Laugh at Corbyn but it's not UB40's fault their lost cause has come round again

Half of UB40 are not the only unreconstructed socialists still out there, but the forthcoming generation of Tory rule won't be their fault, it'll be Corbyn's 

  • @tompeck
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Indy Politics

They all had six weeks off. Everyone was meant to have calmed down. But it’s only day two of the new parliamentary term and Keith Vaz appears to have been secretly filmed trying to pay Eastern European men for homosexual sex, the Ken Livingstone Hitler Was A Zionist World Tour is back on the road and oh look, there’s Jeremy Corbyn on stage with UB40.

Well, not on stage, as such. He was in a dimly lit basement theatre in Westminster. And it wasn’t UB40 as such, either. UB40 split into two factions eight years ago, and the brothers that formed the heart of the band have not exchanged a word since, as both tour the country in between bouts of legal action over who has the rights to the name.

Such things, you might think, are an easy gift for the satirist with half an eye on Labour's troubles, though not as easy as Team Corbyn’s decision to launch an official hashtag for the occasion, #UB4CORBYN which, in case you haven’t noticed, is an interlocking portmanteau of the Labour leader’s name and the form that unemployed people in the eighties had to complete in order to claim unemployment benefit.  

It’s easy to mock UB40. After all, they’re white men, principally, who sing reggae with Brummie accents, and who are forever burdened with the guilt of a generation who has not yet fully come to terms with allowing themselves to love with no trace of irony the Pato Banton rap on Baby Come Back.

And it’s easy to mock Jeremy Corbyn. After all, he’s a tracksuit wearing North London vegan somehow leading and destroying one of the country’s grandest political parties as an unlikely prize for having spent three decades missing no opportunity to undermine it.

What was the point of this publicity stunt exactly? Perhaps, like the Prime Minister not so long ago, he has seen numbers we haven’t. That this leadership election really is poised on a knife edge. That rushing out the UB40 B-string endorsement was his equivalent of the panicked rooftop press conference. His nuclear option (though not actually armed with nuclear warheads, obviously).

But actually, you know, UB40 aren’t that funny. And they’re not attention seekers either. In the 38 years since they were founded in Balsall Heath, Birmingham in 1978, none of its eleven founding members has ever been filmed onanising a pig. None has eaten a kangaroo’s testicles, at least not publicly. And none has broken their neck ski-jumping into the cast of Towie.

They were an overwhelmingly successful, racially diverse band at a time when Jim Davidson was making a living doing jokes at the imagined expense of a black man called Chalky. They stood up for devastated communities at a difficult time. Also, at the very height of their wealth fame, all eleven of them, everyone from the singer-songwriting Campbell brothers, to the drummer to the saxophonist, took an equal cut of the profits.

On a personal note, thirteen years ago I was working on a Top 40 list show for Channel Four for which we interviewed UB40. We asked the band simply to, ‘Tell us about the song Rat in My Kitchen.’

“That song was Rock. Against. Thatcher,” Robin Campbell informed with no shortage of aggression. “Rat in Me Kitchen was rock music to Get. Thatcher. Out!”

He meant it, but he would be fatally undermined seconds when resident rapper Astro leaned over his shoulder and reminded him, “Yeah, but you did have a rat in your kitchen, didn’t you.”

So mad has everything and everyone gone of late, that it has been genuinely suggested that by coming out in support of Jeremy Corbyn, it is UB40 who are condemning the nation to a generation of Tory rule. In 2016, it appears it is no longer the job of politicians to do the strategising, the compromising and the triangulating required to achieve power, but it is now up to Birmingham based reggae collectives and the rest of us to do it ourselves.

When Corbyn and his “colleagues in the band” (he genuinely said that), took questions at the end, UB40 had far sharper answers than the Labour leader. There’d been a leak on Tory plans for grammar schools.

“I think it’s wrong,” said saxophonist Brian Travers. “It should be a level playing field. Didn’t Tristram Hunt go up to Oxford last week and tell them all they were the leaders of tomorrow? Since when has that been what the Labour Party is about?”

Damn right, isn’t he?

Some well meaning socialists stuck in the eighties are nothing to laugh at. It’s not their fault their cause has come round again. It’s just a pity it's so clearly a lost one.