The two leading lights in the modern Labour Party have both chosen an unusual platform for serious politicians from which to deliver their latest homilies to the nation. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, doing their version of Dad Dancing, trekked off to a popular music concert in Glastonbury in Somerset in order to tell their adoring young fans exactly what is wrong with the country. Fair enough, if that’s where your supporters are, there is no reason why you should not reach out to them there.
I happen to know one of the young people who went to Glastonbury. He is the son of old friends of mine. Not only has he gone to Glastonbury, but he is also a constituent of Jeremy Corbyn. He is, much to my regret, a little too open minded about politics. Indeed, during the election campaign, he resolved to go to one of Mr Corbyn’s public meetings in Islington in order to decide whether he should vote for him. Sadly, the Labour leader’s fanatical supporters rather let the side down. My young friend has a job. His job requires him to wear a suit (just as Mr Corbyn’s does). As my friend entered the hall, having come straight from work, he was greeted by hisses and boos from the Momentum members gathered to pay tribute to the great leader. “SUIT,” they screeched, meaning, I take it, that he was to be despised for having a job.
I suspect that Mr Corbyn would rather his supporters did not behave like that. But he and Mr McDonnell also know that their popularity is largely due to their being seen as leaders of a protest movement. If that means having to put up with thuggish support from people who think no one with a job should be allowed the vote, so be it.
I don’t know whether my young friend attended the sessions at Glastonbury which were devoted to Labour Party politics. I suppose, if pop songs were stopped during those sessions, he might have done. But, if he didn’t, others certainly did. Both Corbyn and McDonnell seem to have been greeted with even more adulation than the multi-millionaire singers who are meant to be the main attraction.
What was their message?
Let us look at what Mr McDonnell said. He took part in a “debate” with Faiza Shaheen (a very left wing economist) and Jonathan Bartley (co-leader of the Green Party). Fair play between those political opponents was ensured by wise moderation provided by a Guardian journalist. The young of Glastonbury were treated to a serious debate between advocates of every mainstream political opinion in the country.
I have to say that I don’t know everything that was said by the speakers. The wonderful occasion went on for more than an hour. Oh, to be young again and to live in that heaven which is a debate between a left wing Labour politician, a left wing economist and a left wing Green Party member. But, sadly, I wasn’t there. All I can go by is what has been reported in the press.
McDonnell spoke about the awful Grenfell Tower disaster. He came to it a little late in the day, which was fortunate for him. Mr Corbyn had blamed the Tories for the tragedy, before it transpired that many Labour councils had used precisely the same combustible cladding that Kensington used on Grenfell. McDonnell knew he couldn’t follow his leader in saying it was all down to the wicked Tories. But he could go for second best. Those poor people in Grenfell Tower had been “murdered” by “political decisions”.
First, we must excuse Mr McDonnell for his emotive use of the word “murdered”. Politicians are not expected to be pedantically accurate in their use of language. McDonnell would accept, I am sure, that no one whose acts or omissions caused all those deaths intended anyone to die or to suffer serious harm. Anyway, it is rather difficult to see how a “decision”, as opposed to someone who makes it, could be guilty of murder.
No, what Mr McDonnell was saying was that a political system in which neither he nor Mr Corbyn had ever played a part had brought about the tragedy. Maybe it was New Labour. Maybe the Tories were at fault. Maybe the Lib Dems were to blame. Maybe all of them. Whoever it was, it wasn’t the great protesters (Mr Corbyn, Mr McDonnell and Momentum) who “murdered” the people who lived in Grenfell Tower.
It is, of course, complete nonsense to think that, had Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell been in power at any time in the last ten years, they would have done anything to prevent the disaster. That is not to criticise them. It is just a fact that they would have been wholly unaware of the danger.
But the young, presumably particularly the young who go to pop concerts, are drawn to protest. Say you are opposed to everything every other politician has ever done and you will get thousands of youthful votes. Accuse all politicians, other than yourself, of murder and you are quids in.
There could, of course, be a dreadful comeuppance for Corbyn and McDonnell. Obviously, most sane people (at least those over twenty five) will pray that the great protesters never hold office under the Crown. But it could happen. If it did, Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell would suddenly find that that just saying every other politician was an evil murderer would no longer work. Let us hope, for their own sake, that they can remain protesters for ever.