Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire is not known as a centre of left wing radicalism. It has had only two revolutionary moments in its 1000 year history . They were the capitulation of the English to William the Conqueror in 1066 at Berkhamsted Castle and the Battle of Berkhamsted Common in 1866.
The latter was a remarkable story, A wealthy MP, Augustus Smith, was furious that a local landowner had enclosed common land above the town. So rather than just protest he took direct action. As a book, The Short History of Berkhamsted reveals he hired ” a miniature army of Cockney” toughs” and Irish labourers and charted a special train to convey them from Euston to Tring at the dead of night.”
These 120 men armed with crowbars tore down the iron railings overnight and the next day a newspaper reported ” “In carriages, gigs, dogcarts and on foot, gentry, shopkeepers, husbandmen, women and children at once tested the reality of what they saw by strolling over and squatting on the Common and taking away morsels of gorse to prove, as they said) the place was their own again.”
An Act of Parliament later guaranteed the freedom of the Common and Lord Brownlow who had tried to enclose it gave up.
Fast forward to 2015 and another extraordinary revolution seems to be taking place in the town if not the country..At a barbecue organised by the Berkhamsted and Tring branch of South West Herts Labour Party, members are talking about voting for Jeremy Corbyn.
Now Jeremy has not had to bring in Cockney ” toughies” or Irish labourers to prove his point ( though they are many still in his Islington North constituency) but merely appear at local hustings with either other candidates or their representatives.
Both new members of the party and long-standing members are saying they are fed up with Labour apologising for what it stands for and don’t know what the other candidates for the leadership want to do. One lumped Andy Burnham,Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall into the same mould. She described them as vanilla – bland and tasteless with no ideological view of society.
They contrasted this with Corbyn who at least knows what he believes, doesn’t apologise for being a member of the Labour Party and would take the fight to the Tories and revamp the organisation. I saw no sign of entryism ( which the Sunday Times suggests) here among the new members – after all Chorleywood was never a bastion of the Militant Tendency even in its heyday. And John Mann MP is ridiculed for wanting to halt the election.
This doesn’t mean that the people who are going to vote for Corbyn agree with every single policy he stands for – but they seem to want something different from the present, in their words, uninspired rivals. The only pause for thought is whether this will split the party – but the history of the SDP suggests otherwise. And Yvette Cooper’s point about Labour being a club for the boys has made some impact but not in the way she wants..It has caused people to think of voting for Angela Eagle as deputy to gender balance their vote for Corbyn. I shall still plump for Tom Watson.
I sense rather like in the run up to the general election in Scotland that something big is happening and is becoming unstoppable. Already neighbouring Hemel Hempstead constituency party has decided to endorse Corbyn and it looked like that grassroots Labour members have suddenly decided they are fed up with the status quo and wants something different..
The impact if Corbyn wins will be game changing. Defeated Labour candidates in some areas are taking the opposite view as this article in The Guardian shows. They see that Labour didn’t take into account the views of working class voters hating scroungers and more immigration. I hear this too from the working class carers who assist my disabled wife. But don’t they realise what these voters want is NO immigration ( Britain is full that’s why public services are bad, they tell me) .They want a ban on foreigners holding British jobs and the ABOLITION of benefits for scroungers. Are Will Straw and Jessica Asato going to stand on a Labour platform banning anybody from abroad working in Britain and the abolition of large swathes of welfare to get their vote? I would be surprised – it would make an interesting article in Left Foot Forward.
No, Labour has to decide where it stands on all this and then campaign and educate people that it is cuts in public services not more immigrants that is causing a lot of the problem. That is why I am still deciding whether I should take the plunge and back Corbyn or stick with either Cooper or Burnham.