The other day I got an invitation to a do called ‘For Now and Forever – a reception and photo exhibition celebrating the life of Hugo Chávez’, with speeches by various left-wing notables, including the one and only Len McCluskey. It’s been a year since Venezuela’s cuddly comandante passed away, and supporters of his Bolivarian revolution want you to know it.
Attracted by the prospect of a free glass of wine and the comedy value of hearing somebody say ‘¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!’ unironically, it was a no-brainer. And so I found myself in Fitzrovia’s Bolívar Hall, surrounded by the most 70s crowd this side of a Van der Graaf Generator revival. There were a few Latin American indignados, hundreds of nice Home Counties undergrads in Ché berets and a handful of Ken Loach lookalikes, all wearing slogan T-shirts. Viva la Revolución.
The selection of images on display took a fair few liberties with the word ‘exhibition’; a half dozen laminated posters with laminated borders bore widely-reproduced photos of El Comandante as a young paratrooper; El Comandante kissing children; El Comandante driving a train; El Comandante pointing at a map with a stick (seriously). Hardly Lenin’s mausoleum, then, but hey-ho.
Alicia Castro, Argentinian ambassador to the UK and the night’s first speaker marched onstage. ‘¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!’ she cried, unironically. Half the audience downed their free wine and barged their way out. It seemed I wasn’t alone in my reasoning. ‘¡Brávo!’, cried the remainder, to be polite. ‘He was a great strategist,’ Castro continued, ‘It is clear that Venezuela is under a massive internacionál media attack’. I got some nasty looks transcribing that into my notebook.
Next it was the turn of one of the Ken Loach lookalikes. ‘It’s a great, erm, privilege to…’ – wait, it was Ken Loach! – ‘… uh, be here…’. Ken continued this thrilling speech by quoting a few other peoples’ right-on words (‘No man is an island’, etc). Then, for some reason, he scarpered, leaving the stage open for the great general secretary himself. But where was comrade Len?
Not here, as it turned out. He was busy strangling the Labour Party, and as such sent an apologetic flunky to speak in his place. Cue much talk of ‘Throwing off. The yoke. Of Imperialism.’ Despite the constant mid-sentence pauses, he did a pretty good job of out-effusing the other speakers. Chávez was ‘a fantastic leader of the world left and socialism movement,’ oh yes he was. ‘On behalf of Unite – Hugo Chávez – ¡Viva!’