Euan McColm: UB40 and the Corbynistas’ red, red whine

Corbyn flanked by Robin and Duncan Campbell, who split acrimoniously with their brother and fellow band member, Ali Campbell, in 2008. Picture: Carl Court/Getty
Corbyn flanked by Robin and Duncan Campbell, who split acrimoniously with their brother and fellow band member, Ali Campbell, in 2008. Picture: Carl Court/Getty
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Although #UB4Corbyn is unprecedented in its staggering ineptitude, it doesn’t half take you back to pub bores of yesteryear, writes Euan McColm

Years ago, in my dissolute past, when I was a reporter with a thwocking great expense account and a news editor who was perfectly happy not to have me cluttering up the office, I would take myself off for an afternoon to “meet contacts”.

Occasionally, this would involve an actual meeting with an actual contact who might provide a sliver of information from which a scoop could be fashioned. But more often than not, it would mean an afternoon in the pub with fellow bores, where we would set the world to rights and explain to each other that we were desperately hard done by.

Frequently, I would find myself “meeting contacts” in the Ubiquitous Chip in the West End of Glasgow.

The Chip is a fine establishment, with a proud history. It remains quite the place to go for a most convivial evening. But in the mid-1990s on a Wednesday afternoon the clientele were… let’s call them nostalgic.

One could just as easily find oneself in conversation with a 54-year-old man who’d once been in a Taggart as with a 54-year-old man who’d written a short story that Alasdair Gray had promised to read.

Everyone in the Chip on a Wednesday afternoon – and I include the female customers – was a 54-year-old man for whom things hadn’t panned out quite as they’d hoped. I was in my 20s but, spiritually, at least, I too was a thwarted 54-year-old man. And if you wanted to buy me a Guinness and pull up a stool, I’d have told you that the editors of the world had foolishly ignored my obvious talents.

In time, I came to realise that being a miserable 54-year-old wasn’t for me and I started meeting actual contacts rather than spending afternoons commiserating with men who’d lost out on a part to Pierce Brosnan in 1978. Nostalgia was overrated. I would live in the present.

I flashed-back to a mid-90s Wednesday afternoon in the Chip last week as I watched Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s remarkable press conference with members of the reggae group UB40.

In quite the PR coup, Corbyn’s team (what is the collective noun for imbeciles?) had arranged for these ageing musicians to endorse their man under the slogan UB4Corbyn.

Clever dicks quickly pointed out that Corbyn had won the backing of one of two UB40s now doing the rounds after an acrimonious split. Corbyn’s team – clearly unable to carry out a Google search – had provided yet more gold-standard material for sketch-writers and other practitioners of the yah-boo!

During this grimly compelling event, Corbyn and members of one of the UB40s spoke nostalgically about the good old days when musicians were free to do what they wanted and could make a good living out of it too. Corbyn spoke of his love of reggae which began when he lived in the Caribbean for two years in the 1960s, blandly adding: “I remember that as a time of my life.”

The Labour leader said that politicians could learn from bands important things like teamwork, being creative together and supporting each other. Until they fell out, he added.

One of the UB40 fellows explained that when they had started out, there was a band on every corner. I was not present in the Midlands in the early 1980s but I am willing to believe that this was not accurate.

In fact, I’d venture that it was the sort of nostalgic nonsense one can hear in any pub on a Wednesday afternoon.

By the end of this truly weird event we had learned that Corbyn likes to go to the Proms when he can and that he greatly admires the work of the singer-songwriter Joan Baez.

The Conservative Party press office did not feel the need to offer a response. Details of Theresa May’s secret passion for the early work of Nik Kershaw were unforthcoming.

Corbyn’s message – hidden among the tedium – seemed to be that when he becomes prime minister (which will be never), a new wave of creativity will be unlocked. This was in keeping with previous statements in which he has erroneously claimed that everyone has a novel in them when, in fact, a good number of novelists don’t even have a novel in them.

We are long past the point where there is any value in trying to figure out what exactly it is Corbyn hopes to achieve other than shaping the Labour Party as a permanently unelectable left-wing sect. His shambolic leadership, his banalities and his weasel-words when confronted with unpalatable details of his political life paint a picture of a man who is both an idiot and an ideologue (an idiologue?).

But there was something entirely fitting about this tiresome event. Corbyn is currently breeding, among his supporters, a new wave of thwarted 54-year-old men who will, one day, sit in pubs on Wednesday afternoons and explain that they were done wrong by the powers-that-be.

The wide-eyed Corbynistas of today are the pub bores of tomorrow. When their man leads Labour to inglorious defeat, they will not examine themselves, they will not question Corbyn’s actions. They will sit at the bar and say that the establishment had it in for them from the start.

On Saturday, 24 September, Corbyn will be confirmed as the winner of the current Labour leadership contest. Owen Smith will be biffed out of the park by the Momentum dafties who believe that Corbyn’s ability to persuade 1,500 zoomers to attend a rally in Coventry show that he can lead the Labour Party to general election victory.

If Labour moderates have any sense, they will split and try to build a new party of the centre-left.

If they don’t do this, if they meekly fall back into line, then they will be bowing to inevitable political annihilation.

And in years to come, they’ll sit in pubs on Wednesday afternoons, 54-year-old men telling anyone who’ll listen that they could have been someone if it hadn’t been for Jeremy Corbyn.