I wrote this post in August 2016 during the fraught days of the Labour leadership election but never published it. With general election fever upon us now seems a good time.
In the autumn of 2014 our former MP, David Drew, invited two of his colleagues to come and talk to our CLP. Billed as ‘left wing backbench MPs’, I had never heard of either Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell. Then again, I had only been in the party for a few years and despite being a supporter all my life, there was plenty in its history and politics I didn’t yet know.
I can’t remember the detail of what they talked about – but I do remember my feeling that evening – at last, some Labour people saying stuff I actually agree with, on the big issues at home & abroad. So refreshing, after the blandishments of the past four years.
After they had finished, a rather intense Q&A session began, and one forthright individual in the audience was especially keen to make a point about immigration.
This was not long after Nigel Farage had made his comments about not wanting to live next door to a Romanian family. My father was Romanian and those comments incensed me – a national politician giving licence to the idea that it is ok to judge someone simply because of their country of birth.
So a few comments burst out of me at the meeting to that effect, because it was getting rather tense, and I couldn’t see anyone else there, including those two MPs, quite as qualified as myself to make that point. I got rather emotional and I could see one of my dear friends, a fellow councillor, gesturing at me from the back. I thought she wanted me to shut up but in fact she was cheering me on.
Afterwards Jeremy and John said they’d been glad I said what I did. I certainly shut the man up and eased the tension.
That was that and I thought no more about it.
The summer of 2015 – after the horrible general election defeat and the pain we felt locally of not getting David Drew back as our MP – I set off for a summer-long expedition to the Pacific, visiting for the first time in thirty -odd years those beautiful islands such as Tuvalu now under threat from the rising seas.
The odd email came my way but the political sea-change going on in the UK mainly passed me by as Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become leader of the Labour party took off.
When I came back I read up on the policies all the candidates offered – in fact Jeremy was the only one to have a comprehensive set of documents. I liked what he was saying on housing, the economy and the environment, the key issues for me.
So I voted.
And then he won – and it all kicked off. But I won’t comment here on the tsunami of criticism that broke over his head.
As I said before, I voted on policies. I didn’t join the Labour Party for personalities and they are really of no interest to me.
At least, with one caveat – the people presenting the policies should at least believe in them, and underpin them with a decent set of values, consistently held.
Earlier this year, as he did the rounds during the local election campaign, we received a brief visit en route to him going to support the Bristol mayoral campaign. This time he came to my home turf, the little Cotswold town of Dursley where three of us Labour councillors were campaigning to be re-elected.
We showed Jeremy around Littlecombe, the largest brownfield redevelopment in the southwest, and took a look at some of our new council houses of which we are very proud.
People came out of their houses to chat, and show him their babies – yes, they did – and most surprisingly at the end, the entire pack of local journos and photographers lined up to get a photo with him.
There was good coverage in the press of his visit.
And Dursley voted for three Labour councillors.
That is just a fact.
We’ve had one more visit – Corbyn came back to Stroud to launch Workplace 2020, a new initiative to hear from workers, unions and employers, and to strengthen workplace rights. This was a more formal affair, with banners and speeches, members of the Shadow Cabinet, Union officials, hosted by Ecotricity’s Dale Vince.
The elections were over, we had just been re-elected, and four years were confirmed for Labour to lead Stroud District Council in alliance with the Green and Liberal Democrat parties. A good result for us, as we were the only Labour-led council left in the southwest other than Bristol and Exeter.
I’d become Deputy Leader of Stroud Labour Group, and along with our new Council Leader, Steve Lydon, we talked to Jeremy about the challenges our rural area faced. He promised he would come back and visit us again in the autumn.
These were all just fleeting, simple moments. I am giving you no theories here, no reasons to vote one way or another, no defence, no justification, only my own personal impressions, slight though they are, of a man whom, by the most unlikely of circumstances, has been thrust right to the centre of our country’s debate about who governs us and why.
But I can say, as an individual member, as a councillor, and as a local leader, our democratically elected Party Leader did his job well – he gave the support and encouragement we needed here in Stroud.
I experienced it for myself, so I know.