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Crowds gather in St. Helen’s Square to hear Corbyn fight for re-election

Photo credit: Facebook Momentum York.
Photo credit: Facebook Momentum York.
Photo credit: Facebook Momentum York.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has received a rapturous reception at an open-air York rally for his re-election in the forthcoming leadership election.

There was the definite hint of rain in the air as, at 7pm on Friday 29th July, the Labour leader’s supporters assembled in St. Helen’s Square, but it did not dampen their enthusiasm in the slightest. A wide range of the city’s population was represented, including both students and the elderly, as well as families with pushchairs. According to figures quoted on Newsnight’s coverage of the rally, up to a thousand people were expected to attend.

Socialist Workers Party members handed out newspapers and leaflets, and their organisation was also well represented on banners which stated: “Fight austerity and racism. Corbyn IN Tories OUT.” Other banners displayed similar messages, such as “For our children’s future defend Corbyn”, as well as more general wishes for policy change, like “Scrap Trident. Save our NHS”. While the purpose of the rally was to raise support for Corbyn’s re-election over his challenger, Owen Smith MP, many had loftier goals, as was demonstrated by the numerous banners demanding “Corbyn for PM.” A homeless man sitting opposite the rally displayed his own banner, reading “I’m with you.” While Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, did not attend, she sent her support.

During the first half an hour of the rally, the crowd heard from a range of local grassroots activists about why they supported Corbyn. Steve Howley, the Leader of the North Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union, spoke about how he had seen York experience many devastating floods during the last decade, but that Corbyn had been the only Labour leader who had come in person to express support. Charlotte Rowley, from the department of Archaeology at the University of York, who opened by quipping, “Archaeologists dig Corbyn,” spoke about Corbyn’s support for free education.

Finally, it was time to hear the man himself speak. Corbyn arrived on stage to loud cheers and chanting, and was clearly in his element as he spoke about a range of current issues. He derided the scandal-hit businessmen Sir Philip Green of BHS and Mike Ashley of Sports Direct, and reiterated that Theresa May’s Conservative government could not be trusted with the NHS.

While Corbyn conceded he was “disappointed” that 172 of his MPs had expressed no confidence in him, he insisted that he would emerge from his second leadership contest in less than a year once again victorious. A recurring theme in his speech was what he perceived as the media’s campaign against him, with him quoting a figure that 80% of the coverage of his leadership in one major British newspaper had been negative, with 20% neutral and absolutely no positive stories.

The rally was merely one in a series of open-air rallies, Corbyn’s preferred campaign strategy, taking place across the UK in support of his bid for re-election. Over the next few days rallies will also take place in Leeds and Hull. On the Facebook page of Momentum York, a grassroots organisation in support of the “Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader” campaign, Corbyn wrote:

“Thank you to the thousands of people who came to our Labour leadership rally in York last night. This movement – growing bigger every day – is a force which can beat the Tories and change our society for the many, not the few.”