His folksy charm vanished – and a long rant ensued: HENRY DEEDES sees the former Labour leader make his presence felt at conference fringe event
All along Brighton’s blustery beachfront there hangs a dark thundercloud, its shape eerily reminiscent of a craggy old man with a wispy white beard and wonky spectacles.
It’s been here all week. However hard the wind blows, it simply can’t shift it.
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer Labour’s leader, or even one of its MPs. Yet his presence here has rarely been felt stronger, and each day of this year’s conference he seeks to pour more rain upon Sir Keir Starmer’s valiant parade.
Turns out the delegates still love him. From the bawdy reception he received at a fringe event on Tuesday with MP Barry Gardiner, you’d think the walloping he received at the last election never happened.
He arrived at 11am to a welcome that pimply teenagers usually afford boy bands with lustrous quiffs. Cheers. Whistles. Then the inevitable chants of ‘Oh, Jer-em-y Corrrr-byn.’ Felt like 2019 all over again. ‘I just popped in for a quiet chat,’ Corbyn mumbled, feigning embarrassment. The vain booby was loving it.
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer Labour’s leader, or even one of its MPs. Yet his presence here has rarely been felt stronger, and each day of this year’s conference he seeks to pour more rain upon Sir Keir Starmer’s valiant parade. Pictured: Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses an audience at a fringe event for political festival The World Transformed, on the fourth day of the Labour Party conference on September 28
Our venue was Pryzm, a nightclub whose glory days on Brighton’s throbbing nocturnal scene one sensed were long gone. But from such dingy boites do the seeds of revolution often sprout.
The crowd was suitably earthy, all facial hair and dangly body piercings. One man wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the Soviet hammer and sickle. Another proudly wore one that read ‘Starmer Out’. You get the flavour.
Talk swiftly turned to Andy McDonald, the shadow employment minister who quit the shadow cabinet on Monday. Had Corbyn chatted to Mr McDonald beforehand? ‘We had a private conversation,’ said Jezza, raking his beard in the manner of chess grandmaster revelling in the fiendishness of his gambit. Journalists wanted to know what he, Corbyn, felt Starmer should be doing. The mere mention of that name provoked groans or, worse, shouts of ‘Blairite!’
Corbyn offered little insight beyond his usual platitudes about creating a ‘better world’.
He never directly attacked Sir Keir, but you sensed his glee at his successor’s discomfiture. Actually, he had one suggestion for Starmer, which was to restore the Labour whip to him, Jezza, following his suspension over the anti-Semitism row.
‘It’s a witch ’unt, pure and simple,’ barked an angry, plump man wearing a necklace adorned with the Palestine flag. It is surprising just how deeply Corbyn was wounded by his suspension. This was his party. Without it he was Che Guevara robbed of his little beret. Castro sans cigar. After all, he’d been out locking arms with the Greenham Common ladies when Sir Keir was still swotting up for the bar exam.
Corbyn arrived at a fringe event at 11am to a welcome that pimply teenagers usually afford boy bands with lustrous quiffs. Cheers. Whistles. Then the inevitable chants of ‘Oh, Jer-em-y Corrrr-byn’
Someone asked if Corbyn would stand as an independent MP at the next election. ‘These are hypotheticals,’ he purred, examining a fingernail. A resounding yes. Suddenly, a loud bang. Screams. Poor Jezza practically leapt out of his Cornish pasty shoes and for a moment, I thought we had an assassin in our midst. Actually, some clot had trodden on a balloon.
Next to me, a young man nervously asked Corbyn whether he would apologise for the anti-Semitism fiasco. Loud boos. ‘Oh come off it!’ someone heckled.
Corbyn’s face dropped. All that folksy charm swiftly drained from his cheeks. He squinted at his inquisitor and showed his crooked teeth. A long rant ensued about how he’d been stitched up.
‘We need to defeat racism, which is what I’ve been doing all my life,’ he snarled. ‘And what I’ll spend the rest of my life doing!’
Journalists wanted to know what Corbyn felt Labour leader Keir Starmer (pictured) should be doing. The mere mention of that name provoked groans or, worse, shouts of ‘Blairite!’
The audience whooped and clapped. ‘Well said Jeremy!’ someone screamed. But they’d have cheered him even if he’d simply sat there in silence and done a Sudoku puzzle.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere over in the main conference hall couldn’t have been more different. Shadow education secretary Kate Green was addressing teaching unions. Excitement, rapture – all notably absent, as it has been all week.
Sir Keir Starmer does his big turn on Wednesday. We’re not expecting things to get better.