Jeremy Corbyn held a rally in Southampton today as part of a tour of 35 marginal seats across the country this summer.
The Labour Party leader and MP for Islington North made the surprise visit to the city, in the wake of the narrow win for Royston Smith, in last month’s general election – which saw a majority of only 30 votes for the Conservative MP in the Itchen Constituency.
Corbyn took to the steps outside the Guildhall just after midday, addressing a crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 Labour supporters who had come to hear him speak.
The atmosphere was festive, with a mix of people of all ages and many families in attendance.
A large number of volunteer stewards were present, and the event remained peaceful and positive, with the crowd bursting into chants before and after Corbyn’s speech.
He was introduced by Satvir Kaur, Labour Councillor for the Shirley Ward and University of Southampton Politics and History graduate, who called the city ‘Labour’s number one target’.
Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, then presented Corbyn with a personalised Saints shirt that read ‘Corbyn – 10’ on the back.
Corbyn began his speech by thanking the city’s Labour voters and members for their hard work during the campaign.
He then went on to praise the forerunners of the trade union movement, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who are celebrated every year at a festival in their home village in Dorset, which Corbyn will be visiting this weekend.
He emphasised the importance of ‘understanding where we’ve come from, in order to understand where we’re going’, citing the nineteenth century farm labourers transported to Australia for protesting against their low wages.
Corbyn then delivered an impassioned half hour speech on the importance of a fair society, making pledges to increase wages for public sector workers, fund early years and primary education and solve the housing crisis.
His speech was light on the ‘attack politics’ seen during the general election, preferring instead to promote his own policies, a style which many commentators attributed to the surprise success of Labour last month.
Nevertheless, he made several light hearted jokes about the Conservative Party and the DUP, referring to them as a ‘coalition of chaos’ and remarking on the fact that the ‘strong and stable’ campaign branding has not been seen since the election.
He spoke about recent disasters across the country, such as the Manchester and London Bridge terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire, to illustrate the importance of public sector workers.
Corbyn made a pointed remark about the praise lavished on firefighters, police officers and NHS workers by Conservative MPs in the wake of such tragedies, but said that ‘praise doesn’t pay the bills’.
He promised to increase the wages of those in the public sector, whom he believes to be 14% worse off in real terms since the last Labour government.
The Labour leader made several references to the next general election, joking that he would be free from September and that he was ready to campaign.
He declared that his party was ‘not just the Opposition, but a government in waiting’, ignoring the rebellion of 50 Labour MPs in the recent Queen’s speech that saw three Labour frontbenchers sacked.
Attendees of the rally overwhelmingly praised Corbyn’s politics of change and the belief that he could reform the establishment.
Don and Hazel, retirees: “We weren’t Jeremy Corbyn supporters before the General Election: he didn’t seem able to defend himself in Parliament, but this election convinced us that he could be more aggressive. Someone needs to have a vision for the country.”
Glen, steward and Labour party member: “We’ve had 40 years of constant failure in this country, and Corbyn can do everything that everybody else can’t.”
Laurie and Mabelle, students: “He’s really focused on the young generation and really inspirational. Labour means a future of not being afraid.”
Eileen, retired nurse and social worker: “My daughter used to live in his constituency, and he helped her to find accommodation when she was a single mother. He’s an incredible constituency MP, and I’ve supported him for over 30 years. He’s very open to people and very genuine, with so much integrity.”
Jenna, unemployed: “I’m not a Labour supporter, but I do believe in Corbyn. We need change, I don’t care how it happens, and he’s the one who can do it.”
Penny, teacher: “The Tories are riding roughshod over teachers and ignoring the experts, but a Labour government would treat us as professionals. There would be less pressure on pupils and teachers, funding would increase, arts subjects would be valued again and class sizes would grow.”