IT was a Saturday of roaring success for Reds of all dispositions across Merseyside as Jürgen Klopp’s team swept aside Hull City and Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as leader of the Labour Party for the second time in a year.
Unless you’ve been too busy toasting one or both victories ever since, you’ll be fully aware by now that Corbyn, facing his second leadership election after a spate of Shadow Cabinet resignations and a vote of no confidence supported by c. 80 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party, saw off rival
Penfold from Danger Mouse Owen Smith with consummate ease and in the following days has delivered a number of speeches outlining his vision for the UK under a Labour government, while calling for the Party to unite and fight the Tories.
You will also have noticed, no doubt, that he chose to end his final speech and indeed the 2016 Labour conference, held in our own Echo Arena, with a quote from Bill Shankly.
He said, “Let us do it, in the spirit of the great Scots-born Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly, who said, ‘The socialism I believe in, is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.'”
— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 28, 2016
The decision to go with a Shankly quotation is an interesting one — far more nuanced than simply thinking, ‘We’re in Liverpool so I’m bloody well going to quote someone who was a hero here to make sure I definitely get a clap.’
In fact, to some it may even be a peculiar choice. He is, after all, standing in a room full of mainly Oxbridge-educated MPs, journalists and political activists, many of whom you would assume have very little interest in football. He alternatively might have gone for something from Clement Atlee, or someone of that ilk.
But the pertinence of that particular quotation from Shankly is that it boils socialism down to its very foundation: a belief in people to work together and make the world a better place. It eschews complex political theory and reduces an ideology, about which thousands of academics have written thousands of books, to something that can be understood by anybody from any walk of life.
It’s also nice to hear something about Shankly in the press that does not relate to that hideous fucking Sega Dreamcast-looking hologram that has been haunting my dreams for the past month.
There are certainly similarities in the way Shankly set out to turn Liverpool Football Club into a footballing force and Corbyn’s method of Labour leadership — principally, both set out to reform struggling institutions through the use of people power.
For Shankly, the goal was to take Liverpool from the second division to the pinnacle of the first, while for Corbyn it remains turning Labour around from the devastating 2015 General Election defeat to the Tories and offering a viable alternative to austerity in order to gain power.
In the statement that followed the announcement that Shankly would take over as Liverpool manager in 1959, he explained: “I am very pleased to and proud to have been chosen as manager of Liverpool FC, a club of such potential.
“It is my opinion that Liverpool have a crowd of followers which rank with the greatest in the game. They deserve success.”
Having the people on side was crucial to Shankly’s strategy to modernise the club and instil fear in every other team in the land.
Yes, he could train the players and change the kit to all red to start things off, but he needed a raucous crowd of believers behind him to truly make it work.
And Corbyn sees things similarly. In the same speech he announced that more people had joined the Labour Party under his leadership than had done in the previous 20 years. Labour is now the biggest political party in Western Europe and the Momentum group, despite the mainstream media making them out to be worse than the Nazis and Khmer Rouge combined, has been set up to act as a social movement and reach into communities disillusioned with Westminster politics.
Part of the success of his leadership campaign was that his team created an app to allow supporters to call up undecided voters across the country and explain why he was the man for the job.
Both men even underlined their beliefs with speeches outside St. George’s Hall in the city centre. Shankly stood atop the plateau after winning the FA Cup in 1974 and highlighted to the throng of 100,000 their role: “Since I came here to Liverpool, and to Anfield, I have drummed it into our players time and again that they are privileged to play for you. And if they didn’t believe me, they believe me now.”
In August, Corbyn spoke to thousands of supporters and posed for photos holding aloft the ‘UNITY IS STRENGTH’ banner that adorns the Kop at most home games.
And in that we find a truth – that Liverpool was and is a socialist city, and that must be remembered and respected.
— P O'Neill (@Big_Jim__Larkin) September 24, 2016
The power of socialism and its relevance to the people of Liverpool has nary been better illustrated in recent years than in the success achieved by those that fought for justice for Hillsborough. Families, survivors, supporters, a city, a people, came together to right a wrong and fought elitism and systematic oppression with such fortitude that the justice system in the United Kingdom has been changed forever and the attitudes of many towards the city and disaster have been proven wrong.
People worked together for years to achieve a common goal and succeeded, and this city has never seen a prouder moment than that day in April when we all gathered at St. George’s Hall once again and stared at the word ‘JUSTICE’ writ large across its pillars.
Thus, the display of a banner on the Kop for the Hull game at the weekend featuring the faces of both Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, amongst a message about foodbanks and support for an inquiry into Orgreave, was, for me, a welcome one.
Though some Liverpool fans will clearly hold different political viewpoints, the fact is that the pair’s views are in keeping with a significant proportion of what this left-wing city believes in.
Liverpool in 2016 votes Labour, full stop.
And at the minute it needs a Labour Party that will support the NHS and not privatise it, with the Royal Hospital absolutely on its arse. It needs a Labour Party that will build affordable council housing instead of throwing student flats up everywhere, á la Joe Anderson. It needs a Labour Party that will reverse austerity measures that have forced thousands here into abject poverty. Any show of support for all that in Anfield is absolutely fine by me.
Corbyn, of course, faces a problem Shankly never had to cope with — convincing those who oppose him to come aboard. Once Shankly had his team and the city on his side he did not need to win over supporters of other clubs. But Corbyn, massive mandate and social movement or not, must now go out and somehow persuade the other factions of the Labour Party and people who vote Tory and UKIP to buy into his ideals.
That is a massive challenge and even his most fervent supporters will admit it looks increasingly difficult.
He has a bloody long way to go and innumerable barriers in front of him, but if the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn can be half as successful as Liverpool Football Club under Bill Shankly, they might just change politics, and this country, forever.