I went on the Solidarity with Refugees march in London today. The march was huuuuge. 90,000 people signed up on Facebook. I’d love to know how many actually attended, but I can’t imagine how anyone could have counted.
I went with my friends Rachel and Celia. My mum was a refugee as a baby in Macau in 1950 with her family, and Rachel and Celia’s father came to Britain on the last Kindertransport; he lost both his parents and his younger brother in the Holocaust. It was interesting discussing our experiences of growing up as the children of refugees. It seems that both our ex-refugee parents were particularly overprotective, but whereas Rachel and Celia’s father was keen to educate his children very broadly about the political realities of other countries and the effects of migration, my mum was keen to turn away from all of that and become much more inward looking.
The idea for the march started off with one woman, Ros Ereira, posting on Facebook. A few more organisations, such as Amnesty International, then got involved, but still, I was pretty impressed with the number of volunteer stewards and speakers they’d got together in that short amount of time, not to mention the mobile stage and PA system. Some of the speakers were a bit random, such as the guy from the Socialist Alliance, who provoked dissenting murmurs from the crowd around me objecting to the way he was pushing his own political message rather than paying any attention to the issue of refugees. A better speaker was the woman from Sarajevo spoke about her gratitude to the UK for providing her with refuge 22 years ago, and how life is not just about not being in immediate danger, but about living the rest of your life with dignity. Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, talked about the Kindertransport children who came to Windermere (near his constituency) in the 1930s and his sadness that more children were not able to come – a mistake that we should not make again, he said. That’s actually the first time I realised that the Lib Dems had actually voted themselves a new leader! He was really a very good speaker, and it’s a pity the Lib Dems have only got 8 MPs.
At the other end of the march, in Parliament Square, we got a speech from Jeremy Corbyn, who had earlier that day been announced as the new leader of the Labour party. In a discussion with my dad earlier this month, it turns out we had quite similar views on the possibility of a Corbyn election. My dad thinks that it will open up discussion and debate and pave the way for someone else to come through and lead the party to a stronger future. For me, I feel that more of the same old ex-Blairite faces, trying the same formula of centrist inoffensiveness with ever diminishing returns would never have result in victory, and even if Corbyn becomes the “mincemeat” my friends were worried that the press would make of him, it would shock the party into facing up to the current emptiness of their central political premise. I think it is easier for the right wing to hold together, as there are fewer ways to be laissez-faire, whereas the left wing premise of constructing a more equal country is a complex proposition, which needs to be thought about and discussed. I do wonder what happened to all the political philosophers, such as Bernard Williams, when you need them. I fear that until someone confronts the differences between ideological, usually more privileged, socialists and the communities of poverty and low employment that socialism is intended to benefit, the left will not be elected again. I feel it is a similar barrier to electability for Labour that massive negative press influence was during the 1980s; it took Neil Kinnock’s vision and effort to defeat it.
It was really interesting hearing Corbyn as the leader of a major political party come out with some straightforward views. Corbyn was very careful to remain positive, and non party political on the cross-party stage he had been given, although Billy Bragg then went and undermined it all by bellowing out the Red Flag straight afterwards (an effect magnified by the fact Bragg was also one of the few on the stage who could work out how to use the microphone properly).
Rachel and Celia are still convinced Corbyn is going to be obliterated by the press, but then again, we are in a strange new world. The gap between rich and poor in this country is becoming more and more unbridgeable, due to the way of the property market, and so is the gap between the standard of living between countries. Climate change is going to play a factor in people’s need to migrate away from other countries (Celia was telling us about the role that drought had played in the Syrian migration). War seems to be getting more widespread and brutal, and in many western countries, the relationship between the public and the elected politician has reached never before seen lows of cynicism and mistrust. It will be interesting to see whether all the established rules that have recently seen in the victories of successive polished politicians will also be part of the new world.