Why I am proud to call Jeremy Corbyn my friend

UCLan student Galileo Sutherland-West has known Jeremy Corbyn all of his life. On the day the Labour leader makes his key party conference speech the 21-year-old offers a fascinating insight into his friend the politician.

Wednesday, 28th September 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 2:01 pm
UCLan student Galileo Sutherland-West (centre) with family friend and constituency MP Jeremy Corbyn (left) and a neighbour in Islington

Jeremy Corbyn has been a bastion of North London politics for three decades, has never swindled expenses and is well known to all.

It is a common occurrence in Islington to go on a canvas - knocking on doors - with Jeremy and lose him within about three doors, as he is always invited in. Because he talks to everyone. Not to get votes but because he is genuinely concerned about his electorate.

In South Shields, David Miliband’s patch, the voter contact rate during his heyday was, according to volunteers who worked up there, 0.1 per cent. In Jeremy’s it is always between 40 and 50 per cent.

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I was born and raised in a Labour family heavily active in Islington Labour.

Islington was not always so safe - the party lost three bitter council by-elections in four years in my home ward to the Liberal Democrats but Jeremy came and worked on every single one of those by-elections.

Being an Islington Labour family means knowing Jeremy Corbyn, it means seeing him all the time. The man manages to be everywhere though he never looks rushed. As a child I can remember Jeremy being a frequent visitor for dinners, often with his wife, Laura, who usually brought with her fantastic Mexican coffee.

His dry wit and sly winks went over my head when I was younger but his easy smile and casual manner were enough for me. He often spoke of exotic places he had visited - to an 11-year-old Eastern Europe sounds exotic - but not in an arrogant way, in a way that was admiring.

He would not ever say how bad a place was but rather the things Britain could learn from that place.

I don’t like Corbyn because I’m young. I don’t like him because I’m a loony leftie; I’m not left wing. I like Jeremy because I know him, because he was like some sort of uncle growing up. He’s my mate and he will always have my vote.

Last summer, after the election, I had to put a reference down on a job application and I put down Jeremy’s name. After all, what are MP’s for? My manager knew the name. Later that summer so did everyone else.

He escorted me to one of my first ever votes and he was the first MP I ever voted for.

When the Islington Council leader resigned to go and fight a parliamentary seat in next door Haringey, Corbyn took her out to a meal with her husband weeks before her election to ease the stress.

He was her support network, along with her family. And when she won, with the second highest Labour swing in the country, he mentored her, sat with her in Parliament and made certain she never felt isolated. He backed up her speeches in Parliament and, along with other parliamentary neighbours, helped her find her feet.

That Labour swing, of 19 per cent, was in part down to his going out to Haringey to that seat and fighting there every week, often with activists and councillors. But he also went up and down the country, including up north. He apparently turned up in Wakefield and canvassed there.

Yes, he canvassed in other constituencies before he was leader. Not because he is obligated to but because he believes in the cause, because he believes Labour is the party which can save the country.

And he knows Haringey well - he was a councillor there before he was an MP. In 1983 there was a re-jig of the constituency boundaries. When he won Islington North for the first time 33 years ago he defeated two sitting MPs. Not many people have done that.

He is so well respected in Islington, in Haringey and across North London that everybody has their own Jeremy story. It is a frequent occurrence across North London to have a councillor say to another councillor, perhaps at the pub, “remember that time Jeremy...”

Haringey councillor Emine Ibrahim, a supporter and friend of Jeremy, was elected in a ward bordering Islington. During a recent by-election he turned up out of the blue and went knocking on doorsteps in a very close by-election. Just weeks before he had campaigned in a by-election in the part of Islington which does not fall into his constituency.

He went out in back-to-back council by-elections neither of which was in his patch. One voter was so shocked to see him on her doorstep she turned into the proverbial deer in headlights. My favourite tale is the time Jeremy turned up to a Labour councillor’s house the day after her daughter was born and gave her home-made jam from his allotment and a Nina Simone CD because the baby had been named after the singer.

His seat isn’t safe for Labour because of the demographic, it is safe because he has worked it for 40 years. He has talked to his electorate every week. And even during the tumultuous leadership campaign he still found time to turn up to community events, council shindigs and old folks’ homes. A friend of mine is a member of the Green Party. When they go out and door knock a commonplace response is “oh yes I would vote Green but I like Jeremy too much”. He is never anything except Jeremy.

There is no percentage, no statistic which capture this but certain MPs have a personal vote. Jeremy’s is one of the biggest in the country. Very few people have ever voted for Jeremy just once.

But Murdoch’s media will not report any of this as Jeremy represents everything they cannot stand. They love “colourful” Grant Shapps, a “shambolic” and dissembling Boris Johnson, but give them someone honest with principles and they flinch in horror.

In fact Jeremy remarked to me during the referendum campaign that he sat in the Commons one day and looked through one week of the Daily Mail’s archives and said to himself “blimey I don’t like this Jeremy bloke either”.

He is not the man who, according to the Daily Mail, welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity, nor is he a man who deserves to be called “hopeless”. Jeremy is the man who was a celebrity in Islington for his hard work and his constant surgeries.

It was a common sight to see him on his bike cycling around his constituency, which stretches from Highbury to Highgate, and people would often wave to him. On polling day in 2015 with his seat guaranteed he toured every single one of his Polling Stations, on crutches no less.

Jeremy may not have intended to win the Labour leadership so comfortably, but therein lies his secret. He won because he actually answers questions. He actually responds to people, and they respond to him. At the next general election, the pundits may be in for a surprise.