Park Hill Park was the venue last night for by far the biggest election campaign event in Croydon of the 2017 campaign, as Labour staged a rally, one of half a dozen similar events held simultaneously around the country
Photographer LEE TOWNSEND was there for this photo-essay
A groundswell of popular support, engaging millions of people in politics, some for the first time, had helped get Jeremy Corbyn elected and then re-elected as Labour Party leader over the past two years.
Over the past two months, that Corbynmania has seen similar enthusiasm for the Labour leader and his team’s well-received manifesto turn-round what was a 20 per cent difference to the Tories in the opinion polls into a single digit, near-equivalent poll rating by the time we arrived in election week.
It has been the young and the often disconnected who have seemed to be particularly drawn to the new style of Labour campaigning. The momentum has been palpable.
But last night’s rally was really old-style campaigning, with speeches and banners. There were even a handful of old-style SWP activists with their own placards, mooching around quietly at the back of the crowd.
It was all given a 21st century update with the big screen and a video link to Labour’s other rally venues around the country.
Right on cue, the attention of everyone in the park went from the “warm-up acts”, comedian Ben Elton and shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, to the big video screen, which relayed pictures and sound from Corbyn’s speech made to a crowd in Birmingham.
The themes of the election campaign, by now very familiar to the committed activists in the audience, drew cheers of support as Corbyn warmed to his task.
“You could hear the roars of the crowd from East Croydon Station,” said one passer-by drawn to the rally by the noise.
While old campaigners in the audience might have blanched slightly at the Kinnock-esque attempt to rouse up his audience (that 1992 rally in Sheffield is hard to erase from the memory), many in the Croydon audience last night had not been born then, when Labour contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of what had seemed a certain victory.
Once on more familiar territory – the NHS, teachers seeking donations at the school gates, a real Living Wage of £10 per hour – Corbyn’s bullet points drew more loud cheers.
More than 1million new voters have registered to take part in tomorrow’s General Election. The third national vote in just two years, this influx of new voters could mean that the voting patterns across the country may be significantly different from what was seen in the 2015 General Election and for the EU Referendum 12 months ago.
Croydon, of course, was where Corbyn began his campaigning at the end of April, and it is no accident that central Croydon was chosen for the rally in south London. With the capital’s most marginal seat, here was an event not so much to win over undecided voters, but more to inspire and enthuse activists for one big push on election day.
- This Friday, June 9, Inside Croydon is staging a free talk about the election from American politics professor Bob Beatty. Click here for more details and to book your place
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