Manifesto: How Labour Party activists fought for Socialism in Liverpool and the bitter sweet results that followed

Poster for the new film

Manifesto is a new film out this week that explores in depth local Labour Party activists and their fight to get a Labour government elected in the December 2019 general election.

It is an unusual film as it covers a constituency – Liverpool, Walton – ignored by the national media -concentrating on the passion of grass roots activists in one of the poorest parts in Britain. It is also Labour’s safest seat.

The film conveys the idealism of the campaigners and how the last Labour manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn would have meant real change for the people of Walton – many relying on free school meals and food banks – by providing better schools, a better NHS, more worker’s rights and better wages. But it was not to be. Instead Labour lost the general election in the fog of the Brexit row where unknown bureaucrats in Brussels were scapegoated as holding the working class back and depriving them of their ” freedoms”.

A street in Walton. Still from the film

The prism the director Daniel Draper ( who was born and grew up in Walton) uses is to tell the tale through the eyes and voices of local activists -a group that are normally completely ignored.

He intersperses their views with quotes from Robert Tressell’s work The Ragged -Trousered Philanthropists – regarded by George Orwell as a ” book everyone should read”. This tells a semi autobiographical story of a house painter’s struggle to get work in Edwardian England. He died from TB in Liverpool Royal Infirmary and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the city. The link between today’s activists and his legacy is vividly portrayed in one scene in the film.

He also intersperses the dialogue with stills of part of the constituency showing the poverty and both neat and neglected streets.

A thoughtful Ian Byrne during the 2019 election count. Still from the film

The result is a bitter sweet documentary. The campaigning in Liverpool was a great success – with both Parliamentary candidates who are on the left of the party, Dan Carden ( Liverpool Walton) and Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby) returned with thumping majorities.

But in the rest of the country Labour lost badly -including two seats Walton activists were sent to help the party in Blackpool and Crewe.

Since then internal struggles in the Labour Party -including in Liverpool – have divided Labour activists and I am pretty certain Liverpool Walton is not a priority for the new leader Sir Keir Starmer – precisely because it is such a safe seat where Labour voters are taken for granted.

But in my view this would be a mistake. Labour has always been a broad church and the hopes, aspirations and frankly, eternal optimism to create a better society from the people portrayed in this film should not be ignored or squandered by party bosses in London.. The present mess and chaos we are in under this Tory government is too bitter a pill to swallow not only for the voters of Liverpool Walton but for everyone else. As Dan Carden, the MP for Walton said on the film before the result: “We can’t afford another five years of Tory government.”

Dan Carden during the campaign Still from the film

Initial screenings:

16 June: Picturehouse At FACT, Liverpool (Q&A: MP Ian Byrne, activist Alan Gibbons, director Daniel Draper, hosted by Ross Quinn)

16 June: Glasgow Film Theatre (Q&A: MSP Paul Sweeney & former MSP Neil Findlay, hosted by Ruth Gilbert)

17 June: Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle (Q&A: MP Ian Lavery, Laura Pidcock from People’s Assembly, activist Ben Sellers, director Daniel Draper)

30 June: Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds (Q&A: MP Richard Burgon & director Daniel Draper)

DATE TBC: Savoy Cinema, Nottingham (Q&A: MP Nadia Whittome & director Daniel Draper)

3 August: Duke’s At Komedia, Brighton (Q&A: MP Lloyd Russell Moyle & director Daniel Draper)

Further details of other venues including two in London will be on this link

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A new warm film on Socialism’s big event – The Durham Miners Gala

There are no deep coal mines in the UK. There are no coal miners. There are no brass bands attached to a living colliery and there no new union banners for new pits. And soon, under new environmental rules, the sale of domestic coal, except for smokeless fuel, may be banned.

So one would think that an event called the Durham Miners Gala would be consigned to our nostalgic past with a few old men having a pint down the local working men’s club.

But the facts contradict this. A new film released on Friday The Big Meeting by director and producer Daniel Draper two years after the last pit closed in the UK in 2016, shows the very opposite with a thriving modern festival in the City of Durham attracting over 200,000 people. It is a tribute to the almost eternal traditions of community, solidarity and fraternity that lives on long after the last mine closed.

It is warm almost affectionate appreciation of one of Labour’s major festivals seen partly through the eyes of a diverse group of individual participants, including a 19 year old Oxford undergraduate who runs a local left wing bookshop in her vacations; a Waspi group of middle aged women campaigning for their pensions and a woman who plays in a brass band.

The film itself interweaves the past and present with split screen and colour and black and white clips contrasts the old celebrations with the new. It has clips of Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson addressing the meeting from the balcony of the Durham County Hotel when the National Union of Mineworkers was a major force in the land to today’s political participants including a video from presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in the States to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader.

It shows how the country has changed. One black and white sequence shows young lads and lassies (well before the contraceptive pill) cavorting in the fields and woods round Durham – as the festival was the place where young miners could meet people of the opposite sex. This is contrasted with today’s festival highlighting gay rights.

Banners and brass bands at the Durham Miners Gala

There is very raw emotional coverage of the music of brass bands – which, if anything, have expanded – with bands from places like Bristol which never had a pit to the US band players– participating with bands that have survived their pit closures. And there is in an interview with a woman who still makes these huge union colliery banners and is both reviving old lost ones and making new ones.

There is also clips of current pop artists who attend the event including Billy Bragg.

The climax of the festival is a service inside Durham Cathedral with the brass bands that have marched through the streets converging on the city’s huge place of worship.

This is the film that both tells the history of a 135 year old event and captures the spirit of it today.

As the director said: “I don’t think words can do justice to such an occasion – I feel like the Gala is a living and breathing organism, something not static, but immovable – a celebration of working-class life, not just today, but almost as if it takes place in the past and future simultaneously. I suppose this film is an elaborate explanation of something wonderful and beyond words.”

The BIG MEETING. On release from September 6 and shown first in South Shields, Newcastle, Glasgow, Durham and Halifax. It is produced by the independent Shut Out The Light company


Contributers: Jeremy Corbyn, Dennis Skinner, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, DBC Pierre, John Irvin, Paul Mason, Margaret Aspinall, Selina Todd, Robert Colls, Ross Forbes, George Robson, Heather Wood, Heather Ward, Stephen Guy, Charlotte Austin, Laura Daly, Lynn Gibson, Mike Jackson & Brett Haran (LGSM), Ben Sellers, Liam Young, Emma Shankland, Robert McManners, Jake Campbell-Morris.