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

The left-wing insurgent turned Labour leader headed down to a pro-refugee rally in London.

Photos by Jake Lewis unless otherwise indicated

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

At 11:30 on Saturday, the Kendall maniacs were not out in force at the Refugees Welcome march. As everyone clustered round a PA blasting 5Live's broadcast from the Labour Leadership Special Conference, it seemed they'd all hit snooze on the alarm clock, that they were having five more minutes in bed with the NHS internal market, dreaming of PFI deals chasing Serco contracts up flights of stairs.


In fact, when Liz's numbers finally came in—a rather disappointing 18,000 votes—not even a tenth of Jez He Did's 256,000—no one could even hear them being read above the cheers for the third candidate, alphabetically.

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

As the numbers are read, a sole party popper is let off. Some blokes with T-shirts saying "This Charming Man" beneath a picture of Jez clasp each other's shoulders. A girl is on her boyfriend's shoulders. One walrus-shaped man has to be lead away through the crowd because he'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 Conference Hall.

His speech is boilerplate, maybe. It's his hundredth of the campaign trail, and by and large it doesn't seem to have been structured as a piece of oratory. More as another efficiently utilitarian lecture in what needs to be done next. You were sick. Now you're well. And there's work to do.

He describes the past three months of the campaign—essentially being piloted off to fucking Mars on a political rocketship—as "a fascinating experience," as though he spent the summer fossil-hunting for ammonites on the Devon coast.

He even cracks a joke. "We've decided to form an ABBA tribute band"—him and the other three leadership contenders. I can definitely imagine Andy Burnham unhappily married to Yvette Cooper. I can even imagine Jez We Can writing "The Winner Takes It All," and then getting Liz Kendall to sing it on their final album as a bittersweet lament to thirteen years of New Labour compromise. He thanks Liz effusively—just as Jesus Christ once wished Pontius Pilate all the very best, no hard feelings. "The late night train rides will never be the same again," he nudges, without explanation. Then he mentions one of his first acts as leader will be turning up at the Refugees Welcome march, and everyone explodes again.


And there he finally is—The Messiah—four hours later, after more than 50,000 people have wended the traditional processional from Hyde Park Corner down via Green Park to Parliament Square.

A great cheer goes up as the crowd realize he is amongst them—people pressed everywhere, Jez merely a spot in the distance, issuing his sermon on a very low-lying Mount.

"He's much shorter in real life," the middle-aged lifelong Labour woman next to me muses. This is exactly the hounding he can expect in the right-wing press in the coming weeks. "Hypocrite Corbyn Dances Round Toadstool While Claiming He Is Seven-Foot Basketball Superstar."

He is also much more inaudible in real life, because the organizers only brought a sound system made of baked bean cans. Halfway back, no one can hear a word. A girl sat on her boyfriend's shoulders is relaying bits to the few people in our corner.

"He's saying that it's a tragedy of global proportions."
"Driven by economics."
"…By politics and environmental degradation."
"And what else?"
"He says he's wearing split-crotch trousers." She and her mates collapse into giggles.

There's a crushing sense that the reality of historic moments—from Spike Island to Woodstock—so often doesn't match the fantasies of historians. No doubt the Gettysburg Address was also pretty inaudible, full of people at the back going. "Four score and WHAT?" "What was that bit about fathers again?"


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

"The real fun starts here," says the middle aged lifelong Labour woman. "He says he's against the third runway. But Labour's already committed itself to honoring whatever the outcome of the Davies Report was. And it was a third runway."

By the time she's said these words, 12 senior 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 the posts on offer. There's another rumor that Unite has already been phoning up MPs and begging them to take any job going.

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Also obliterating his sound—a helicopter buzzes overhead. Does it contain the marksmen of The Establishment? Are we about to witness the real world version of A Very British Coup?

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


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

The folks on the Refugees Welcome demo know full well why banning nukes and talking to Hamas might be a decent idea. The sort of people who launch petitions for Wootton Bassett to become "Royal Wootton 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 of Noel's HQ.

Jez's speech seems rousing to the few dozen who manage to catch it. Applause ripples outwards. Then Jez and Billy Bragg sing "The Red Flag," which younger readers will recognize as a kind of "Freak Like Me" bootleg version of "Oh Christmas Tree" with all the words changed to reflect international socialism.

This, then, is exactly where we are now. The anthem of Oldest Labour, that Ed Miliband famously didn't know the words to, is reinstalled as a central rite in the New Old Labour that Corbyn seeks to build. Blair is turning in his grave. Liz Kendall lies martyred upon the fields of mass-participative intra-party democracy. The worm has turned. The Militants have 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 Gerald Kaufman, after Dianne Abbott, it all blurs into one long choir-preach about how cool and awesome refugees are. How they have more vigorous sex than everyone else. Better dental hygiene. Less cellulite. We want a million. No, we want five million. Give us ten and we'll call it square. They can have Wales. Have it, outright. Really.

Photo author's own

Gradually, the crowd starts to slip away into the early evening. A stag-do in morph suits jogs down a Whitehall that an hour earlier thronged with marchers. They lark about having boozy pictures taken with Refugees Welcome banners. The lines between the purity of protest and the grubbiness of the real world are starting to blur again. For the Jez We Cans, those lines are going to finally become ever more apparent in the coming weeks.

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