Corbyn comes to Croydon, and brings the Tardis with him

By - Thursday 13th August, 2015

#JezHeCan – Robert Ward goes back to the future at a political meeting

Sometimes life takes you by surprise. 4th August’s Ruskin House meeting when Jeremy Corbyn came to town was one of them.

It started quietly as I caught an early bus, arriving a half hour before the scheduled start. Low-key too at the main entrance, just a small sign indicating the side entrance. Sure enough, two burly men in hi-vis jackets bracketed a small side door. No name or membership number requested; a cheery hello and I was in. No secret-tory detectors in operation, apparently (it was an open meeting).

A short walk opening into a broad garden and in the blink of an eye I was back in 1969. A cluster of men was thrusting leaflets into the hands of new arrivals. “Morning Star? Morning Star?” asked the newspaper seller. “Seek the end of capitalism by the end of the year!” from another. Nobody was buying either. I caught my breath, pausing for a moment to drink it all in.

People milled about in the garden, one or two more men in hi-vis jackets, others sitting with an early evening beer; the revolutionaries seem to have got older and calmed down a lot. It could have been almost anywhere. Perhaps I was in the wrong place.

A vacant seat was being saved with a Louis Vuitton handbag

Directed to a side building, I came to a room almost full, hardly a seat left in the house. Wandering the aisles I spotted a spare seat, but as I approached, the lady in the adjacent seat quickly put her Louis Vuitton handbag on it. “Sorry”, she said, “I’m waiting for someone”. Not for any ragged-trousered philanthropist, I thought.

Eventually I spotted a seat in the front row, up against the back wall. A student member of the Green Party was next to me. He whispered that he wouldn’t be voting Labour but would be happy to see JC in Number 10; student fees and all that. He lost interest when I asked if it was fair that low-waged workers who didn’t go to university should pay for those who did.

Approaching the appointed hour the meeting was told that there were problems at London Bridge. JC was delayed by an hour. Nationalising the railways became the subject of conversation. I kept quiet that Network Rail is already nationalised; I didn’t want to blow my cover.

Back to ’69. Those were the days, my friend

A few warm up speakers stepped into the breach. A Croydon Labour councillor expressed her joy that she could at last speak the truth and her pride that she would be able to say she was here on this auspicious day. Then a speech from a union representative jerked me back in time once again. “Comrades!” he began. You can guess the rest. Another speaker praised the integrity of JC and condemned the evils of Farage and his kind. A pause, back to the present, then a sudden buzz, a few people stood up, and the man of the hour was there.

The room was by now packed, three hundred or so. After the initial flurry, JC took his seat to the frantic clicking of cameras, seeming slightly embarrassed at the attention. We waited patiently for the paparazzi to have their moment.

The speech started confidently and gained momentum. The folly of the past, Labour is not to blame for the economic crisis, the bankers’ fault, the poor paying the price. It is easy to see the man’s long experience of addressing the faithful, megaphone in hand, surrounded by banners.

I thought up a question I knew I’d never dare ask

Then economic policy, Trident, his anti-war campaigns, and I was back to 1969 again, realising that we were probably in the same anti-Vietnam war march. Those were the days, my friend.

I confess that I lost concentration then, because the rest was all 1969. The people take control, sweeping statements, vague policies and a new version of the magic money tree to pay for it all. I thought up a question that I knew I would never dare ask.

The crowd was by now in raptures. Another Labour councillor, reluctant at first, was now clapping enthusiastically. I waited for questions.

The questions were the usual: a few sycophants, a few that extolled at length the revolutionary pedigree and virtues of the questioner, and a few interesting ones.

Who are these people? Is this a Labour audience?

The answers were more interesting still: a long tub-thumping response when a simple yes would have sufficed, an apparently clear but offend-nobody view on the assisted dying bill, and a forgive-and-forget plan for fellow Labour MPs if he wins. This is an experienced politician.

The questions moved outside, so time for me to go. One last reflection as I stood up. The audience: it might have been very slightly younger than a Tory meeting, even slightly better dressed, just as white. Who are these people? Is this a Labour audience? Where are all these supposed newly enthused youth? I am too unfamiliar with Croydon Labour to know.

In the garden the crowd had already thinned as the meeting continued. I bade a fond farewell to 1969. It was nice to be back, if only for a short while.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Anthony Miller

    “I asked if it was fair that low-waged workers who didn’t go to university should pay for those who did”

    It was fair vociferously defended as fair by the elder potentates of today when I went to University but like most things that are truly fair it somehow ceases to be seen as fair the more people actually have the opportunity.

    • moguloilman

      Thanks Anthony.

      University tuition fees is an issue where fairness comes up a lot along the lines that it isn’t fair that tuition fees were ‘free’ forty years ago and not now. As ever there is no such thing as free, it is who pays and how. In my opinion the issue is though not about fairness, it is just different policy choices.

      Forty years ago single figure percentages of people went to university. Between then and now a policy decision was made to increase that figure to approaching 50%. This increased the costs significantly, I think more than tenfold. So the choice was stay ‘free’ and either tax more, or spend less somewhere else or do something different. The choice has been made for student loans, which are not really loans at all. The practicality is that we have a capped graduate tax.

      I have written more about the elastic nature of fairness here:

      • Anthony Miller

        practicality is that we have a capped graduate tax”

        We don’t. Because if we had a graduate tax I would pay it.

        The policy is not rational or particularly ideological it is simply to load taxation onto the youngest because they vote less. The lucrative education industry that places like Tony Blair Education Education Education above all else endlessly increases its costs too. With Dawkins and Grayling setting up their own independent Universities when they can’t scrounge enough off the taxpayer. When I was a student we were paid to do it. We were workers – with a Union. Today students are just consumers and the NUS little more than a Consumer Ombudsman. It is to this disenfrancished constituency that Corbyn like the Liberal Democrats before him appeals. There was nothing socialist in the New Labour’s introduction of Tuition Fees …it was just another right wing policy stolen off the USA …like BIDs and PPPs … and other nationalisation/privatisation fudges. PPPs and their long term debts were Tony’s big centrepiece …that of course it why Clause 4 had to expunged. Having it in place would have been an endless mockery of “the third way”.

        The reason students pay tution fees is purely inverted snobbery. Thinking used to be a job. Now it isn’t. That can’t be work? Thinking? Can it?

        • moguloilman

          The operation of the ‘student loan’ system is as a capped graduate tax. If you earn less than a certain amount you pay nothing, if you earn more than a threshold you pay something up to a maximum percentage. If you never earn more than the threshold by a certain age you never pay anything. This is not a loan. Presumably you graduated before the current student loan system was put in place.

          I do not see this as right or left wing, it is just a fact that someone has to pay for ‘free’ services. It is just a question of who and how. Under Corbynomics there is, of course, the magic money tree.

          • Anthony Miller

            “The operation of the ‘student loan’ system is as a capped graduate tax”

            Wow that’s such a whopper. Firstly it’s not a “tax”. Taxes are collected in real time and are based on fixed proportions of assets and earnings. Whereas if you leave University and don’t start to pay off your student loan immediately actually what happens is that it starts to accrue interest. When Student Loans came in this interest rate was capped. As soon as the system was up and running the cap was removed (in 2012 by the Tories) so that people are paying commercial interest rates on their loans. This means that the faster you pay it off the less you pay and those who only just break through the £21,000 threshold or only start to after several years pay considerably more.

            “University tuition fees is an issue where fairness comes up a lot along
            the lines that it isn’t fair that tuition fees were ‘free’ forty years
            ago and not now. As ever there is no such thing as free, it is who pays
            and how”

            Rubbish. My education was completely free. Moreover not only did I not go to University people of my generation were PAID to go to University on Grants. It was basically a job. We were not service users we were actually effectively workers. When they came in student loans were only £1000. Since then it’s been raised by various governments over 900%. Imagine if Income Tax raised by 900% and you’ll get some idea of how and why students hate the political class and have turned to the hard left. It’s because they’ve been systematically lied to again and again by all the mainstream political parties with false promise after false promise.

            How many people use libraries, swimming pools or sports facilities? I bet it’s not 50%. However, people insist these MUST be paid for out of general taxation as part of the welfare state for the common good. So it should be with Tuition Fees. I recon it’d probably be cheaper to collect the money under income tax and national insurance if nothing else. And we wouldn’t have to worry about the “student loan tax timebomb”. I suspect this is the real reason that the inflation cap on the loans has been removed. 45% of student loans in 2012 were in arrears and apparently had been effectively written off, at a cost to the Treasury of over £20 million. The system is cracked, based on bigotry towards the young, not valuing education as an asset for all society, crude class hatred, jealousy, small mindedness and a hatred of genuine social mobility by the rich and the middle classes. And that’s why it’s a left/socialist issue.

            Education. Education. Education.
            But not for adults.

          • moguloilman

            Happy to discuss the functioning of the student loan system, who pays for services and who benefits (because payment out of general taxation is not ‘free’) and how to make the best decisions on such issues.

            However when it comes to conspiracies and attributing base motives to anyone who doesn’t buy in to your fantasies I’m out.

          • Anthony Miller

            “because payment out of general taxation is not ‘free’”

            Well, it was totally free for me because

            1) I was paid to do it

            2) I was not at the time a tax payer

            Things are FREE if you don’t pay for them.

            I didn’t.

            I did of course pay for other people’s education later via taxation. But it was Free at the Point of Need like the NHS and so it should be. In the 21st century everyone NEEDS education – it is not a luxury and we need people to be educated for the good of society as a whole.

            What I have said is not a conspiracy. During the 2001 General Election the Labour Manifesto said that we “will not introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them.” Tony Blair then did exactly that. The Liberal Democrats stood on a platform of not increasing tuition fees and then did exactly that. And I bet you before 2010 the Conservatives didn’t tell anyone they were in favour of commerical interest rates on loans. All the mainstream parties have lied to and decieved students on a near industrial scale. Why? They’re near the bottom of the spending commitments that immediately win votes at the next election. Over time however a large number of extremely resentful people are increasingly angry about carrying a disproportionately large burden of taxation. The big divide in the UK is not just between the rich and poor but between the old and young.

          • Anthony Miller

            “However when it comes to conspiracies and attributing base motives to anyone who doesn’t buy in to your fantasies I’m out”

            Why is universal higher education free at the point of need (at least for a 1st degree) a fantasy? Already 50% of people go so there’s a strong argument for just bunging it in general taxation as it more or less already is. Remember in the 1990s when the Tories believed that no one would ever vote to increase taxation for better public services? Well, Tony Blair came along and they did. Why? Major and Thatcher’s cutting of public services had made them so threadbare that the middle classes had started to be scared.

            Don’t believe bin men should pay for physics undergraduates? Here’s a philosophical question then. We always hear from the Tories about “trickeldown” economics. It’s a favourite of George Osborne’s but it seems that the one area we’re supposed to believe it cannot apply to is higher education. Despite 50% of people going which would suggest even if you don’t personally benefit you’re related to someone who has been … there isn’t any trickeldown? Not even in increasing the earning potential of the population as a whole? When it comes to higher education Tories actually put taxes up!? Why simply because you have the potential to earn more rather than BECAUSE you earn more should you pay more? Aren’t you supposed to be a tax cutting party? Yet under the Tories tuition fees go up and up … Weird.

  • Anthony Miller

    “Who are these people? Is this a Labour audience?”

    Probably sort of. Most Labour members will have been to the main official hustings …
    … having done so I didn’t find any of the candidates that interesting that I wanted to listen to them again so soon. I hardly ever go to political meetings for fear of being bored to death or worse – meeting the editorial staff of Inside Pravda. However, there are limited tickets to the official hustings so maybe no everyone could get along to that … I imagine he’s picked up what used to be Mr Benn’s punters. Mr Benn could sell out Theatres by the end of his career. As indeed George Galloway does. Not to mention Ann Widdecombe. Politics as showbiz…

  • MissGracieRose

    What a poorly written and neglectful article. As somebody in attendance, I can assure you this description does not fairly represent that night. There were children in attendance and a large number of young people in attendance (myself and friends included). Maybe if the writer of this post had stopped twiddling his thumbs and thinking of 69 he would have heard Corbyn address how he intends to pay tuition fee’s by increasing corporate profit tax.

    Perhaps next time the writer should spend less time focusing on handbags.