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6 October 2016

Corbyn, my bae: Olly Alexander on why he supports the Labour leader

Alexander, the frontman of Years and Years, makes the case for Corbyn.

By Antonia Quirke

“He’s my bae . . .” declared Olly Alexander, the 26-year-old singer in the electronica trio Years and Years, of Jeremy Corbyn (30 September). DJ Annie Mac had surely been hoping Alexander might say something like this – he’s prone to praising Corbyn. “What’s the attraction, Olly?” she pounced. (“You’re just in love with his power,” giggled others in the studio, including the rapper Wretch 32 and the singer Dan Smith.) “It’s very rare when someone comes along and you feel,” said Mac, coaxingly, “that there’s a politician speaking truly to young people today. And this whole conversation has come out of Corbyn being re-elected and the question: are there role models today?”

Eventually, Alexander elucidated his fascination with the Labour leader. “I just like someone, you know, who looks like they might go on a march with you. Like, hold a placard.” What was striking was not so much the grinning sincerity in his voice, but the heavy suggestion it carried that the far left in the UK is an exercise in nostalgia – and most powerfully for the young.

It’s nostalgia for the near-folkloric Labour government of 1945-50 and the boomer radicalism of the late Sixties and early Seventies. For mass political parties and revolutions in general – for getting back to fictional golden periods. And especially for the thrill of barricades and dashes across town. For bailing out mates on public order charges, and hushed conferences rising to fisticuffs during post-rally debriefs. Placards and marches: nothing more reassuring to a 26-year-old looking for a historical context for what might otherwise feel like a deracinated youth movement. The immense reassurance of The Old Guy. How inherently unstable the anti-globalist position would be without him, too much of a leap in the dark. Too volatile.

I get all that. Still, Alexander sounded as sentimental as John Major talking about cycling to evensong and listening to the Test match. “I don’t feel like I can sit down and have a great conversation with . . . what’s the guy’s name?” Wretch admitted. The others hushedly prompted him – forgetting Jeremy’s name? – but he wasn’t remotely cowed and just shrugged honestly. “I can’t imagine what we’d speak about . . .” 

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This article appears in the 05 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's triumph