UK Politics

Bearded Lib Dems on Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright PA

The beard is back at the top of politics. But is that the only thing new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has in common with proudly be-whiskered activists at the Liberal Democrat conference?

"A couple of weeks back we were on the South Bank and this woman just stood there smiling at me, not saying anything but standing there with a big grin on her face. So I grinned back," says Barry Standen.

"Then I said to my partner 'do you think she thinks I look like Jeremy Corbyn?', And then it happened twice more."

Barry seems a little bemused by his new status as a political lookalike.

"He's got more hair than I have," he offers.

Does he think he looks like Jeremy Corbyn?

"I am his partner and no he doesn't," says Mr Standen's other half Carol, clearly a little irritated at this line of questioning.

Image caption Barry Standen: 'He's got his principles and he's stuck to them'

The Lib Dems used to be known as the "beard and sandals" party. In an era before hipsters discovered facial hair, their beards were a proud badge of non-conformity, lending them an earthy authenticity. The beard denoted a certain world view: leftish, greenish, with a taste for real ale over fizzy keg lager, frugal 2CVs over flashier motors and home-grown vegetables over bland supermarket fare.

In this respect, Jeremy Corbyn is one of the Lib Dems' own. A proud four-time winner of the Parliamentary Beard of the Year contest, he would not look out of place in a party where facial hair is still de-riguer among activists of a certain age (the sandals have long long gone, if they were ever there in the first place).

"He's a man who's got his principles and appears to have stuck to them," says Barry.

"I don't agree with the thrust of his major policies because I am not a socialist. He may work to the benefit of the Lib Dems over the next three or four years."

Image caption Gerry Crisp: 'It's a new politics'

Clean-shaven Lib Dem leader Tim Farron believes Mr Corbyn's election has handed his party a golden opportunity to occupy the centre ground, as Labour veers off to the left.

But his activists seem to admire Mr Corbyn for the way he has fired up the grassroots - something Lib Dems care deeply about.

"I am disappointed in the lack of democracy in the Labour Party, who will not recognise that he is their elected leader, by the people that really matter and, therefore, I wish him well," says Gerry Crisp.

Mr Crisp, who says he gets mistaken for bearded ex-Formula One boss and BBC pundit Eddie Jordan more than Mr Corbyn, is, like many here in Bournemouth fascinated, and excited, about what might happen next.

"It will be interesting in a year's time how Jeremy Corbyn is getting on, and Tim Farron, it's a new politics in effect and it's exciting and the only ones who are stuck in the mud are the current government."

Image copyright BBC News
Image caption David Johnston wants to see a 'fuzzy' left-leaning coalition

David Johnston says he is not sure what the Labour Party are playing at by electing Mr Corbyn.

"My major fear is we are going to have a Tory government for the next 10 years because we need a leader who is going to be able to mount a serious challenge to the Tories in future elections."

He adds: "I don't understand why they seem to be moving so far away from encapsulating people like me."

Image caption John Castle: 'We've held our ground in the centre'

Like others he sees parallels with the 1980s, when the SDP broke away from the Labour Party but he prefers to see a less drastic solution to Labour's apparent lurch to the hard left, a "left-leaning coalition in a fuzzy, broad sense".

As for Mr Corbyn's style, he says: "I was told by one of my daughters that I had a better beard than he has, so I was really quite pleased with that."

John Castle, who had not heard of Jeremy Corbyn until a few weeks ago, said: "He is far to the left of the Liberal Democrats.

"We have held our ground in the centre ground of British politics and I hope that we stay in that ground because that's a really great place from which to campaign."

Image caption Craig Harrow would welcome those with liberal views to the party

Having a fellow-beard wearer at the top of the Labour Party is scant consolation for Craig Harrow.

He was defeated Lib Dem minister Danny Alexander's election agent, but he sees some virtue in trying to tempt "moderate" Labour supporters into the party.

"There may well be those in the Labour Party who share similar Liberal views. We would certainly welcome anyone who shares similar Liberal views to ourselves to join the Liberal Democrats."

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