A grinning Piers Corbyn among thousands who turned up to support his younger brother
I can’t remember when I first photographed Jeremy Corbyn, but it must have been more than 20 years ago, and I’ve listened to him speaking at many events and often exchanged the odd word with him. He has always seemed to me to stand for the ideas and approach that are central to the Labour Party and which clearly differentiate it from the Conservatives, and states his views lucidly without a great deal of histrionics, but not without a certain passion and clearly a man of principle. If I had to pick a single word to represent him, it would be ‘reasonable’.
Like most, I was surprised when his name was put forward as a possible leader of the Labour Party, because he has never played the kind of politics that takes you to the top of political parties. It was perhaps precisely this that got him put forward as a candidate by the left of the party, as someone few MPs would be particularly antagonised by and who they would not feel had any chance of success – and so could be persuaded to back his nomination.
But it was also just this quality that appealed to many grass-roots members and supporters of the party who had become disillusioned with the politicians and who found a decent honourable man who clearly stood for the traditional values of the labour movement something which gave them hope for the future. Many joined the party to support him, though most existing members also backed him and were voting for change.
I’m not a fan of Corbynmania, but he was a man whose time had come, and I think rightly so. Most of the policies that Corbyn supports – for example in his recent ‘10 pledges to rebuild and transform Britain‘ enjoy wide popular support, even among many Conservative voters, but nothing in the press or media coverage reflects this. They seldom actually report on his policies, but spend a great deal of time on irrelevances or even truly ‘fake news’ such as a recent story over his tax returns which was patently untrue from the start, and simply showed the reporters had not bothered to read the document they were criticising. It’s a sign that those who really run the country are very worried that Corbyn could win.
It seemed obvious to me at the time he became leader that the same kind of reasons that led to his popularity also represented the only hope that Labour have of getting re-elected in our next general election – probably in 2020. But also obvious that this will only happen if Labour MPs get in line with the party as a whole and get behind him. Which unfortunately seems unlikely, and many of those MPs who continue to plot against him will lose their seats as a result.
But Labour MPs are not alonge; today with Theresa May delivering her Brexit letter to Europe we have another reminder that shooting ourselves in the foot now appears to be our overwhelming national characteristic.
Back last June I covered two protests by supporters of Corbyn, one rather small and the other rather large when some right-wing Labour MPs attempted a coup against him. At the larger of these events another photographer asked me how many days I thought it would be before Corbyn resigned. I told him he had been reading too many newspapers and there was no chance he would go. And nine months later he is still leader, having won a second decisive contest with over 60% of the vote in September.