Postcard from Brighton: Labour reach for the stars

postcardFrom Thursday’s CNJ

HERE on the Brighton seafront this week, we found a group of people so dented by division that some of their more familiar members are no longer willing to appear on the main stage, while those who now lead have found themselves back in grassroots, small venues rediscovering where it all began.

But enough about S Club 7, the sugary chart-toppers who are flogging Shergar without a scent of embarrassment as an S Club 3, having shorn four of their line-up to popworld’s equivalent of the backbenches.

While Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was meant to be the biggest ticket in town on Tuesday, the S Clubbers, still in the boob tubes they wore when they were 21, were playing a rather forlorn-looking “freshers’ special” in the neon nightclub next door to the Labour Party conference hall.

Switcheroos aside, there were plenty of shellshocked Labour members in town wondering whether it could somehow be possible, presumably like these lost singers still hawking their radio hits at £4 a ticket, to go back to 2000 or so when the centrists, the Blairites, whatever label you choose, were boss… and S Club 7 were touring arenas with Reach For The Stars and not staying in a Travelodge.

For members and delegates in Brighton were quickly realising this week that there ain’t no party like a Corbyn party. When it’s held in Brighton, members come down from Camden and Islington in droves, in the same way north London secondary schools eventually empty half their sixth form into the University of Sussex. The rail journey is quick, the sun was tempting.

But, when they arrived, many nonplussed members seemed unsure as to whether to enthusiastically throw themselves into the spirit of a new dawn, or to shrug at everything like a sulky teen before grunting: “I’m here at least, aren’t I? Wha-more do you want?” It’s been a confusing week for the losers of the leadership election campaign.

Tribes, as ever, are emerging: the best thing since sliced bread crowd; the end of days apocalypse squad; and the give him two years and maybe he’ll go of his own accord group. The latter is perhaps the most interesting; there is not an immediate push for a coup against a man who has just won the leadership by a mile, but their praise and endorsements are cautious, and begin with: “I didn’t vote for him but…”

And that’s how things are, but in reverse, with Camden’s local group. There is no appetite to scalp the leaders of the council for voting for Liz Kendall when everybody else was voting for Corbyn; it would surely go against this kindly, new politics the new leader talks of, after all. But there is a wait-and-see approach among the winners of the leadership contest as to how far Camden’s top-table embrace a change in direction.

The hint down here from councillors in his Islington patch is that Corbyn actually likes the diversity of Labour in north London and is not a man for parochial deselections and takeovers. He wants them, we were assured, to reach for the stars together.


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