An unprecedented turnout of more than 100 students and trade unionists welcomed John McDonnell to Norwich and the University of East Anglia on an otherwise dreary Friday evening on 9th February, rewarding and surprising in equal measure the weeks of hard work of students to promote the event and campaign.
The large turnout from what is an extremely ‘depoliticised' campus, bearing a dearth of socialist ideas and consciousness, clearly demonstrated that not only are the youth not apathetic and resolutely opposed to all things Labour, but that the only way to effectively move students politically is in reference to the labour movement, and that the only way to renew the Labour Party is through its left wing.
The meeting had long been planned since the conception of John's campaign for leadership back in the summer. A term of consistent work by members of the newly formed UEA Socialist Society and Socialist Appeal has slowly raised the banner and ideas of socialism and John's campaign. The hard work has evidently paid off, particularly in the two weeks of flyering preceding the meeting, and has hopefully led to a raising of the profile and reputation of not only socialism but the Socialist Appeal, which has been sold and discussed in meetings for months. A series of meetings on John McDonnell, the Labour Movement and a resolution in the student union council formed the run up to John's appearance itself.
John was only able to speak to students for an hour, as he had to rush off to another meeting at the local Labour Party, which was also highly successful. John outlined the background to his campaign, the history of New Labour and how this was consistently alienating Labour's support base, highlighting the fear that the party is sleepwalking into another Tory government. He also spoke of policies such as nationalisation under workers' control. The key topic addressed by members of the audience in both meetings was over how to actually mobilise support for a socialist campaign. John responded by saying that the social base was there, and that our task was to bring in those groups that Blairism has consistently alienated, i.e. the trade unionists, public sector workers and working class as a whole, especially the un-unionised immigrant workers. Only through organising an effective grass roots working class campaign can we force the media to pay any attention to his campaign.
The massive turnout, especially of the youth, and the campaign to get people to join the party to vote for John highlights the fact that the only way to reinvigorate the party is through socialism and the rank and file movement. While the Labour Party Blairites and Tories and Liberals hold their meetings behind closed doors, terrified of openly taking their campaigns and ideas and testing them against the mood of the public in open meetings, the socialists emphatically and confidently build for large open, public meetings as a means of discussion and to bring ordinary people into our campaigns. Imagine Brown touring the country, hosting huge meetings on the platform of a progressive, confident and positive campaign to bring the masses into the party to vote for his campaign. It would never happen!