As I took my place at the back of the most un-apologetically socialist crowd to gather since Billy Bragg headlined the Leftfield stage at 2017’s Glastonbury, I tried to decide how I would approach Labour’s election campaign launch. Would I be an unbiased, diligent and ruthless student journalist? Or would I be a Labour supporter, excited to see Jeremy Corbyn’s address in the flesh?
Unable to choose either one of the two options, and with Labour’s Brexit policy on my mind, I decided to do both, badly.
There was a whole forty minutes to spare between me arriving and Corbyn taking to the stage and I used this time to marvel at the crowd around me. I didn’t notice many unwashed student – eager to have no-uni-fee sweet nothings whispered in their ears – but I did see plenty of old folk looking to relight the early-70’s-socialist-fire in their bellies sat comfortably in their seats.
With the Northern Soul playing over the speakers getting the Labour Gran and Granddads’ blood flowing, passionate discourse between comrades really took off. One keen old lefty bounced excitedly between fellow fanatics, preaching to the converted about Boris, using the word “fucking” like it was going out of fashion. “Oh fucking Watson is here!” he exclaimed, as if it were strange for a party’s deputy leader to be at a party campaign launch.
I heard the word “Brexit” ring out from somewhere within the crowd during a strange silence in the chaos – a bad fart being released by some unfortunate bugger between hymns during a school assembly.
A concerning number of seats were occupied by people with red-hair – dyed hastily by less enthusiastic housemates who were all too happy to make a small dent in the election-ready stash of red hair dye cluttering up their bathroom cupboard. The redheads’ keenness was evident from their positions in the very middle of the crowd – an aggravated zit ready to burst with excitement.
As the shadow cabinet took its place on the stage, a new character introduced himself to the crowd with a shrill whistle – a whistle that would ring out every five-bloody-seconds for the remainder of the morning. The birdsong of an overly enthusiastic, beanie sporting gentleman who, as JC listed the many demographics he intends to represent, proceeded to shout “Yes!” to each and every one that applied to him.
The crowd really warmed up when The Milkman of Human Kindness, introduced as “The Next Prime Minister”, announced his plans to give the NHS an extra pint by milking elite cows. The NHS are set to get the cream, and Jezza’s declaration that the NHS is not for sale getting a standing ovation and a “Not for sale!” chorus from the crowd. Mr Corbyn promised to reverse the privatisation started by milk-snatcher Thatcher, both within the NHS and across rail, mail and water – again a popular policy with the two hundred hardcore socialists who filled the hall.
Sandwiched between two slices of catchphrasey political rhetoric was a genuinely stirring speech from the leader of the opposition, and, apart from his intention to solve Brexit within six months of being elected, his policies seemed to be considered, concise and the kind of thing that ordinary people could really get excited about.
Speech over, questions from the press began with a surprisingly blunt entry from Laura Kuenssberg, who asked JC why he thinks that the same policies that did not win an election in 2017 would win one now. The audience was kind enough to answer for Jeremy with a shout of “Because Boris Johnson is in Number 10!”, followed by a well-received heckle of “Thanks to you, Laura!”
Within moments Laura had disappeared from the crowd, before appearing againg in the very exclusive rafters, tweeting like a madwoman from the top of the organ pipes while her team of cameramen readied themselves for a brief end of speech broadcast. Dressed all in black, I saw Neoliberal Laura’s pale horse in the parking lot.
Following his 40 minute speech Corbyn was asked about his intentions following the election, to which he replied: “This isn’t about me.” while the shadow cabinet members who had sat patiently either side of him twiddled their thumbs and looked bored. Emily Thornberry raised a smile once in the whole hour – giving off a heavy ‘can I speak to the manager’ aura throughout.
One face that didn’t look bored was that of Tom Watson, who played the part of Ashley Cole, sat on the very edge of the stage – his anxious gaze suspiciously darting from one socialist to another, planning the best escape route come the end.
And as the questions fizzled out, Tom Watson made a dash for the back door, eager to avoid an angry mauling from the Blairite bashers. To my horror, his anxious gaze caught my own as he made his way around the back of the crowd. With barely a moment to react and in a strange attempt to at least appear human, he decided to touch my arm. It was a weird, fleeting touch and I had to double check that it definitely happened. But before I could confirm anything for certain, he was gone – breathing heavily in the back seat of some cab, on his way to his secret lair to plot his next sabotage; hell bent on ruining any chance that Labour may have of winning an election.
As I followed the crowd of comrades out of the hall, I reflected upon what I had just witnessed. I was not thinking of the oddball socialists that had fascinated me whilst waiting for the event to start, nor was I thinking about the soft touch of Tom Watson. Oh, no.. I was thinking about a new UK. The prospect of a socialist government seemed very real – the policies proposed by JC and Co seemed so promising – radical but well planned and genuinely possible. It was the idea of properly funded schools, affordable housing, publicly owned assets, an enforced living wage and a fully operational, public owned NHS that filled my mind. Nothing else mattered.