Hanging Out with Jubilant Jeremy Corbyn Fans at London’s Refugees Welcome March

Photos by Jake Lewis unless otherwise indicated

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

At 11:30 on Saturday, the Kendall maniacswere not out in force at the Refugees Welcome march. As everyone clusteredround a PA blasting 5Live’s broadcast from the Labour Leadership SpecialConference, it seemed they’d all hit snooze on the alarm clock, that they werehaving five more minutes in bed with the NHS internal market, dreaming of PFIdeals chasing Serco contracts up flights of stairs.

In fact, when Liz’s numbers finally came ina rather disappointing 18,000 votesnot even a tenth of Jez He Did’s 256,000no one could even hear them being read above the cheers for the thirdcandidate, alphabetically.

No, it turned out that the sort of peoplewho made it to refugee protests were the sort of people who love Jeremy Corbyn.Who knew?

As the numbers are read, a sole partypopper is let off. Some blokes with T-shirts saying “This Charming Man” beneatha picture of Jez clasp each other’s shoulders. A girl is on her boyfriend’sshoulders. One walrus-shaped man has to be lead away through the crowd becausehe’s blubbing so hard. It’s not quite pandemonium, but it’s a good start,subsiding only as Jez’s voice comes down the line from the QEII ConferenceHall.

His speech is boilerplate, maybe. It’s hishundredth of the campaign trail, and by and large it doesn’t seem to have beenstructured as a piece of oratory. More as another efficiently utilitarianlecture in what needs to be done next. You were sick. Now you’re well. Andthere’s work to do.

He describes the past three months of thecampaignessentially being piloted off to fucking Mars on a politicalrocketshipas “a fascinating experience,” as though he spent the summerfossil-hunting for ammonites on the Devon coast.

He even cracks a joke. “We’ve decided toform an ABBA tribute band”him and the other three leadership contenders. Ican definitely imagine Andy Burnham unhappily married to Yvette Cooper. I can evenimagine Jez We Can writing “The Winner Takes It All,” and then getting LizKendall to sing it on their final album as a bittersweet lament to thirteenyears of New Labour compromise. He thanks Liz effusivelyjust as Jesus Christonce wished Pontius Pilate all the very best, no hard feelings. “The late nighttrain rides will never be the same again,” he nudges, without explanation. Thenhe mentions one of his first acts as leader will be turning up at the RefugeesWelcome march, and everyone explodes again.

And there he finally isThe Messiahfour hours later, after more than 50,000 people have wended the traditionalprocessional from Hyde Park Corner down via Green Park to Parliament Square.

A great cheer goes up as the crowd realizehe is amongst thempeople pressed everywhere, Jez merely a spot in thedistance, issuing his sermon on a very low-lying Mount.

“He’s much shorter in real life,” themiddle-aged lifelong Labour woman next to me muses. This is exactly thehounding he can expect in the right-wing press in the coming weeks. “HypocriteCorbyn Dances Round Toadstool While Claiming He Is Seven-Foot BasketballSuperstar.”

He is also much more inaudible in reallife, because the organizers only brought a sound system made of baked beancans. Halfway back, no one can hear a word. A girl sat on her boyfriend’sshoulders is relaying bits to the few people in our corner.

“He’s saying that it’s a tragedy of globalproportions.”
“Driven by economics.”
“…By politics and environmentaldegradation.”
“And what else?”
“He says he’s wearing split-crotchtrousers.” She and her mates collapse into giggles.

There’s a crushing sense that the realityof historic momentsfrom Spike Island to Woodstockso often doesn’t matchthe fantasies of historians. No doubt the Gettysburg Address was also prettyinaudible, full of people at the back going. “Four score and WHAT?” “What was thatbit about fathers again?”

Yet despite this, it remains one of thoserare moments where you can feel Tony Blair’s famous “hand of history” visitingus. The crowd are hypnotized as he opens by standing there, silent for about 30seconds, holding an Amnesty International placard saying “Refugees Welcome.” It’s a piece of protest theater that takes years of training, and Jez has hisEquity card in that.

“The real fun starts here,” says the middleaged lifelong Labour woman. “He says he’s against the third runway. ButLabour’s already committed itself to honoring whatever the outcome of theDavies Report was. And it was a third runway.”

By the time she’s said these words, 12senior Labour MPs have already ruled themselves out of Jez’s shadow cabinet.There’s a rumor going round that he might not have enough MPs to take all theposts on offer. There’s another rumor that Unite has already been phoning upMPs and begging them to take any job going.

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Also obliterating his sounda helicopterbuzzes overhead. Does it contain the marksmen of The Establishment? Are weabout to witness the real world version of A Very British Coup?

Chris Mullin’s classic airport thriller wasabout a privilege-foreswearing salt o’t’earth Labour leader who wants to getout of Nato and abolish the Lords, but is overthrown by third forces in thearistocracy and military. And while no one can yet see the red laser dot onJez’s forehead, if I were his security detail, I wouldn’t let him visit anyHindu temples any time soon.

A man who wants to abolish private schoolsand the monarchy, who’d probably build a Refugees Welcome center on the playingfields of Eton, is now 50 swing seats and an SNP collapse away from getting todo exactly those things. If you thought there was an almighty stink abouttuition fees, wait till you see what it’s like when the Duchess ofCaernarfonshire is being sent off to live on an estate in Middlesborough.

The folks on the Refugees Welcome demo knowfull well why banning nukes and talking to Hamas might be a decent idea. Thesort of people who launch petitions for Wootton Bassett to become “RoyalWootton Bassett” don’t. And for all the vast numbers who’ve turned out today,there are still far more of these sitting at home clicking through repeats ofNoel’s HQ.

Jez’s speech seems rousing to the few dozenwho manage to catch it. Applause ripples outwards. Then Jez and Billy Braggsing “The Red Flag,” which younger readers will recognize as a kind of “FreakLike Me” bootleg version of “Oh Christmas Tree” with all the words changed toreflect international socialism.

This, then, is exactly where we are now.The anthem of Oldest Labour, that Ed Miliband famously didn’t know the wordsto, is reinstalled as a central rite in the New Old Labour that Corbyn seeks tobuild. Blair is turning in his grave. Liz Kendall lies martyred upon the fieldsof mass-participative intra-party democracy. The worm has turned. The Militantshave won, and in the end their revenge was sweet yet mild.

The afternoon’s speaker’s list is eternal.After Shami Chakrabarti, after Natalie Bennett, after 85-year-old MP Sir GeraldKaufman, after Dianne Abbott, it all blurs into one long choir-preach about howcool and awesome refugees are. How they have more vigorous sex than everyoneelse. Better dental hygiene. Less cellulite. We want a million. No, we wantfive million. Give us ten and we’ll call it square. They can have Wales. Haveit, outright. Really.

Photo author’s own

Gradually, the crowd starts to slip awayinto the early evening. A stag-do in morph suits jogs down a Whitehall that anhour earlier thronged with marchers. They lark about having boozy picturestaken with Refugees Welcome banners. The lines between the purity of protestand the grubbiness of the real world are starting to blur again. For the Jez WeCans, those lines are going to finally become ever more apparent in the comingweeks.

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