LABOUR Grassroots is planning a tour of the country as it seeks to energise radical voices in the labour movement.
“The Ragged Trousered Troubadour” is a solar-powered stage truck that has previously been used for music festivals.
“I was trying to find theatres for a tour of the country with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn, but Covid restrictions meant that venues had to be one-third or one-quarter full. I was simply unworkable,” says Crispin Flintoff, host of Labour Grassroots.
The online audience of Labour Grassroots were also not keen on indoor venues.
“We often do polls and one found that 50 per cent of people with two jabs were worried about dying from Covid. I realised that fear of infection was important so indoor venues were never going to work.
“When I saw the stage truck advertised for sale, I realised this was the way ahead.
“We could just drive up to a town or city and pull down the stage in front of a field or sports pitch. The solar panels would provide enough power for the PA system and lights so the whole operation was self-contained.”
Labour Grassroots put up a crowdfunder to raise £7,500 for the truck, but it was slow to get off the ground until Flintoff thought of ironically using Keir Starmer to raise the funds.
“I was desperate to turn this situation around as I was worried someone else might buy the truck – so I offered to dress up as Keir Starmer and offer bespoke video messages from Sir Keith in return for donations.
“People have said I look a bit like Starmer so all I had to do was get the Brylcreem out and work on a weasel voice.”
The video messages sent out by Flintoff told people that they were being suspended by the Labour Party for donating to the crowdfunder. The more video messages that went out, the more the donations came in.
Within a week, the amount needed to buy the truck had been raised.
A West London graffiti artist, Jon Rees, agreed to paint the truck and a farmer agreed to have it parked in his back field.
“So many people have been suspended by the Labour Party – or even expelled – without due process. Ridiculing this was quite therapeutic for me and many others.
“Since Jeremy Corbyn's suspension [subsequently reversed by the NEC], the Labour Party has made it clear that Socialists are not welcome. This week the NEC has voted through the expulsion of Socialist Appeal, simply because they are branded ‘extremist,’ ‘communist’ or ‘Marxist.’
“For Labour to be chucking out socialists, or those who were inspired by the works of Karl Marx, shows how bad things have become. We have no opposition to the free market now.
“We are also in a McCarthyesque situation where anyone is liable for suspension or expulsion by association with anyone who has already been suspended or expelled.
“For quite a while I kept my head down on issues of suspensions as I thought there was no point getting chucked out of the party for speaking up for one or other individual.
“That’s all changed now. I think this is the time for activists to speak out and to rally behind those voices who will fight for socialism.
“The Ragged Trousered Troubadour will provide a focus for these voices. At every show we will be inviting campaigning groups (local and national), we will have DJs, live music, comedy, poetry and lots of camaraderie.
To help with additional costs for the tour – including the PA and insurance – contributions have been made by the Aslef and BFAWU unions and the Morning Star.
“We need to mobilise the labour movement and to have the Morning Star in support is fantastic,” says Flintoff.