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Celebrating the Second Coming of Britain's Bernie Sanders

I watched the UK's answer to Bernie win a second party leadership election, on the broadly socialist, welfare-led ticket that bagged him his 2015 victory.
Simon Childs
London, GB

This article originally appeared on VICE US

Jeremy Corbyn just thumped Owen Smith in the Labour leadership race, with just under 62 percent of the vote. I'm in Liverpool for the Labour party conference and am pretty sure some Corbynistas are gonna get party-drunk fairly soon, but the immediate reaction was circumspect in its joyfulness. Maybe they know that it's not the game-changer they want it to be. The fact Corbyn proudly proclaimed "the second mandate in a year" tells you all you need to know about how winning a leadership contest isn't the be-all and end-all.


On the packed train (standing room only? I couldn't be sure) from London to Liverpool, Corbyn supporters joked that they didn't want to jinx anything by talking about his inevitable victory. On arrival at the Momentum fringe conference, "The World Transformed" the front page of stacked copies of the Morning Star proclaimed: "Things can only get better" – an obvious nod to Tony Blair's 1997 election victory. Elsewhere, I saw a guy wearing a "Don't Attack Iraq" tee-shirt.

Outside, the Spartacist League ­– a tiny far-left sect known for calling for the defence of North Korea against imperialist attack – carried signs letting everyone know that they're still angry about Neil Kinnock screwing over the miners' strike. In the hall of the Black E, the Liverpool Socialist Singers were trying to portray a more united vibe, singing a version of "Let's Stick Together" when they weren't singing "Solidarity Forever" and "Bandiera Rossa".

Before the victory, I spoke to 52-year-old Paula Robinson from Liverpool, who told me she was likely to join the party if Corbyn won. "I believe him, I trust him, it's the first time I've felt this way about a political person for a while." She said a Smith victory would be the result of some kind of fix and "the death of Labour". As for those who think the opposite, that Corbyn's victory would be disastrous, "they're on the road to capitalist junkie world".

Inside the hall, people watched a BBC News video stream. An Owen Smith supporter told the presenter that Smith could still win it. Everyone laughed.


Then came The Big Moment. Even though the newscaster had quoted a source claiming to know the result, to cheers, the sense of eye-rolling inevitability receded and met a brief moment of short-breathed anticipation. What if loling at that Smith supporter was hubris? What if Corbyn had somehow fucked it? Which quickly gave way to …

… Woooo fuckyeah bruhhhh. We are the champions, my friends.

Sample line: "The media says he's goofy, toothy, sounds like a spoofy, a slate missing on his roofy – that Corbyn"

As I was about to start canvassing everyone's joy for the purposes of journalism, this guy took to the stage and started reciting a poem about the bloody media's awful treatment of Corbyn, which made the subsequent conversations a little more awkward than they could have been.

When I did get to talking, people were happy, but not ecstatic. "I'm okay" said a guy called Ted when I asked how he felt. "It's early days innit. I'm made up with the result, but I wanna know now, what are the MPs gonna do? Lynching is too good for most of them. They're all out for themselves. It's them that's causing all this trouble."

Maybe they'll unite behind the renewed mandate? I put that to Alan Roberts from North Wales. "I don't think it'll happen, I think MPs have always been distant… I think they'll settle for trying to disrupt as much as possible." The solution? "I think de-selection is absolutely fine – in certain circumstances."

Rob Potter, a 58-year-old postal worker from Liverpool, gave an analysis that seems to be fairly common across the political spectrum. "While some people may say we can't serve under Jeremy Corbyn, once this result is announced, regardless of what wing of the party they belong to, they belong to the Labour Party, and really where else are you gonna go? I think talk of a split is a bit alarmist and I don't think it'll happen."


Anna, 22, from Islington said: "MPs have to realise that this is the will of the membership. The party is not just what happens in parliament. The party is the movement."

A little poster I noticed inside

Shortly afterwards I bumped into James Schneider, national organiser of Momentum. I asked him what it was like in the conference hall. "Fantistic. Lots of support for Jeremy, lots of support for the speech he gave afterwards. Hit the right notes about how we're going to get back into government, what our massive membership means, how we get them to be active and how we unite the party."

But with the inevitability, wasn't it a bit … meh? "Last year I was sobbing. It is different. But still I was really nervous this morning. There's like elation, relief, excitement, all of that."

As for unity, I suggested the right of the party might have to suck this victory up. "Let's not overstate the number of MPs who are opposed to that vision. It's been a very difficult summer… but I think there's a lot of scope for MPs to get on board on the changes that are taking place and to play significant leadership roles in the changes that are taking place."

That's the optimist's view. As a pessimist, it struck me that the vote is a bit like Brexit. It's seismic in its importance and will command the narrative from here on out, but at the same time won't actually change anything at all. The party is still led by a bumbling but strangely magnetic old man backed by a huge majority of the membership and hated by his own MPs.



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