Jeremy Corbyn has been leader of the Labour party for more than a week now. There have been ups, downs and displays of mass hysteria from fans, enemies and a media trying to work out what on earth’s going on. Gavin Haynes picks through it all, and a fascinating portrait of the man in the M&S vests emerges…
Illustrations: Sam Taylor
1. He’s a veteran left-wing MP who swept to power in the Labour leadership election with a whopping 59.5 per cent of the vote.
A former campaign manager for lefty icon Tony Benn, he’s radical enough to want to abolish the Monarchy, to get out of the UK’s primary defensive alliance, NATO, to renationalise the energy companies, to set a ‘national maximum wage’, to get rid of our nuclear weapons and to free Palestine. He’s here to shake things up, and that’s what Westminster needs.
2. He’s a vegetarian
And has been ever since he spent a while working on a pig farm, aged 20. He isn’t teetotal, though, as is often reported, instead merely drinking ‘very very little’.
3. He’s had three wives
Wife number one, Jane Chapman, claimed he only took her for a romantic dinner once in their five years of marriage. She donated money to rival Yvette Cooper’s leadership campaign. Wife number two, Claudia Bracchita, he divorced in part because she wanted to send one of their sons to a selective school. Present wife Laura Álvarez imports fair trade coffee beans.
4. He rides a bike, loves travelling by train, and wants to bring back British Rail
And with over 60 per cent of the British public supporting renationalising the railways, it’s proved his most popular policy.
5. Tony Blair thinks he’ll be a disaster
In a rare intervention before the leadership election, Labour’s most successful politician wrote that Corbyn supporters live in a “parallel reality” – and that Corbyn was “clearly the Tory choice”.
6. If he becomes PM it won’t be until 2020, but he can still shake things up
It’s a big ‘if’ – presently, only 22 per cent of voters say they’d back him, compared to the 30 per cent Ed Miliband got on his way to a thumping defeat in the 2015 General Election. But the fact is, Corbyn can still influence policy even if he never makes it to Number 10. Recently, for instance, the Tories stole Ed Miliband’s analysis campaign for a national ‘living wage’, when George Osborne announced his own ‘living wage’ in the first post-election budget. Corbyn has plenty of new (and some very old) ideas that reinvigorate the tired Westminster debates of the past 20 years.
7. He only got two Es at A-Level
But they were harder in the old days, right?
8. He wants to make your rent cheaper
Corbyn is committed to addressing rising costs that are affecting rent costs across the UK. He wants to bring in rent controls that could cap rates at a level parallel with wages in an area. After all, he points out: New York has done this for decades. Letting a bunch of buy-to-lets get rich isn’t a sustainable solution – it’s a recipe for another bubble.
9. He’s pledged to make sure every child can learn a musical instrument
Amazing. And that’s not all…
10. His proposals on the creative industries include the establishment of ‘a proper living waged national creative apprenticeship service’
Translation: he wants to make it easier, and cheaper, for musicians to play live, and for venues to put on gigs. Also amazing.
11. He takes pictures of manhole covers
“My mother always said there’s history in drain covers. I take pictures of them. People think it’s a little odd, but there we are.” Jeremy Corbyn.
12. He has personally apologised for Labour’s tuition fees policy
If elected, he says he will attempt to abolish tuition fees, paying for it by upping corporation tax. Right now, at 18 per cent, Britain has the second-lowest rate in the developed world – America’s is 40 per cent, Germany’s 30 per cent.
13. At the time of the expenses scandal, he had the lowest claim in all of the Commons
Which was the grand total of £8.95, for a printer cartridge.
14. He thinks we’d be better off if we printed more money
How is Jez going to pay for his increasingly chunky spending commitments? His answer is two-fold. 1) Print more money. 2) Collect more taxes. Both of these answers are problematic to many mainstream economists.
15. He has his own allotment
Which he tills religiously. One of his few hobbies outside of politics is jam-making with the fruit grown on his allotment.
16. He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
Which isn’t as funny as it sounds. The purpose, as described on publications.parliament.uk: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
17. He’s an avowed Republican, who didn’t sing ‘God Save The Queen’ at the Battle of Britain memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral
He’s also balking at becoming a member of the Privy Council, which he is required to do as Leader Of The Opposition, because it involves kneeling before Her Majesty and brushing her outstretched hand with his lips.
18. He dresses like a member of Mumford & Sons
He’s either banjo player Winston Marshall, a train driver, Marcus Mumford’s dad on safari, or a man who went wild with a C&A gift card.
19. He loves John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’
During an LBC Radio phone-in in July, all the Labour leadership candidates were asked what songs they’d choose for their victory rallies. Andy Burnham chose Courteeners’ ‘Take Over The World’. Liz Kendall picked Public Enemy’s ‘Get Up Stand Up’ (respect), while Corbyn, after confessing that he’d never puffed on a joint in his life, chose John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, describing it as “wonderful poetry”.
20. Above all, he’s a bit of a rebel
Jeremy voted against his own party’s position 238 times during their last Parliament in power between 2005 and 2010 – one in four of all the votes taken. This caps all of his outsider charm, and all his un-spun saintliness. Except that, as Labour leader, he’s now going to have a very hard time getting his MPs to walk in a straight line into the lobbies. Already, there are murmurings from the right of the party about ‘resistance’ and attempts to depose him. Unfortunately, Corbs may well be about to reap all of the indiscipline he once sowed.