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The Guardian AUGUST 16, 2015 - by Daniel Boffey
JEREMY CORBYN'S WORLD: HIS FRIENDS, SUPPORTERS, MENTORS AND INFLUENCES
His campaign has electrified the Labour leadership election, but what do we know about the MP for Islington North? Here's a glimpse into his life.
This was supposed to be just a matter of Buggins' turn for Jeremy Corbyn, the 66-yearold MP for Islington North who appears to be on the verge of being annointed Labour's twenty-fifth leader. "I said I wouldn't do it," said John McDonnell MP, who unsuccessfully sought to fight the left's corner in the leadership contests in 2007 and 2010. "I have done it twice already and had a heart attack a couple of years ago. We turned to Jeremy and said: 'Come on, it is your turn, you have a go'.
"'All right, all right', he said, 'I'll do it. I'll have a go.' A sacrificial lamb. But once we got on the ballot paper, well, it is just incredible. It really is incredible."
The polls may be wrong (YouGov has Corbyn on fifty-seven percent of the Labour electorate) and the four-hundred-thousand people who have swelled the number eligible to vote in Labour's leadership to six-hundred-thousand will almost certainly not all be rallying to the Corbyn flag. But the metamorphosis of this leftwing backbencher of more than thirty years, serial rebel and five-time winner of parliamentary beard of the year into a political rock star is certainly, as McDonnell says, incredible.
On Monday a first tranche of ballot papers for the contest will land on doormats and drop into email accounts. Longstanding members will receive them first; the others will get theirs once their Labour credentials have been verified.
Andy Burnham says the fight is still on. He is sceptical of the polling and puts much of the media hype around Corbyn down to August being the "silly season" for newspapers when news is difficult to come by and any passing fad that can fill the gaps is jumped on.
Undoubtedly, few would have believed even a couple of months ago that Labour would be on the verge of choosing a leader who in March this year wrote in his regular Morning Star column that the 1983 manifesto would be "highly appropriate today to deal with the finance and banking crisis that has been visited upon the poorest people in Britain and, indeed, across Europe".
But it looks like that is precisely how the race is poised, with Burnham still probably the only candidate who can now beat Corbyn to the leadership under the alternative vote system under which the second preferences of supporters are counted. "Andy is like a bank loaded with debt who, in going down, would contaminate the whole field," said one Kendall supporter. "So many of Burnham's supporters have Jeremy Corbyn as their second preference that should Burnham be knocked out, Corbyn wins loads more support and will be left unbeatable. So people who have put Kendall first need to put Andy second, and that push will happen over the coming days."
Progress, the Labour "modernisers" group, is calling for people to take seriously the option of "anyone but Corbyn" tactical voting. Progress magazine's editorial tells readers in its next edition: "While Corbyn himself said of proposals to ban Progress that he would not be so intolerant, we know the mob that supports him too often behaves otherwise. Talk of a Blairite virus will only be the start of things to come." It adds: "It is hard to tell at the moment, but Burnham and Cooper were part of the last - highly successful - Labour government.
"Both then took a leading role in Progress and remember a thing or two about winning elections. Kendall is the first, right and heartfelt choice. You pick the remaining order but do not fail to cast both two and three for anyone but Corbyn. Come on now, don't be shy."
However, among some shadow ministers there is just exhausted resignation. One shadow cabinet member who is supporting Liz Kendall had been toying with the idea of announcing that Burnham was his second preference and asking others to follow his lead, but concluded: "What's the point? It won't make any difference now anyway."
Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna have certainly started to think of a future with Corbyn in charge. They have sent a joint email to MPs from "the right to the soft left of the party" inviting them to join a new parliamentary group, Labour for the Common Good, to bring together moderates. "The leadership contest has been tortuous, but has exposed the fact that we have failed to do sufficient political and intellectual mobilisation in this regard", they write. "There is now an urgent need for moderates in our party to do so, if we are to inspire hope in the party and the country again." Thinktanks and pressure groups are expected to flower in time.
For others, though, it is less a time for thoughtful discourse as it is a time for rage. The Observer has learnt that after a hundred-and-sixty thousand people joined the Labour leadership electorate on the final day of registration last week, a number of shadow cabinet ministers privately demanded that the interim leader, Harriet Harman, call an emergency shadow cabinet meeting to discuss potentially pausing or dropping the election. Harman rejected those calls. "So now she has a load of very unhappy shadow cabinet ministers wandering around," said one shadow minister.
So who is the maverick figure whose campaign has turned Labour upside down? From his mentors and cultural influences, to his backroom boys and parliamentary backers, here is a guide to the radical world of Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn's close friend John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington since 1997, is his campaign manager. As chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, he has been the spokesman for the Labour in recent years and it was his urgings that led Corbyn to put himself up for party leader.
Simon Fletcher, Ken Livingstone's former chief of staff, is formulating strategy and liaising with the unions and activist groups. Fletcher, who served as Ed Miliband's trade union liaison officer, is widely regarded to have been behind a slew of unions, including Unite, offering Corbyn their endorsement.
Harry Fletcher, a former assistant general secretary of Napo, the probation officers' union, for more than two decades until 2013, is also helping Corbyn deal with the media and strategy. Fletcher (who is not related to Simon) first met Corbyn when the candidate was a Haringey councillor in the 1970s. He worked with him on several campaigns, including the one for the release of the Birmingham Six.
Corbyn's son, Seb, a researcher in McDonnell's office, is also acting as a press spokesman for his father's campaign.
Between hustings, public meetings and media appearances, Corbyn is currently reading De Profundis, a letter written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading jail. It is understood that it is only the latest Wilde book to grab Corbyn in recent months. Friends says Corbyn is "extremely well read" and is a particular fan of the works of WB Yeats. His favourite novelist is said to be Chinua Achebe, the late Nigerian writer, whose first book, Things Fall Apart, about the tensions between colonialism and traditional societies, is one of the major works in modern African literature. The title of the novel comes from a line in Yeats's poem The Second Coming. A fluent Spanish speaker, Corbyn is also known to enjoy Latin American literature. Favourite films are said to be Casablanca and The Great Gatsby. Away from film and literature, football and cricket are known to be passions.
Corbyn, who lives in Finsbury Park, in north London, is a fan of Arsenal and member of the In Arsène We Trust group, which has pledged its allegiance to the current manager, Arsène Wenger, despite criticisms of his record by some.
A vegetarian, Corbyn's favourite restaurant is Gaby's diner, in the West End, where he and his friend McDonnell regularly return after demonstrations in Trafalgar Square. "The hummus is delicious," says McDonnell.
Corbyn helped save the deli from closure when its landlord, Lord Salisbury, suggested he would not renew its lease.
Corbyn's campaign has won an eclectic mix of support, including a smattering of stars from stage and screen. Among those are the actress Maxine Peake and the film director Ken Loach. In a statement on her website, Peake, a former member of the Communist Party of Britain, wrote: "For me, Jeremy Corbyn is our only beacon of hope to get the Labour party back on track, get the electorate back in touch with politics and save this country from the constant mindless bullying of the vulnerable and poor."
From the world of music, Charlotte Church has described Corbyn as "cool-headed, honest and considerate". The musician and producer Brian Eno has, perhaps less helpfully, suggested that winning a general election should not be a priority in selecting a new Labour leader. He wrote: "It seems to me that by focusing so forcefully on electability at any cost, these 'realists' have turned Labour into a lightweight, vague entity whose only appeal is that it's not the Conservative party."
Mary Beard, the classics scholar at the University of Cambridge, is not a Labour member but has also said she is a supporter. She said: "He actually seems to have some ideological commitment, which could get the Labour party to think about what it actually stands for."
Other intellectuals who have pledged their backing include Richard Wilkinson, a professor at the University of Nottingham and Professor Kate Pickett at York University. In a letter to the Guardian, they wrote that Corbyn appeared to offer a chance of a "fairer and more equal society".
It is, friends say, a tribute to Corbyn's chairing of the Stop the War Coalition that so many of those involved in that campaign, which was ridden with factions and disputes, have backed the MP for the leadership. Other groups to have pledged their support range from UK Uncut to the Southall Black Sisters, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1979 to meet the needs of black (Asian and African-Caribbean) and minority ethnic groups.
In an open letter published last month, 25 such campaign groups and activists wrote that those cynical of Westminster politics should re-engage and support the MP. "Jeremy Corbyn stands miles apart from the other Labour leadership contenders and he has consistently stood up for the issues we campaign on", they wrote. "Whether he's been leading anti-war marches, standing up for the rights of disabled people or calling for radical solutions to the housing crisis, Jeremy has always been on the side of social movements."
Every Sunday for many years, Corbyn would make a pilgrimage to the Holland Park home of Tony Benn. In cahoots with Ed Miliband's father, the Marxist author Ralph Miliband, Benn would assemble interesting and sympathetic thinkers on the left to join what they called the Independent Left Corresponding Society to talk about matters of the day. John McDonnell MP said: "They would discuss everything under the sun. Jeremy was very close to Tony right up until the end."
Membership of the society would fluctuate, but regulars included Jim Mortimer, the Labour party general secretary between 1982 and 1985, historian Robin Blackburn, Denise Searle, founding editor of Red Pepper, and the writer and journalist Tariq Ali. Corbyn, who briefly attended North London Polytechnic but left before completing his course, is said to have been one of the quieter members of the group, but he has referred to his time with these thinkers in Holland Park as his "university education".
Corbyn is also said to have been very close to the American polymath Mike Marqusee, who also had great influence on the MP's thinking. Marqusee, a Marxist, was a founding member of the Stop the War coalition. He died in January this year. He chronicled Labour's rightwing drift in a book co-authored with Richard Heffernan, Defeat from the Jaws of Victory (1992).
Corbyn's support among other Labour MPs is not at all wide, and the party's decision to quietly change the rules to ensure that MPs' preferences are not published after the result is announced suggests that is not something officials wish to be commonly known. Initially the left could only find twenty-two MPs to nominate Corbyn (35 names were needed). A social media campaign and some cynicism on the part of Labour's London mayoral candidates, who felt they needed to nominate someone in order not to suffer the wrath of potential voters, helped to put Corbyn on the ballot paper. Stalwarts of the left who nominated him, and are voting for him, include Dennis Skinner, Diane Abbott, Michael Meacher and Ronnie Campbell (pictured). However, the 2015 election delivered a surprisingly large number of young recruits to the Corbyn cause.
The stars of the intake include Richard Burgon, the MP for Leeds East, a trade union lawyer and former chair of Cambridge University Labour Club, and Clive Lewis, a former BBC Look East reporter and army reservist infantry officer who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2009. Other talented new MPs regarded as being on the left of the party are Rebecca Long- Bailey, a solicitor, who specialised in NHS contracts and estates before being elected in May, and Louise Haigh, who previously worked at Aviva as public policy manager, responsible for corporate governance and responsible investment policy.
A number of senior party figures, including Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have said that they would not serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet and many others would follow that lead. Some will make the pledge out of principle, but one shadow cabinet minister said others were worried about losing their seats if they were seen as being close to Corbyn by the electorate. It is possible that Corbyn will bring back shadow cabinet elections but, given the lack of support for him in the parliamentary Labour party, that could be a risk. Suggestions of possible shadow cabinet appointments are:
• Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, former chair of finance for the Greater London Council and its deputy leader under Ken Livingstone.
• Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East, a trade union lawyer before being elected in May.
• Shadow foreign secretary Tom Watson. If elected deputy leader he will want a major brief to complement his organisation role.
• Shadow home secretary: Andy Burnham. He would not want to return to the health brief but has said he would serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet.
• Shadow secretary of state for defence Clive Lewis, the new MP for Norwich South, who was an army reservist.
• Shadow education secretary Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, is supporting Burnham, but has praised Corbyn and sat on the education select committee.
• Shadow health secretary Jon Trickett has experience of being in Miliband's shadow cabinet.