moment, joining up history and today. As the moment of JC’s arrival drew near, cheering wafted in from outside the cathedral - not often you’ll get to compare him with Princess Diana so it was worth being there just for that. And then there he was, to a tumultuous standing ovation. He’s no orator but he speaks with sincerity and with words that feel like they mean something rather than being composed by a focus group. He talked about the Royal Mail campaign, as that was what he’d originally been invited to do all that time ago, but also about his aspirations for the next five years, and for the part all of us can play in building an anti-austerity alternative. He used words politicians don’t use, like ‘creativity’ and above all (at least five times) ‘imagination’. Invigorated and with our imaginations suitably fired, then, off we strode into the night. The optimism in the air and the momentum being built was quite remarkable, only five months on from the shock of the General Election. Forward, comrades.