Jeremy Corbyn’s brand is slipping. Yesterday, supporters of his Peace and Justice movement joined a much larger demo in London organised by the People’s Assembly. About a thousand protestors showed up for an event where the dominant theme was Palestine. When the marchers arrived at Parliament Square they were led by a shrill gang of teenagers from a sixth form college who waved Palestinian flags and belted out a rhyming couplet.
‘One. Two. Three. Four. Occupation, no more. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Israel is a terrorist state.’
With them were two orthodox Jews from the Neturei Karta sect. Each wore a ceremonial fur hat, (the shtreimel) in recognition of the sabbath. From their shoulders hung bandanas in the Palestinian colours.
Numerous causes competed for attention. Communists handed out copies of the Morning Star. Overweight nurses lobbied for a 15 per cent pay rise. A pair of disability rights activists sat on the grass, smoking weed, (perhaps medicinally), and waving their crutches in the air. Extinction Rebellion protestors gave out free stickers. The pro-Palestine group included a squad of smoke-bomb experts who planted the turf with distress flares and set them alight. Sulphurous red and black fumes billowed across the square, darkening the skies. It smelled like bonfire night.
Churchill’s plinth was defended from spray-painters by four burly cops. Elsewhere, two statues bore temporary messages. The clasped hands of Gandhi held a ‘Tories Out’ placard and Nelson Mandela’s outstretched fingers were adorned with a ‘Free Palestine’ flag. A supporter of Gypsy rights walked around with a placard denouncing the Home Secretary in Roma. ‘Priti Chum Mandys Bull.’ It means ‘kiss my bottom’.
In Corbyn’s heyday as Labour leader he topped the bill wherever he went and he was free to speak for as long as he wished. Yesterday, he got three minutes, like everyone else, and he had to wait his turn.
Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry, gave a firecracker of a speech and accused the Tories of ‘social murder’. She predicted that political change would come ‘from the bottom up, as it always has done, not by speaking politely or fawning over right-wing rags‘.
Sultana could never be accused of ‘speaking politely’. And though she’s incapable of original thought, she knows how to pack a few decibels into a phrase. When she hits a crescendo, she sounds like a panicking air-stewardess. Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, gave one of his earnest talks about social injustice and the practice of ‘fire and rehire’. He said he was personally supported by Jacinda Arden, Joe Biden and the pope. Richard Burgon, MP, complained that the Tories would pay for the pandemic ‘on the backs of the working class’. He demanded a wealth tax and the immediate construction of a million council houses. Just like that. And he heaped praise on Labour’s failed manifesto of 2019. Like Zarah Sultana, Burgon hopes that Keir Starmer will shortly be ousted and replaced by a Corbyn diehard. These noisy lightweights will expect promotion under a new regime.
Corbyn appeared on the podium wearing a light brown short-sleeved shirt. No tie. Like a chemistry teacher at a barbecue. ‘I’m proud to see such a range of organisations in the square,’ he said, reminding himself to name-check every strand of his fan-base or to risk giving offence. It was a rapid-fire rant. He predicted that COP26 would be ‘an exercise in greenwashed self-aggrandizement before they get into their private jets and fly home’. Probably not inaccurate. He called for a tax on billionaires and for social care to be enshrined as a human right. NHS privatisation got him into a lather and he revealed that a GP practice in his constituency had been snapped up by an American firm. ‘Get private contractors out of the NHS!’ he thundered. That got a big response. The most revealing moment came after he quit the stage. ‘Stay strong,’ he finished, ‘and stay solid. Thank you.’ As he made his exit, a few vocalists struck up the ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ refrain but they were drowned out by rivals chanting ‘Free Palestine’. The few who sang ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ seemed to falter and to give up the ghost. The famous anthem is fading into history. A minor deity has fallen.
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