Who could deny that the quality of the political protest march has improved since Jeremy Corbyn become leader? I went along to one called today in Birmingham to mark the start of the Conservative Party conference. “Tory scum out of Brum” read one banner. There were drums, whistles and even a woman dressed up as Theresa May.
Unlike previous “Tories not welcome” marches, this one was very well-attended and pretty good-humoured. There were beautifully embroidered trades unions barriers on display.
Even seeing the Communist component of the march made me a little nostalgic: it was like watching a 2016 remake of those BBC documentaries from the 1980s.
This being a Corbynista march, we heard much about putting Labour moderates to the sword. The group I was walking with had, in their repertoire, a song suggesting which MPs to burn in a bonfire. “Put the Tories on the top, put the Blairites on the middle and then burn the f**king lot”. Perhaps the day’s highlight was a speech denouncing Clive Lewis, Labour’s defence spokesman. The organising group was the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an umbrella movement for trades unions and the hard left. One its representatives told crowds that the Labour right-wing had wasted a summer” because “no one” wanted the leadership contest. Mr Lewis was then reprimanded for his support for Trident : didn’t he know he was only in his job because Jezza put him there? (A great many people there, young and old, were wearing Corbyn T-shirts. I’m not sure I can remember an MP who so inspired protesters). A popular T-Shirt is Corbyn’s name, written like superman (below).
Another speaker later proposed that they stop fighting the Tories at all. He used a complicated analogy about wrestling a pig (“you get covered in crap and worst of all, the pig likes it!”).
For years, I’ve been turning up to these party conferences and complaining about how boring they are, full of lobbyists, denuded of real politics. But there was plenty of real politics in Liverpool last week while Labour’s two tribes went to war and there’s plenty now with thousands marching on the Tory conference. But while Labour is still predominantly interested in fighting and talking about itself, Theresa May doesn’t have much to fear.