Above, left: Mr Corbyn on a march in Hackney in 1984, and right, speaking at the Save the Whittington march, 2010. Below: Mr Corbyn cuts the ribbon at the reopening of Highbury Community Nursery in November 2005 after a £400,000 facelift
Jeremy Corbyn campaigning with Ken Livingstone, 2004
Published: 7 June, 2013
by PETER GRUNER
JEREMY Corbyn has defied the Labour Parliamentary whips more times than he can remember, making him Britain’s “most rebellious” MP.
This week both friends and foes were applauding the 64-year-old’s political longevity as he celebrated an extraordinary 30 years as MP for Islington North.
In an exclusive interview with the Tribune, Mr Corbyn reveals that his strong socialist beliefs have not altered since he was elected in 1983.
They even resulted in the break-up of a previous marriage in 1999 over whether or not one of his three sons should be sent to a selective school outside the borough rather than a local comprehensive.
Mr Corbyn admits that time and age have mellowed him.
He has a list of hobbies to take his mind off politics, including a fascination with British cheese – he’s a Stilton man – and a love of his allotment in East Finchley, where he can be found digging at weekends.
Tribune: What are the high and low points of career so far?
Jeremy Corbyn: “The release of the Birmingham Six in 1991 and the Guildford Four in 1989 was amazing. I had helped campaign for them because of a miscarriage of justice and I could paper the walls with abusive letters I got at the time.
Locally, I’m proud that we helped create Gillespie Nature Park at Finsbury Park when there were plans to sell it off and build on it.
Low point? It was the decision to invade Iraq. I must have spoken at 200 or more meetings in the six months before the war.
Tribune: You were reported in 2006 as wanting to stand as deputy leader of the Labour Party.
JC: No, it was never a serious idea. But I didn’t deny it quickly enough at the time. I want to be able to criticise my party and I couldn’t do that in a leadership role. Besides, I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror.
Tribune: Views on Labour leader Ed Miliband?
JC: He’s trying to move the party back to a more traditional left of centre. He’s under pressure from supporters of New Labour. The way forward is to recognise the aspirations of ordinary people and forget the third way nonsense that former Labour minister Peter Mandelson preached in the 1990s. It was New Labour and Tony Blair that led us into the ghastly war in Iraq.
Tribune: In your maiden speech in 1983 you attacked cuts in public service and the NHS. What’s changed?
JC: Here we are, sadly, 30 years on and dealing with the same issues. Although the standard of living has improved we have a new generation of Tories who want to cut back and destroy local government and privatise the NHS. I’m dealing every day with the most awful housing situations.
Tribune: You are concerned about the rise of racism.
JC: Dark forces are at work in our society, trying to blame minorities for their problems. They blamed the Jews and the Irish, and now Muslims are getting targeted. I believe in a collective society with all people living side by side. I’m passionately opposed to the English Defence League.
Tribune: Why are you against Britain arming Syrian rebels?
JC: “This will just fuel a civil war within a civil war. The British government is trying to break the Europe ban on weapons to the rebels. I’m no defender of the Syrian government, who have a terrible record for human rights, but the opposition forces are not united, so how on earth is the British government to decide whether or not the weapons go to responsible people?”
Tribune: Life outside politics?
JC: “I’m very proud of my sons who also happen to have voted for me. I spend a great deal of time on my allotment growing vegetables. I also run and cycle. I’m a member of the Parliamentary cheese committee who celebrate British produce. We have as many varieties of cheese as the French. My favourite is Stilton. I like it strong and very mature, almost with mould growing on it. I have it on homemade bread which I bake myself.”
• A celebration and fundraising lunch is being held on Sunday at the Sotheby Centre, Sotheby Mews, Highbury, from 1pm. People are invited to attend but as it is a fundraiser there is a ticket price: www.islingtonnorthlabour.org.uk/shop