Down the Charing Cross Road they will come, again; banners borne proudly high, t-shirt slogans shining in the sun, joyously explaining what they want, and very firmly demanding when they want it by. They will flow through Trafalgar Square, news crews walking carefully backwards like wading birds as they film Charlotte, Russell and Jeremy at the head of the massed ranks of protest. Finally, after passing down Whitehall they will gather in Parliament Square, as they have so many times before, awaiting the moment when their leaders give voice to the masses; and one above all, Jeremy, the new king.
And he will speak to them, amid the cheers and the smiles and perhaps even the odd tear. “They” are wrong he will say to rapturous applause. “They” are bad. “They” must be stopped. And building to a crescendo he will say, as he has said so many times before, that “we” are going to stop them. “We” are the people, and “we” must be heard.
And as the cheering fades, he will move to step down from the platform, as usual. Except something’s wrong. Something’s different. The crowd seems to be expecting more this time. Usually they would be heading for the beers in the Red Lion pub on Whitehall or the Westminster Arms, or perhaps the cafe under Methodist Hall for a cuppa and a bun?
But no. They wait this time. Staring.
They are waiting for the next part of the speech, the part Jeremy hasn’t written. The part which explains how. What are you going to do Jeremy? Tell us.
For poor Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, has made a journey of perhaps 30 feet across the floor of the House of Commons chamber, but 30 feet which actually represent the longest journey of his career. He has gone from “we” to “them” as Leader of the Labour Party; leader of the Official Opposition with two offices, staff, a car and a driver, and access to intelligence briefings.
He has responsibility. And more than all of this, he has power. The power to act, to make a difference. The power to do what he has spent a lifetime saying must be done.
For all that he is already trying to set himself up as in charge but not really responsible for anything (the membership will decide Comrades, not leaders in the Commons), there will be no escaping the expectation. On his platform in the square, looking at the thousands of expectant faces, Jeremy may well be reminded of Brian, the false Messiah of Monty Python fame, addressing the masses.
Brian: “Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!”
Followers: “Yes! We’re all individuals!”
And looking down from lead-lined windows high up in the Mother of Parliaments will be the MPs, Tory and Labour, and both will smile, for both will be part of the oddest pact in recent political memory. A pact unspoken.
The Tories will want Jeremy to enjoy those offices for as long as possible, five years if they can manage it. They’ll pull punches, make “errors” to give him little wins here and there and treat him with a respect his political accomplishments don’t deserve; all to keep pumping the political juice into his life support machine in the hope it stays on until 2020. And for Labour much the same is true. Jeremy must inevitably fail, the British public being what it is, but he must fail on his terms, having had time. No icepicks in the back. Given the far left is never responsible for anything, for its history of total failure is always someone else’s fault, that is the only way to avoid Jeremy 2, and Jeremy 3.
For even the most vociferous of Jeremy’s fans don’t really, in their hearts, expect him to win a general election. They expect, and even hope, that history will record his leadership as another example of a terrified political establishment, a quaking industrial-military complex, being faced with the will of the People and slaying their knight in panic. “Look how he scared them!” they hope to be saying in a few years. “He was so dangerous they had to do away with him. We are right comrades! Onwards!”
“They” are not scared though. From the boardroom to the Cabinet table they’re slapping one another on the back, and making their plans for years ahead.
And down in Parliament Square the march was somehow less fulfilling than the old ones. There seemed a bit less to be furious about. It felt a bit odd when Jeremy went off afterwards to do the lunchtime news didn’t it? Did anyone see it? Did he say anything about what he’s going to do? And as they trudge back towards Charing cross tube, from the open door of the Silver Cross pub on Whitehall comes music. They’re playing Eric Bogle’s wonderful anti-war anthem about the slaughter at Gallipoli.
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
Year after year, their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all