The Labour leadership contest is all but done and dusted. Owen Smith must know it. Jeremy Corbyn certainly knows it. Which is why he is now more than happy to incorporate some of his hobbies into his touring schedule. Call it some light recreational campaigning. Today music. Tomorrow horticulture.
Under normal circumstances the hashtag UB4Corbyn might be ill-advised. A sign that the Labour leader ought to be picking up his unemployment benefit. But when you’re about to be endorsed by UB40, a band that had three No 1 hits more than 30 years ago, anything can be overlooked.
Even the fact that the original band fell out with each other so badly that there are now two UB40s touring Britain – both claiming to be the Continuity UB40 – and the other one has refused to endorse you. No parallels with the Labour party there.
Red, Red Wine and I Got You Babe – UB40’s two best-known hits – played on a loop as an invited audience of young Labour activists, far too young to know who UB40 were, and bewildered hacks waited in a basement of the Royal Society of Arts in central London for the headline act to appear. And waited. And waited.
UB40 featuring Jeremy Corbyn were due on stage at 1pm but by 1.20pm there was still no sign of them. In years gone by, there might have been a suspicion they were all doing shedloads of drugs in the dressing room. Now everyone just supposed they were having a bit of a chat backstage about dialectical materialism.
“Hello RSA,” said a man called James, once UB40 +1 were on stage. “I’m from the band’s management company and I’d just like to say that I once had a chat with Jeremy on Corbyn Street, ha ha, and I am very happy that the band is endorsing him as leader of the Labour party.” The band said nothing.
James disappeared somewhere and Corbyn stepped up to the microphone. “Thank you for this incredible invitation,” he said. “It’s a tremendous honour to be endorsed by one of the most successful acts of all time.”
Several members of the band looked up to check that Corbyn wasn’t taking the piss. He wasn’t. He genuinely did believe that UB40 were one of the most successful acts of all time. Corbyn went on to talk a bit about how he enjoyed music as a learning experience, how much fun he had had at a Romanian folk gig and his experiences at the Tolpuddle Martyrs folk festival before sitting down again. Still the band said nothing.
Sensing that the entire audience was wondering where the last hour of its life had got to, Corbyn tried to engage the band in a bit of chat. How did they find the music industry today?
“Terrible,” said one band member who went unnamed because nobody knew who he was.
“Awful,” said another band member who was unnamed for much the same reason. “You can’t make any money.”
“It’s the internet. It’s ruined everything,” another one explained.
As Labour had only just published its digital manifesto explaining why the internet was going to revolutionise everyone’s life for the better, this wasn’t quite the message Corbyn was hoping to hear. He moved on swiftly.
“So tell me,” he said. “What do you think you have learned from making music?”
“It’s all about collaboration, cooperation and compromise,” said a band member, who had temporarily forgotten that one of the three Campbell brothers who had been in the band’s original line-up was only speaking to his siblings through lawyers.
We were now in uncharted political territory. Campaigning has come in many guises over the years but never as one of the dullest music business Q&As you’re ever likely to witness. Think Jools Holland meets Last of the Summer Red, Red Wine. But at least Jeremy was having fun. Even if no one else was.
“Why do you think Britain is so good at making music?” he asked.
“It’s to do with empire,” said UB41.
“It’s because of America,” said UB42.
“It’s because we’re an island,” said UB43.
“Dunno,” shrugged UBs 44, 45 and 46.
Spoiled for choice, Corbyn moved on. How did the band create its music? Did it come up with some ideas and then go into a studio?
“No,” said UB41. “We do things arse first. We just get together and knock something up.”
“Great,” said Corbyn. “So what do you think politicians can learn from musicians?”
“Not a lot,” said UB42.
That was one thing everyone in the room could agree on.