It may well be that claims the Labour Party has been turned into a personality cult are not completely fair, and never before has Jeremy Corbyn worked harder to counteract this unjust narrative than when he, Corbyn, stood on stage before his leader’s speech, joining in with the crowds as they chanted “Oooaaah Jeremy Corrrr-byn”.
They held aloft scarves reading “Oh Jeremy Corrr-byn”. They sang the words “Oaaaah Jeremy Corr-byn,” and there, both on the stage and towering above on gigantic television screens, Corbyn mouthed along to the song, of which 66 per cent of the lyrics are his own name.
To Corbyn’s credit, it certainly placed on proceedings a Waco siege-style edge he would not otherwise have engendered through the power of oratory alone. As he descended into a spiral of circular arguments on the “mainstream media”, furtive glances were made at the door, wondering when special forces might finally storm the place and liberate the captives.
There was no clearer evidence of the civil war that still hides in plain sight in the party than the fact that its deputy leader, the now seven stone lighter Tom Watson, did not address the conference from its main stage. But it would be nice to think his contribution to the party did not go entirely unacknowledged as he led the shadow cabinet on to the stage to the sound of the Liverpool People’s Choir singing “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.
Corbyn’s twin positions, that the “mainstream media” is “attacking” him, and that he is also taking his party’s antisemitism crisis seriously cannot be squared, because without the mainstream media “attacks” pointing it out, he would still be gladly ignoring it all.
He blamed the “billionaire press owners who don’t like us one little bit”, before not long later, trying to tell Britain’s Jewish community: “We are your ally.” Britain’s Jewish community don’t believe him. They believe the stories they’ve read in the Daily Mail.
He stood up for journalists in Myanmar, Turkey and Colombia who are being persecuted for doing their jobs. “But here,” he said, “a free press has far too often meant the freedom to spread lies and half-truths.” And he told his supporters to “challenge their propaganda of privilege by using the mass media of the 21st century: social media”.
It is depressing to have to point out that arguably the two most powerful and influential outlets of Corbyn’s new mass media – Skwawkbox and Aaron Bastani’s Novara Media – spent the days after the Grenfell fire spreading demonstrable fake news about a government “D-Notice” which did not even exist, which was instructing the “mainstream media” to conceal the real death toll.
Earlier, he’d said how, online, everyone needs to “listen a bit more, and shout a lot less,” before seconds later, issuing what has quite rightly already been labelled as a license for online pile-ons.
Despite these criticisms, it was still the finest speech I have heard Corbyn give. It was an hour in length, it did not stray into lengthy rambles about his own private foreign policy obsessions, which while important, are not the business of a would be prime minister.
And he ended with some smart electoral politics on leaving the EU. He doesn’t want to “squabble” with Theresa May on Brexit, he said. “If you deliver a deal that includes a customs union and no hard border in Ireland, if you protect jobs, people’s rights at work and environmental and consumer standards – then we will support that sensible deal,” he said.
It’s a deal he knows she can’t get, which is precisely why he then told her, at the top of his voice, that if she can’t get it, then, “MAKE WAY FOR A PARTY THAT CAN”.
There is no party that can deliver that deal. Not Conservative, nor Labour. Labour’s “six tests” on Brexit, to which he refers here, were set up to replicate false promises made by David Davis, to hold him to account for them. The whole point of them is that they can’t be passed. And now here is Corbyn, shouting at the conference hall that, actually, his is the party that can deliver on them.
Corbyn offers no solution to the problems of Brexit, the problem that sets all his other initiatives – like putting workers on boards, or increasing free childcare – into the shade.
But that doesn’t matter. He knows all he has to do is look the part, sound the part and wait for the desire for change to come to him, which there is every chance of it doing in the coming months and years – and fast.
He left the stage to the sound of Marc Bolan singing: “No, you won’t fool the children of the revolution.”
The fact is, he probably will. Labour never quite fooled Bolan, by the way. In the 1970s, he moved to Monaco to escape their income tax rate of 83 per cent. If the revolution’s coming, it might have a touch of déjà vu.
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