Jeremy Corbyn Labour party conference
Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, 29 SeptemberReuters/Luke Macgregor

Jeremy Corbyn's conference speech was a "white rabbit" moment. After his slightly damp squib of a performance in prime minister's questions he was a party leader in desperate need of pulling something magical out of his hat.

His charisma to date has been more about what he isn't than what he is. He's not slick and he's not dapper and he's not particularly young and he's not at all clean-shaven. He's also not Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband, meaning his career as Labour Party leader started with several stellar advantages, even on the whisker front as this is the year of the beard for all those cool hipster guys out there. (Andy Burnham might need to take note, unlike his leader's hirsute look his new "high top" hairstyle was not remotely on-message in terms of Shoreditch-chic.)

Corbyn's stage walk-on was pure theatre too: blinking into the spotlight in what looked like modest surprise he resembled one of those rediscovered bands like Black Lace that suddenly become the ironic new thing for a week or two and who somehow make it to the top of the charts again.

He'd got a beautifully spoken Islington student to act as warm-up and she did a better job than Angela Eagle who was busy using the word 'bulls**t' during her pre-speech interview.

His thank-yous at the start made Gwyneth Paltrow's awards speech sound concise, which was extra generous given that so many of his own party failed to back him at the outset, and his jokes against the press were clunky and toe-curling, but once he was launched into his speech he threw enough passionate buzzwords in to stoke a few embers in old bellies and start a few new fires on campuses around the country.

Probably his most powerful moment came when he encouraged actual action from students and party members to stop gerrymandering (not a rival supergroup it turned out, but apparently part of a sneaky plan the Tories are rumoured to be using in the mayoral election). People love a cause and they love direct actions so two boxes ticked that are normally overlooked during the conference season.

Corbyn is not quite the un-spun hero he claims to be though. He did wear a tie that nearly fitted and despite claiming to be keen to rid politics of both aggression and slogans his buzzwords of "kind", "caring" and "honest" were either beamed across the stage or peppered over his speech.

There was no onstage PDA with Mrs Corbyn at the end, thank god (although it was good fun guessing who she might be in the audience afterwards), but he still flung himself around the stalls for hugs and air-kisses like a rock star crowd-surfing the mosh pit after his performance. And although for the most part he clung to his lectern like a barnacle when speaking, when he did use his hands to gesticulate they had the same incongruent and slightly coached look as his predecessor's.

After turning his back on his leader during PMQ's wingman Tom Watson sat staring besotted while Corbyn spoke and no one was impolite enough to grimace when the new leader trotted out old customer care cliches like "Treat people as you would wish to be treated yourself" as though they were innovative thoughts. But maybe they are to young students like the Islington girl. And maybe the oldies love the fact that he told them the last bearded man to lead Labour was Keir Hardie. (Not Tom Hardy's dad for all those fans on campus.)

Corbyn described his arrival as a "political earthquake" but it will be interesting to see how he merges fire and brimstone and molten lava with his new "kind, caring" and non-combative form of political debate.

His body language suggests vast amounts of suppressed anger and indignation which leaked out in moments of sarcasm or stabbing, pointed finger gestures and head-batons, and his voice did often rise to a shouty level when he spoke about the Tories who could see the opportunity to bait him out of his "kind politics" stance over the next few weeks and months in parliament.


Judi James is a body language analyst and performance coach. Follow her at @thejudijames.