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Preaching to the converted? Who attended the Camborne, Cornwall Corbyn rally in August 2017?

Preaching to the converted?

Clare Saunders, Politics at the University of Exeter, Cornwall.

Key findings

  • Camborne, Cornwall, Corbyn rally supporters were disproportionately female (59%) and highly educated (62% have a university degree or higher). Half were in the baby boomer generation (aged 53-71). The most common occupations were socio-cultural professionals (42.9%), managers (15.6%) and service workers (15.3%). 41% had public sector jobs.
  • Rally participants were very supportive of Corbyn and the 2017 Labour Party manifesto (apart from the HS2 high speed rail link). The majority were new (47.0%) or non- (30.0) members.
  • Many were active in at least some party activities, but non-members were disproportionately engaged in lower intensity activities and high intensity activity was mostly engaged in by new members.
  • Only 27 of those surveyed at the rally were not already Labour voters, suggesting that ‘preaching to the converted’ might not be enough to take a swing seat from the Conservative Party.
  • The data, and Labour’s failure to win the seat in the 2019 election suggest that Labour should advertise its rallies earlier and open their invitations up to a broader audience in order to convert swing voters.


“Corbyn-mania” hit Camborne, Cornwall on 10 August 2017, when 1,520 members of the public descended on The Heartlands to hear Jon Ashworth (then Shadow Health Secretary) and Jeremy Corbyn speak. This might not sound like many people, but the population of Camborne in the 2011 census was only 20,010. Corbyn’s largest rally of that year had around 10,000 in attendance at Gateshead, which, in contrast has a population of around 120,046. The rally was a strategic attempt to capture the Tory swing seat of Camborne and Redruth in the event of a snap election. That election did not happen as anticipated. Instead, it was not until 2019 that another general election was held.

The 2017 survey results suggest that Corbyn was largely ‘preaching to the converted’ at the Camborne event. The vast majority of attendees were already highly supportive of Corbyn and Labour’s (then) manifesto. Only 27 of those surveyed were not already Labour voters but claimed they would vote Labour if there were a snap election. Preaching to the converted was, in part, an artefact of the three factors: the last minute advertising of the event, the scheduling of the rally on a week-day, and the advertising of the event through relatively closed information channels. The event was organised and advertised through South West Labour rather than the local parties.
In the 2019 election, there was a Corbyn rally held in Falmouth at the Princess Pavilions. Similarly, the event was advertised at the last minute only to members and, although free to attend, was ‘sold out’ within days. The danger of this kind of advertising is that the swing votes – the snappers – do not get to hear the key messages for the party. There is no persuasion, only affirmation.

Lessons: the key lesson for local Cornwall Labour Party groups is to use high profile election campaigning events as a way to reach out beyond the usual suspects. Of course, this is not the only reason that Labour failed to take the seat from the Conservative Party in the 2019 general election, but it does illustrate the importance of: timely announcements of events, broad outreach of advertising, and selecting a weekend or evening so that people in Monday-Friday 9-5 jobs can attend.

This research is accepted for publication subject to amendments in British Politics.