Liskeard, Cornwall

Loading up the van on a street in West London, Robb Johnson carefully places his guitar beside a box of signed Jeremy Corbyn mugs. Today we’re driving down to Cornwall for a gig in Liskeard. Situated twenty miles from the border, Liskeard is an ancient stannary town that once administered the tin mines in the area, delivering tax to the Crown. At a service station halfway down the M4 we pick up comedian, Wil Hodgson. Stocky and tattooed, Wil has taken the afternoon off from hairdressing. He installs himself in the passenger seat to avoid car sickness as I decamp to the back. Sweta and Shabbir chat and laugh together like brother and sister. Both young activists, they stage manage and sell merchandise during the gigs.

Outside Liskeard, the sun is setting over Sterts Theatre, a tented amphitheatre set in the rolling hills of Bodmin Moor. Front of house smiles are abundant, the theatre employs only three people and everyone else volunteers. Proudly, I am told the theatre season runs mainly community shows. In a field beside the tented entrance, Sweta and Shabbir have set up their stall. Electric blue t-shirts with ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ superman graphics rest neatly in piles of size. On a grassy knoll, members of band, Phatt Bollard, relax. Having driven twenty miles from Plymouth, these five musicians are enjoying a pre-show can of Special Brew and a bag of chunky chips. Rarely do they perform at gigs, preferring to busk on high streets around the country. But Stand Up For Labour founder and compere, Crispin Flintoff, has convinced them to play tonight’s show.

Kerry Cassidy is a mum, a County Council candidate and a stand up comedian. She grew up a mile away from Liskeard and remembers the theatre before the canopy was raised, ‘If it was raining we all used to sit there with plastic bags on our heads’ she chuckles. Kerry wears a pillar-box red sequined dress and matching lipstick. Liskeard is widely regarded as a no hope seat for Labour. In the 2015 election it came in fourth place after UKIP, with less than ten percent of the vote. Like other constituencies with a strong Lib Dem presence, the logic has been to vote tactically in an attempt to dislodge the Conservatives. South East Cornwall constituency contains pockets of generational poverty. Cheap rents attract lower income families and landlords collect housing benefit. But the remoteness of the area impedes investment, making jobs scarce and keeping unemployment rates high, so the impact of austerity cuts on these people has been particularly severe. Food and clothing banks are a fact of life in South East Cornwall.

Inside the amphitheatre, the show has begun. Robb Johnson attacks his guitar strings with songs of resistance. He promotes his latest track, I’m Voting Labour Next Thursday, soon to be released. Wil Hodgson thinks on his feet as a huge insect flies in from the moorlands and joins him on stage. Richard James has driven down from Plymouth too. Charming the room, he reels off a list of British post-Apocalyptic scenarios: Five inches of snow and it settles; a power cut on the same day as the frozen food shop; leaves on the line. Halfway through Crispin’s audience banter, Sweta rushes on stage stretching out her mobile phone. Crispins places the mic close to the ear piece and the voice of Jeremy Corbyn fills the space. ‘Hello everyone and thanks so much for being there tonight.’ The crowd are rapturous, puffed up with the value of their work and their worth.

Gareth Derrick is Labour’s candidate. A retired naval commander, Gareth has arrived dressed in a sharp, white, double-breasted suit with a silk red tie. His wavy silver hair sits neatly, his steel-rimmed glasses straight and discrete. The first question that comes to mind when I meet him is, why Labour? His blue-eyes flash, ‘Seeing what is happening to our public services was so devastating to me; how – as Jeremy Corbyn says – how our economy is rigged for big business, rigged to take money out of the country for global business interests at the expense of ordinary people. It’s a fight I want to fight, and here I am doing it’. South East Cornwall came out decisively for Brexit. There is an appetite for change here and Gareth believes he can win. The Labour manifesto has helped, ‘it’s a bold and adventurous manifesto that has actually shocked people.. there is nothing wishy-washy there. We are trying to put right the damage that has been done over many years’.

Back under the canvass, Phatt Bollard have begun playing their signature track, ‘Millionaires’.

I don’t give to the Big Issue seller
Because he’s probably on heroin
I walk past him with a grin
And if I can I kick his dog

I don’t give to the busker
He’s talentless and lazy
He’s ruining the country
I think he should get job

Instead I give my money to

Wall Mart for its tax evasion
Prime Mark for its child labour
Texaco for the next invasion
And I don’t give a f**k about you

I give my money to the millionaires
I give my money to the millionaires
I give my money to the millionaires
And I don’t give a f**k about you

Members of the audience leap on the stage and start dancing. A bearded man in a Lenin cap flings himself into the centre, pulling a couple up from the front row to join him. A lady in her eighties leans on her walking stick while she shakes her hips, a blond mother and daughter dance together, smiling at their boldness. Crispin sings along as he jives with the crowd. People are happy. Supporting Labour is fun. There is solidarity on the dance floor and a feeling of togetherness under the canvas of the amphitheatre on Bodmin Moor.

After the show has ended, Martin Menear takes a break from collecting coins in a bucket to tell me about the profound change that has taken place within South East Cornwall Labour party since the last election. In the 2015 election the local party had a meagre 130 members, no activity and no structure, ‘we tried to do what we could’ he shrugs ‘and the result was what it was’. But then Corbyn got on the ballot. ‘I was getting twenty, thirty members joining a day!’ he exclaims ‘We went up to around 750 full members, and hundreds and hundreds of registered supporters and affiliated supporters, so we were around twelve hundred in total. That’s ten times the number of people we had previously’. The mobilisation began with tea and cake. ‘I baked a cake… and said come along… and we’ll talk about what we’re going to do.’ For some groups it was hosting a screening, for others, a Saturday morning coffee and chat. ‘You don’t need to do a lot’ Martin urges ‘just doing something, and that leads to something else, and then you’re on a road that can lead to incredible places’.

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