SKETCH: The Ed and Jezza show comes to Doncaster

It's a strange old feeling, standing outside the Frenchgate Centre on an overcast Friday lunchtime, waiting for the battle bus to arrive.

Friday, 27th May 2016, 3:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 2:29 pm

Jeremy Corbyn is coming to town, and for the first time he’s going to be sharing a platform with his predecessor in the Labour hotseat, Ed Miliband. Together they hope to convince the good people of Doncaster to vote to stay in the EU.

It’ll be a hard sell - Doncaster may well have been, as Rosie Winterton will later remind us, the birthplace of the Labour Party, but it’s also hosted the UKIP party conference two years running so the reaction is bound to be mixed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Perhaps that’s why the location of the visit was kept under wraps, which also gives the gathering an air of mystery. People mill about, having clocked the police, stewards, photographers and outside broadcast vans, wondering which celebrity might be coming to town.

When they find out, many of them wander off.

“If we stay in, God help us,” mutters one pensioner to her friend as they shuffle past.

SEE MORE: Watch our video of the rally hereEd’s the first to arrive, flanked by fellow Doncaster MPs Rosie Winterton and Caroline Flint. They’re not on the bus, but instead approach on foot, side by side and grinning like a lighter take on the Reservoir Dogs poster.

Jeremy Corbyn jots down notes for his speech while Ed Miliband addresses the rally.

By this point the crowd is swelling again. It’s now roughly 60 per cent Labour activists, 35 per cent media and 5 per cent mums with small children who feel obliged to stick around having accepted a free balloon.

There's also a man in a Minion costume with a placard advertising a local market stall, gamely trying to find the best place to stand to get it on telly.

But there’s still no sign of Corbyn, although there is a man in the crowd who could probably pass for him at a distance if he ever needs a stuntman.

Finally the bus arrives and Corbyn steps off to a largely warm reception. Someone tries to start up a chant of “Jez-za! Jez-za!” but there are no takers.

Jeremy Corbyn jots down notes for his speech while Ed Miliband addresses the rally.

Labour MEP Linda McAvan gets things underway with a short introduction, followed by Caroline Flint, who turns it up a notch in the excitable estuary tones of Janice Long addressing the Radio One Roadshow (Milifans: ask your grandma).

Then it’s Ed’s turn. “This referendum has looked too much like an argument between David Cameron and Boris Johnson over who becomes the leader of the Conservative Party,” he begins, neatly deflecting attention from the argument between Jeremy Corbyn and most of his colleagues over who should be leader of the Labour Party.

As Ed warms to his subject, undeterred by a bloke at the back shouting “Rubbish!” and the occasional rasp of a power tool from a nearby building site, it’s easy to wonder what he might be doing right now had he been able to show this kind of passion at some point in his first four years as party leader.

But that honour now falls to Jeremy Corbyn, speaking off the cuff aided by a few hastily scribbled notes. He’s barely opened his mouth before someone shouts “absolute rubbish” - the general tone of the referendum debate summed up in a single moment.

“Get out of Doncaster, you’re not fit to be here,” shouts someone else.

“Dogs’ balls,” chips in a voice at the back.

Watching Corbyn in person, you understand why he doesn’t come across well at Prime Minister’s Questions. When heckled like this, he takes a while to get into his stride, fluffing the odd word along the way. Do that in the Commons and it’s hard to win back the initiative.

But once he does get into his stride, he’s a powerful orator, speaking plainly and with conviction in a way that most politicians these days just, well, don’t. Like or loathe the bloke, in person it’s easy to see how Corbynmania became a thing.

The Milifandom still seems to be going strong, too, if the number of excitable teens collaring the ex-leader for selfies afterwards is anything to go by.

If today proved anything, though, it's that it only takes one or two malcontents shouting from the fringes to spoil a carefully choreographed media event. And those dissenting voices might have been kept to the margins today, but they represent a sizeable section of the party's traditional core vote that it absolutely has to win back in order to stand a chance of winning back power.