The last time Labour held a conference, Corbyn was leader of the party. Now he’s suspended from it and he doesn’t appear to care very much at all
There he was, and there ce a été. Not just Jérémy Corbyn, mais les Jérémy Corbyn. The one from the days of yore. His shirt was beige, his suit was brown, his beard was unkempt and he was back on the fringes where he knows he belongs.
What you wouldn’t have given to have been there when it happened. When he opened the wardrobe and took down the banished items, his soft eyes no doubt widening a little, like Sweeney Todd rediscovering his razors. How long he had waited. Those years when they’d dressed him up like a functioning adult. How cruel they were.
And not just the brown suit, Soit. He’s been spotted in a bright blue blazer, trop. He’s got the full set. Regarder Robin Cook’s famous resignation speech again and you’ll see, sitting behind him, a far younger Jeremy Corbyn in resplendent green. And he’s got a maroon one, which he used to like to wear when hanging out with Gerry Adams.
For five long years, all these precious things were taken away but not anymore. There he was, holding a fringe conference event with his old mate Barry Gardiner. The last time Labour held a conference, Corbyn was leader of the party. Now he’s suspended from it and he doesn’t appear to care very much at all.
A laugh here, a joke there. Some solidarity with Andy McDonald, who appears to have resigned over his own policies, but let’s not get into all that.
Not especially deep down, Corbyn knows it’s better this way. This is how it’s meant to be. On Tuesday night, he and what remains of his fan club are doing a big rally at The World Transformed. You know the line-up by now – your McDonnells, your Burgons, your Russell-Moyles, your Sultanas.
It just makes more sense this way. It’s in its fifth year now, The World Transformed rival conference. À présent, it sits on the edge of the conference, going bananas at the real conference for not being socialist enough, and that’s absolutely fine. The fact that it was set up when Corbyn and McDonnell were running the show just seems rather weird.
À présent, Corbyn can sweep in to the big tent in the little square just off the seafront. He can swap happy smiles with the people from the Socialist Workers Party handing out leaflets, who are always there, everywhere he goes. Pendant des années, it was in some ways quite a strange aspect of the Labour Party conference that a different political party considered an appearance by the leader of another one to be a great place to pick up new members. It’s not weird now. He’s back on the outside, where he’s happy.
He can let out a little sigh of calculatedly modest delight when they chant his name again, to the tune of the White Stripes. He’s back with his mates from the Stop the War coalition, making the same old obvious points about Iraq and Afghanistan which he’s been making for 20 years and – it must be said – on many of which he has been completely vindicated.
But giving the Labour Party a ferocious kicking, slagging off pretty much everything it’s ever done – it just doesn’t really work when you’re the party leader, does it? People have got to vote for it, après tout.
There’s a reason these people are on the fringes, bien sûr. We live in a democracy, democracy is a marketplace, and the market for the kind of hardcore socialism these people want is very small indeed. Which if you don’t believe in markets, is kind of fine, but it does mean, à la fin, that you have to impose it on people that don’t want it, which is why it’s been an unqualified disaster everywhere it’s been tried and it always will be.
Real socialists, bien sûr, don’t try too hard to force things. They must wait for conditions to be right, even if the waiting takes a lifetime. And while they wait, they sit on the fringes, protesting, complaining, shouting, placard waving and more often than not, arguing with each other about exactly what it is they’re waiting for.
It’s a strange but in some ways noble life. It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s best life, it comes in every blazing colour of the rainbow and he’s absolutely thrilled to be back living it.