Corbyn’s Cinema Club: What I learned from my evening with the Labour Leader

jeremy corbyn lgsm pride phoenix cinema owen smith fundraising event momentum george mckay

It sounded a little bizarre at first.

A screening of Pride – a movie chronicling the work of LGSM in the 1980s – doesn’t, on the face of it, seem to have a particular amount to do with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Leadership campaign. In some respects, it seemed like a slightly cynical attempt to tick boxes, in an attempt to garner votes from LGBT individuals, miners, and, presumably, movie fans. But given I tick at least one of those boxes, it did catch my attention; further, I’d wanted to take a little bit more of an active interest in politics for a while now, and this seemed as good a place to start as any.

If nothing else, I’d wanted to see Pride for ages, so whatever happened, it wouldn’t be a complete waste of an evening.

It’s worth noting, perhaps, my mindset when going in; aside from the underlying confusion about the event, and the excitement about seeing the film, I naturally had a few preconceptions about Jeremy Corbyn. Generally speaking, I fall quite squarely into the demographic that he’s most popular with – young, left wing views, so on and so forth. Certainly, during the early period of Jeremy’s leadership, I was a fan; in recent months, I’ve become far more sceptical of him than I once was. So while I was still, broadly speaking, a supporter of his (albeit with a few caveats and reservations), I certainly wasn’t approaching this event as a diehard fanatic.

The event took place at the Phoenix Cinema, in East Finchley, and began at 6pm; I arrived a little early, and took a bit of a look around the place before going into the cinema. (There’s a great bookshop up the road, if you’re ever visiting.) Upon entering, I was given two pamphlets; one drawing attention to the Orgreave Campaign for Truth and Justice, and another advertising a demonstration on the 5th November for libraries, museums, and galleries, proudly bearing the legend “I give my 100% support to this demonstration – JEREMY CORBYN.” In many ways, those pamphlets set a precedent that could be observed throughout the night, representing a certain dedication to social justice and to greater public sector investment.

Dave Lewis introduced the evening, and acted as something of a moderator throughout; Lewis was one of the founding members of LGSM, and currently also acts as their press secretary. He’s not in the film, though, and made a few jokes about that. Following his brief introduction, the film played – and it was an absolutely stunning movie. I’m going to have a full review on my website later in the week, but while watching Pride it became quite clear why it did actually make sense in the context of a Corbyn campaign evening: the movie touches on the ideas of equality and worker’s rights that Jeremy Corbyn is so keen to espouse, and many of the original members held socialist beliefs. (Indeed, while LGSM itself has largely minimised its active role as a fundraising & pressure group, they do still occasional speak out in support of Jeremy Corbyn.)

After the movie, there were a series of short speeches from Mike Jackson, Gethin Roberts, and Jonathan Blake (all original members of LGSM, who were portrayed in the movie by Joseph Gilgun, Andrew Scott, and Dominic West respectively) and actor George McKay, who played the character Bromley in the movie. It was clear enough – as you’d expect, obviously – that they were all big supporters of Corbyn; Mike Jackson, for example, drew some interesting parallels between the “demonization” of Corbyn in the media, and the misinformation that was spread about LGSM in the 1980s, while Jonathan Blake called it a “huge honour” to be there in support of Corbyn. George McKay was the final person to speak, and thus gave something of an introduction for Corbyn, commending him for being dedicated to achieving the ideals put forward in Pride – those ideas of support, community, and the “joy of unity”.

It was then time for “Mr JC himself”, as Mike Jackson referred to Corbyn earlier in the night, to speak. While it’d be inaccurate to say the speech wasn’t political, because it obviously was, but certainly Jeremy didn’t particularly discuss policy – the event could be considered a “tone meeting” more than anything else, dedicated primarily to discussion of ambition and hopes for the future, as opposed to a concrete plan for how to get there. (Which is fair, of course; it was a night out to the cinema, I doubt anyone was expecting Corbyn to break out an Excel spreadsheet and show everyone his budget plans.) Said tone could be summed up quite well with one word, which all the speakers kept returning to – this idea of “solidarity”. Solidarity between the unions and LGBT people in Pride, solidarity between different communities, and ultimately solidarity as a country. It was a good message, and a strong one, that everyone there delivered wholeheartedly.

Corbyn’s speech did, I think, give something of an insight into the man himself. He began by talking about his own recollections of the miner’s strike in the 1980s; how he was proud to have raised £100 000 for the miners in his Islington constituency, how horrified he’d been at police brutality, but also how, despite the actions of Tory government at the time, the miners were able to stand strong because of – and here’s that word again – their solidarity with one another. Corbyn is clearly quite proud of his history of activism and going to rallies, as well he should be, but it also became clear that he’s approaching his leadership campaign from a very similar perspective. He spoke not only about mobilising the people, and building a grassroots campaign, but also put forward an answer for why he was giving a speech to a group of people who already supported him – “to build a movement, to build a union, to build a political party.” It was the word “movement” that interested me most; Corbyn has a very particular style of conducting his politics, viewing his work as a continuation of the struggle of “those who went before us”, and he’s not likely to change that any time soon. To some extent, it seems to work for him – he was saying that he’d been to 56 campaign events in the past month and a half, amassing 30 000 new supporters, and I do think he’s a more effective as an orator in public than he comes across on television.

Certainly, though, I liked a lot of the content of Corbyn’s speech. He brought out a lot of his usual policies, referring to combatting austerity, increasing council housing, and taking better care of the NHS; each was met with successively louder applause, clearly popular amongst the audience he’d amassed. Personally speaking, I was particularly fond of the emphasis he placed on arts funding within schools, and the need for a “cultural space” to encourage “artists and writers” – for obvious reasons, of course. Corbyn also emphasised a desire to “invest in the people of the future”, and move away from what he called “the miasma of nastiness”, which dominated the current politics, but ultimately wouldn’t “build one school, or train one doctor”. I would say that I left with a more positive impression of Corbyn than when I entered, primarily on the basis of this speech – he came across as a principled individual, committed to enacting a real, positive change. I would, I think, be more inclined to support him now than I was previously.

And yet the evening did, in many ways, embody what I find to be the central tension of Corbyn’s leadership. I like a lot of his ideas, and he appears genuinely committed to a form of social justice I admire; at the same time, I have some doubts as to his efficiency and competency as a politician, and to what extent he can meaningfully enact these policies. Certainly, his critics who believe he’s stuck in the past, or can only engage with politics as a protestor, would have a lot of ammunition to attack him with based on this event, with its focus on events like the miners’ strike, or the Orgreave campaign; while I’d argue it was actually entirely appropriate to pay heed to these issues, given the context of the event, it’s also easy to understand someone wanting Corbyn to put more focus on current affairs, particularly while campaigning to be party leader.

Moving forward from today, when Corbyn has reaffirmed his position as Labour leader with an even stronger mandate than before, that is the most important question – can Corbyn bring about the change he’s campaigning for?

Honestly, I genuinely hope he can.

Note: When I wrote this, I pitched it to a couple of different websites (to no avail, the lesson being not to bother with student politics websites and just go straight for the Guardian, probably) and I did, rightly or wrongly, tone down my own opinion and try to be a bit more measured in places. (And, come to think of it, I played down quite how much fun the evening was too. Still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the cinema.)

That said, two years on and uploading this to my website for the first time, I actually can’t tell which bits are the moments where I’m trying to be measured in place of my own opinion, or where it is my own opinion. Go figure. Anyway, I’d just like to note now that while then I was positive-but-tentative about Corbyn, I’m now tentative-but-positive, for all the clarity that deliberately unclear statement offers.

Alexis, my friend who’s also pictured above (or was, until I felt uncomfortable about the picture of the two of us with Jeremy and took it down), says “I’m only letting you put the Corbyn pic up on the one condition that you make it clear that I think he is bossman no longer (while actually also making sure I don’t come across as a Corbyn/socialism hater because, well, I’m not)”, and a few days later emphasised “Corbyn’s not the shit”.

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