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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 17 July, 2019
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'I'm Irish, I live in London and I've joined Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn'

An apathetic and marginalised electorate have been woken up by the new Labour leader, this shouldn’t be ignored writes Ruairí O’Grady.

Ruairí O'Grady

I HAVE NEVER considered myself to be a political person. And certainly not in broadstroke party-political terms.

I have voted of course as I’ve felt that we all have an obligation to participate in a free democracy. But I have voted, or at least tried to, on the basis of policies put forward by the various parties on offer.

I’ve always leaned to the left. It doesn’t seem a bizarre notion to me that the government should probably take more care to protect the vulnerable in society.

If you saw a child or elderly person or in fact any person fall in front of you on the street would you reach out and help them get back on their feet?

Or would you scoff, “well they have all the necessary limbs and appendages to get themselves back up. Why should I help them?”

I voted Green in the general election here in May because there was a number of Labour policies I could not in good conscience back.

Not only were they toeing the Tory line on austerity and it’s causes but also their stance on Trident. Eric Schlosser’s harrowing account of nuclear arms in ‘Command and Control’ would put an end to any notion of them being in any way effective for a modern society.

Irish abroad

I moved to London in 2011, leaving behind me a country which I loved deeply in my bones but one which I felt had let me and my generation down.

History repeats itself and it can only do so in the most tragic of ways. I felt quite sure that had I stayed I would be forced back home to live with my parents. Coming from where I come from, this would basically cripple the opportunities I would have, thereby having an extremely detrimental effect on my mental health and sense of self-worth.

I love London and the UK, I love the friends I’ve made here and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve been granted.

The last time I participated in the democratic process in Ireland was the election in 2011 shortly before I left.

Incidentally, I was chatting to some friends on Whatsapp the other day when I was informed that my local TD, whom I voted for, had been arrested after an alleged fight in a local pub.

Much hilarity ensued with exclamations of “our local politicians, a great bunch of lads” etc. But honestly, I think I’d have been somewhat less amused had I still lived at home and he was still representing me.

Jeremy Corbyn

What is happening in the UK at the moment probably seems a little strange to many looking in from the outside, especially so given the lense that you must look through.

Descriptions abound of a bearded leftie cycling around Islington on a ‘Maoist Bicycle’ (or, you know, a bicycle) on his way to rallies with Hezbollah, Hamas and the IRA.

All the while plotting to overthrow the monarchy, dissolve the armed forces and posing a threat to the security of the economy, society and even your family.

We are of course talking about a committed and well-known peace campaigner and anti-war protester. Someone who openly favours engagement over exclusion as a means of mediating disputes (never!). Someone who believes strongly in the abolition of nuclear weapons and that the poor are being disproportionately hit by austerity policies, a fact that was very recently backed up by the OECD.

One of the great ironies being that right now as I type one of the largest weapons expositions in the world is being held at the Excel Centre in London, with a wide no-go area around it stifling any means of effective demonstration against it.

The bills that the government are trying to pass this week are naked attempts to dis-empower the unions and workers rights as well as cutting the tax credits for the poorest in society.

Labour leadership contest Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Belfast about the need to fund Northern Ireland's welfare system. Source: Niall Carson

During the last UK general election I would get into rambling debates, primarily outside London pubs admittedly, with friends or passers-by about the merits of A) actually voting – many people in my last company didn’t.

And B) actually taking a look at the policies that were on offer – this was a particular bug bear of mine. How could anyone in good conscience vote for something without knowing what it actually was or the potential ramifications of that decision?

The argument I made at the time consisted of something akin to the following:

“Whoever is in power, you and I will be okay. By and large our daily lives in London will roll on, we will continue going to the office, we live fairly privileged lives for people of our age. But if you vote Tory you will likely be disproportionately hitting the pockets of the poor and the disadvantaged”.

I’ve been told on good authority that I did in fact sway opinions so it may not have entirely fallen on deaf ears but some of the above mentioned people still didn’t make it to the polling station.

Marginalised 

The attraction to Corbyn may have initial roots in the stark contrast between he and the other candidates.

To an educated, largely politically marginalised and apathetic demographic, the vision of a man actually giving straightforward answers without the need of a focus group seemed about as alien in the current political context as a Martian landing and announcing that he was running for leadership of UKIP.

This may be where the misunderstanding and uncomprehension of the current elite really comes from. It’s not simply that we were all unaware of the political tricks and spin, we’d simply shrug our shoulders and accept the grim reality that there was never anything we could do to change the status quo.

To enter into the world of politics was to play by their game. Their game had established rules – it was a world of catchy sound-bites to accommodate diminishing attention spans, a world where glazed-ham-faced toffs explain to us that there is something called a deficit.

Furthermore, that we are ALL responsible for this deficit and so we must all pull together to reduce it. By which they mean that we need tax breaks for the very rich, continuing to turn a blind eye to the tax evasion of very powerful corporations and systematic demonisation of the lower classes in an attempt to justify a programme of ideological social cleansing.

There has been much made in the media during the Labour leadership contest of those within the Labour movement who believe that they know better. These are the same “grandees” or “big beasts” who have been rolled out systematically over the last few weeks like a bunch of mummified doomsayers.

Staggering condescension like, “we understand your feelings but you must grow out of them”, or baffling delusion like “Corbyn is unelectable”. This even after he won the biggest leadership landslide in party political history.

These same people have now shown a complete disregard and contempt for their own party members and supporters by joining with their so called political enemies in undermining Corbyn from the very start.

Why I joined?

Like many others I joined Labour initially as a supporter and have subsequently joined up as a full member. Rightly or wrongly I’d given my word to people early on that if Corbyn were to be successful in his bid I would join up and do all I can to aid the movement.

I have no clue what will happen next but believe me when I say that no-one does. Anyone who claims to truly know how things will unfold now is either being willingly disingenuous, or a fool.

One would imagine, however, that there will surely be a concerted effort from within Labour and from an almost universally hostile and agenda-driven press to discredit any attempt at even proposing a more socially responsible package.

To those within Labour who publicly espouse the same values and yet seek to undermine a meaningful attempt at creating more equality I have a simple message. Before you do this please do pause for thought, I would paraphrase Yeats (Corbyn is said to be a fond admirer) and say:

but we, being poor, have only our dreams;we have spread our dreams under your feet;Tread softly because you tread on our dreams.

Ruairí O’Grady is a journalism graduate, a Monaghan man and a London resident. He’s now a member of the Labour Party. 

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Ruairí O'Grady

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