I’ve delayed writing this blog because the whole concept of this still hasn’t really sunk in. Trouble is, the longer I delay, the more it appears as if the enormity of it has passed me by and, the opposite being the case, I better try and make sense of it.
On Saturday September 8th I was presented with the Gerrard Winstanley Gold Spade Award by the committee of Wigan Diggers Festival. This is given in recognition of outstanding contribution to Socialism, or in the words of the man who gave it the name, in making the world a common treasury for all.
The only previous winners of this award were the late Tony Benn, Maxine Peake, Jimmy McGovern and Ken Loach…..so you can see keeping that kind of company isn’t an easy thing to grasp.
I suppose the best way of explaining my feelings toward this amazing thing, and the politics which inspired it and will drive me on from here, is to give you my acceptance speech.
So here goes:
“This award really comes off the back of We Shall Overcome and the work I do for that and the various causes aligned to it, and it wouldn’t be right to receive this without acknowledging the people who make it happen- Stephen Goodall, Jamie Bramwell, Matt Hill, Tony Peter Wright, Val Colvin, Pete Yen, Steve White and of course Pauline Town. Without them We Shall Overcome wouldn’t happen at all. And when you add to that the thousands of musicians, poets, writers, artists, organisers and activists who make those events happen on the ground up and down this land and beyond, then what you have is a genuine grassroots movement for change; fighting Tory Austerity and trying to help ease the burden of its worst excesses on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
Grassroots movements are needed now more than ever. It is great to have a Socialist leader of the Labour Party, but that isn’t enough on its own. Socialism is not leaders or institutions; Socialism is you and me and what we can achieve if we pull together and become greater than the sum of our parts.
No politician can walk into No.10 and flick a switch, suddenly making this country more caring and compassionate, suddenly making our society a more fair and just place to live and raise our children. Only WE can do that.
We are not powerless. No-one is. We are just brainwashed from birth, brainwashed into surrendering our power as people; but We Shall Overcome proves that no-one is insignificant, no gesture is meaningless. That bag of groceries, that pocket emptied of change, that donated pair of socks- they may seem like insignificant gestures, but when added together they become something very significant indeed.
I can remember this festival three years ago, because that was the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. Anyone who was there will remember there was a crackle in the air, a newfound hope, an excitement that we may at last be able to change the future. And over that three years it is fair to say most of us will have been inspired by Jeremy Corbyn on one level or another.
Mr Corbyn’s greatest victory is to take politics away from the plastic soundbites of the Westminster Bubble and put it back on street corners. He has given politics back to the people. He has empowered us. He has told us to raise our voices and demand better of our leaders, and this is what we must do. We must pull together here at the grassroots and use the power he has given us to change this country for the better.
The future can go one of two ways, this is either Socialism’s last stand, or it’s Socialism’s finest hour. And I know which one I’m working towards.
I do not want to look back on this time and say ‘We were inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’. I want to look back on this time and say we rose up, we raised our voices, we raised our fists and we brought down a stinking Tory government; that we put an end to in-work poverty; that we put an end to zero hours contracts; that we put and end to the Bedroom Tax, to the Housing Crisis, to homelessness; that we put and end to the disgraceful way this country treats asylum seekers and refugees; and that we rose up and put fascism back in its box, nailed down the lid, and consigned it to the dustbin of history forever.
I do not want to look back on this time and say ‘We were inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’. I want to look back on this time and say, ‘Jeremy Corbyn was inspired by US!'”
Now I vow to live up to it.