Corbyn: An Evening at The Festival of Debate

Jeremy Corbyn Festival Poster

Before we begin this piece we would like to make it clear that views and opinions, political or otherwise, are the views of the writer not the views of Doncopolitan. We are aware of previous controversy surrounding Jeremy Corbyn and his political campaign and in the interest of balance we have provided a link to a Doncopolitan opinion piece written by Nick Goldstein.

When I was asked to attend an Evening with Jeremy Corbyn – one of many events which make up this year’s Festival of Debate in Sheffield – I was hesitant. Although, I am quite politically minded, I wasn’t confident I had the knowledge to write a piece about it. However, I do have strong political opinions, so naturally I said yes. I want to make it clear to the readers from the get go that this will not be an exhaustive report of all the subjects that were discussed that evening – I think of it instead as an account of my experiences, the same way I might tell them to a friend.

The evening was different to what I expected in a couple of ways. First of all, the bar queue was huge and it seemed like everybody was drinking. Now, I’ve never been to a political event before, but this amused me.

Imagine how much fun Question Time would be if all the audience members had a few pints beforehand.

Another thing that surprised me – even though in a city like Sheffield, it shouldn’t at all – was the turn-out. The Octagon centre (which holds 1230 people) was basically full. There was a tangible buzz in the air and I felt pretty excited once I was in the venue. The next surprise was the support act. I didn’t know there was going to be one and I was elated to find out that he was a poet. Gav Roberts, from Rotherham, took to the stage and started the evening off with some spoken word. He did three or four pieces and they were pretty good. The work was (obviously) quite political in nature and very much on the left. One of the poems had a repeated refrain of “put all weapons down” which goes hand in hand with Jeremy Corbyn’s beliefs. I noticed during Gav’s set that Corbyn was sat in the front row watching and although that’s not necessarily anything special, it does strike me as reflective of the type of person he seems to be.

When Corbyn was introduced and walked up the treads to the stage, the applause was impressive and you could feel how happy the people of Sheffield were to have him there. My fiancée (who used to live in Sheff and is a big fan of Corbyn) cried – but I should note, she was hormonal and had 3 glasses of wine by that point. Similar to the respect he showed his support act, the first thing Corbyn did when the applause stopped was introduce the BSL interpreters by name and ask the audience to clap for them too. He then said how lovely it was to be in Sheffield and how special he thinks the city is, not just because of its political history, but also its culture of inclusivity and individualism. You could see this in the audience too – there was no clear demographic present – the crowd was comprised of all ages, races and interesting people.

Sat opposite Corbyn was self-proclaimed “compassionate disrupter” and former mayor, Magid Magid (also known as, Magic Magid). He opened with a question about the politician’s youth. For those of you who don’t know, Corbyn spent a lot of his younger years travelling the world and seeing most of South America, amongst other places. When asked why he travelled, he responded “That’s exactly what my mum said at the time, actually”. He then continued to tell us how as a child, he would spend a lot of time in the library, looking at Atlas’s and wondering about the rest of the world. Until one day, he decided to just go and see it. He hitchhiked and stayed in hostels and saw parts of the world that I imagine most politicians wouldn’t even visit for a photo op.

One thing I noticed at this point, after a comment from my fiancée, is that Corbyn had the whole room engrossed. He has received a lot of stick for being a poor public speaker but after being there in person, I have to disagree. I can tell you honestly that I thought I was going to be bored sitting through the event but I wasn’t, I hung on every word. I found him fascinating.

We all know that in 2020 Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party and later that year, he was readmitted. However, Keir Starmer refused to restore his Labour whip and still to this day hasn’t budged on the issue. In my opinion, this is ridiculous and Labour is a lesser party for not having his influence. Corbyn did speak on this to some extent and I found it very interesting but the one thing I want to report here is that when Magid asked what it felt like to be in exile, Corbyn responded “well I don’t feel in exile here”. And he was absolutely correct – the applause was rapturous and I’d be shocked if he felt anything less than loved in Sheffield that night.

Magid’s next question was one of the big ones: “would you do anything differently?”

And Corbyn’s answer was a good one, in my opinion.

He spoke about Brexit for a while, he spoke about his suspension, he spoke about his efforts to give the Labour Party back to the people. He admitted that things could have been done differently in many situations, perhaps even better, but that isn’t the point. He refuses to apologise for “pushing for changes to benefit the working classes”. He asked us where any real political change for the positive came from – not party politics, but the strength and bravery of the people. This, he argues, is why he wants Labour to become more community based and community influenced. He reaffirmed this point when asked if the Labour party is the only vehicle for change, even with Starmer as leader. His response was a plea for people to remain politically active and to fight for change, something that Corbyn is adamant does not come strictly from party politics.

When asked if the media onslaught that he received during his campaign for PM affected his mental health, Corbyn answered quickly. “No”. He acknowledged the extent of media coverage and slander he received during that time and suddenly became very animated; anger and emotion in his voice. “Do I get stressed by all that? No. Real stress is when you can’t feed your kids, or when you’re going to lose your job, or lose your house. That’s real stress”. It was powerful. Now, maybe he was being modest here. I know I would be affected by the sort of attacks that he received and continues to receive. I think this highlights an interesting thing about Corbyn – a thing I can’t decide if I like or not. I’ve noticed it in the past too. When asked about himself, he quite often deflects the question and talks about the people instead. Talks about the people listening or the people struggling somewhere else. In some ways this is admirable – politicians aren’t our friends and they aren’t reality stars – their purpose is to serve the people (in an ideal world). At the same time though, politicians are very hard to trust and when you don’t know much about them, it makes the judgement even harder. One thing I will say though, is that I felt inspired.

It is this passion that Corbyn is capable of inspiring in people that I believe is his greatest achievement. That night in Sheffield, he said that he was immensely proud of the amount of people who became politically active during his campaign for PM, and the amount of people who remain so today. The young people especially. He wants us to fight for a world based on the collective, rather than the individual. Living your life selfishly doesn’t benefit anybody in the long run. As the night went on and Corbyn spoke about social solidarity being the only way to combat poverty and other social issues, I couldn’t help but look around the room and wonder what any of the people there might be going through. And it occurred to me, even though I feel I don’t know Corbyn personally, I’d put money on him taking a moment to sit down and listen to the problems of each and every one of us – and to fight for us too. This is uncommon of politicians – in fact, it is a complete anomaly. This compassion that Corbyn seems to have has somehow (and this probably says more about this country than it does the man) damaged his reputation. Magid Magid talked about how we are all aware of Corbyn’s compassion and humanity but that it has been argued that this is overshadowed by what some people would call “lack of a back bone”. So, he asked him:

“Are you soft?”

Corbyn responded:

“I believe in one people and one society – I don’t call that weakness; I call it humanity.

For tickets to the remaining Festival of Debate 2022 events head to their website

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