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  1. Politics
25 September 2017

Jeremy Corbyn’s rock star’s welcome showed his strength – but something was missing

Dry ice, flashing lights and The White Stripes: what happened when the Labour leader addressed Momentum’s The World Transformed festival?

By Anoosh Chakelian

It’s 7pm and a crowd of a thousand people are queuing around the corner of a street on Brighton’s seafront. Some have been waiting for two-and-a-half hours. They’re here to see Jeremy Corbyn introduce an event called “Winning Power”, put on not by the Labour Party’s annual conference but by Momentum’s parallel festival: The World Transformed.

Around 500-600 people make it inside, filling the Synergy auditorium. It feels more like a gig than a political fringe event. A balcony winds all the way around the top floor, with a bar at one end – people lean over, resting cans of Red Stripe and packets of crisps on the edge. Stage lights bathe the chattering audience in electric blue.

Graffiti on the mirrored walls reads: “Digital labourers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your data!” – the only hint of the official party is its slogan, “For the many, not the few”, painted beside it. Malala and Ghandi smile out from the back wall.

“Brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, welcome to The World Transformed!” yells the compere, before introducing “the next prime minister of this country, the absolute boy, JEREMY CORBYN!”

Suddenly, dry ice fills the room and the thumping first notes of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” ring out. The crowd roars the now ubiquitous “Ohhh Jeremy Corbyn” chant to the tune, and the man himself appears through the smoke. (“We’ve got lasers but held off!” a rather giddy source behind the scenes tells me).

The Labour leader says he’s only missed one party conference since 1969, and is proud that more people are attending this year’s gathering in Brighton than ever before. Surely this event must be another record too – it’s impossible to imagine any other politician getting such a reception on the conference fringe.

His speech is punchy – laying into the media, so-called experts and commentators while putting his general election achievements down to social media, “street campaigning”, and “broadcast rules” which made the coverage “fairer”. It’s a running theme. When discussing foreign wars, he has another pop at the press, saying: “Wars around the world are where the media are, not where the media aren’t.”

Corbyn admits “I know we didn’t win the election, and I am acutely aware of that”, and reveals that he’s set his shadow cabinet teams to work on formulating concrete plans. “Our party now has to develop more detailed policies,” he says, citing the National Education Service, National Care Service and housing in particular.

However, the main message of this speech is for his supporters to keep campaigning. “Don’t leave it all” until whenever the next election may be, he warns, saying a future Labour government will rely on “how we mobilise people and how we campaign”.

While his rallying cry goes down well – he receives a standing ovation and another White Stripes chant (a cappella this time) when he’s finished speaking – it is impossible to miss what he didn’t say. “Jeremy was very good, but he didn’t mention Trident and he didn’t mention the European Union,” one supporter tells me after his speech. “I know those are the difficult subjects for him – he talked about workers’ rights and a bit of free trade, I suppose, but there’s going to be a lot more to it [Brexit] than that.”

Indeed, during the course of his 25-minute speech, Corbyn didn’t speak about Brexit – an omission that has become a theme at Labour party conference this year, as my colleague George writes. Just another way in which Corbyn’s hero’s welcome set the tone for conference this year – and perhaps for the months ahead.

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