Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader that the Labour Party has had since Michael Foot in 1980-83, is the candidate for leadership of the United Kingdom and he is one of the symbols of the European left.
Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader that the Labour Party has had since Michael Foot in 1980-83, was the youngest of four boys born in Chippenham, Wiltshire, on 26th May 1949. His parents, David and Naomi, would imbue in him a powerful sense of right and wrong; of justice and social equality. The couple had met in the 1930s at a meeting in London for supporters of Spain’s Republicans in the battle against Francisco Franco’s fascists.
Corbyn grew up in a manor house on the Duke of Sutherland’s estate in Kingston St Michael, an ancient village in Shropshire, that was once a hotel. David Corbyn loved the building so much that in the 1950s, he bought it and transformed it into a family home. The house had a paddock and outbuildings, in one of which a teenage Corbyn built a sundial and erected it in the garden.
David Corbyn was an engineer and Naomi Corbyn studied science at London University in the 1930s, where women only constituted 27 per cent of students. Both remained passionate supporters of the Labour Party and left-wing politics. According to Piers Corbyn, Jeremy’s brother, politics was a constant topic at the family dinner table.
Corbyn attended Castle House preparatory school in Shropshire. He then went on to attend Adams’ Grammar School and he refused to join the Combined Cadet Force, a decision his parents supported, which he described as ‘dressing up as soldiers on Wednesday afternoons.’ He joined the school’s rugby team.
While still at school, he joined The Wrekin constituency Young Socialists, his local Labour Party, and the League Against Cruel Sports. He also volunteered for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1966 whilst still at school. He served as one of its three vice-chairs and subsequently vice president. He played an active role in campaigning against the Vietnam War. Whilst he was a Labour activist, he gained two A-Levels, at grade E, the lowest possible grade, before quitting education altogether at the age of 18.
Instead of following two of his older brothers to Imperial College, Corbyn joined a local newspaper called the Newport and Drayton Advertiser as a reporter.
He signed up to the Voluntary Service Overseas and travelled to Jamaica not long after it became an independent nation where he worked as a youth worker and geography teacher. Corbyn described it as a ‘profoundly moving experience’, and his exposure to extreme poverty shaped his politics. In Jamaica, he first grew a beard and wrote poetry that he sent to the New Statesman.
He then travelled to Latin America where he learnt about Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara. Corbyn participated in a student demonstration in Sao Paolo against Brazil’s military government. He also attended a May Day march in Santiago, where Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity Alliance won the 1970 Chilean elections.
Corbyn returned home to work on a pig farm, an experience that forced him to become a vegetarian. After being shaped by his experiences abroad, the UK would be where his career as a left-wing activist would begin.
In 1974, Corbyn married fellow Labour councillor Jane Chapman, but they divorced in 1979. He then had a brief relationship with Diane Abbott and embarked on a motorbike tour of East Germany with her following his divorce.
He has three sons from his second marriage to Chilean exile Claudia Bracchitta. They divorced in 1999 following a disagreement about sending their one son to a grammar school, which Corbyn opposed.
In 2012, he visited Mexico to marry former human rights lawyer Laura Álvarez. They met in London after Álvarez sought help following the abduction of her niece to America by her sister’s estranged husband. Corbyn met with the police to seek assistance until she was located in 2003.
He also has a cat called El Gato and a dog named Mango.
In 1971, the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers employed him as an official.
Corbyn intended to complete a course on Trade Union studies at North London Polytechnic, but quit due to a disagreement with his teachers over the curriculum. His mother, Naomi, was instrumental in persuading him to study here. This is because established left-wing historian AJP Taylor taught at the school. Naomi also inspired him to fight for the ‘underdog’, and Corbyn began to share platforms with Sinn Fein and Hezbollah.
The National Union of Public Employees then recruited him as an organiser before Corbyn became a member of a district health authority. From 1978-83, he served as a councillor in Harringay.
In February 1982, Corbyn was selected as the parliamentary candidate for the Islington North constituency. After he was elected in 1983, he became a columnist for the Morning Star newspaper and campaigned for LGBT rights.
In 1984, he was arrested outside South Africa House for demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa. During this time he was a member of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group which organised a non-stop picket to campaign for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
In 1985, he was appointed National Secretary of the Anti-Fascist Action group.
Throughout his career, he has been a longstanding supporter of a united Ireland. Corbyn met former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the 1983 and 1989 Labour conferences. After then Labour leader Tony Blair threatened disciplinary action against Corbyn for inviting the Sinn Fein leader to the House of Commons in 1996 following a foiled IRA bombing, Adams withdrew his invitation to avoid causing any embarrassment to the Labour backbencher.
In 1990, he was almost jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax.
In 2005, Corbyn was recognised as the most rebellious MP during New Labour’s time in government, defying the whip 428 times.
He was elected to the steering committee of the Stop the War Coalition which opposed the 2001 Afghan invasion. He also spoke at the February 2003 anti-Iraq War protest, which was said to be the largest demonstration in British political history.
Following Ed Miliband’s resignation as Leader of the Labour Party in the wake of the 2015 General Election, several Labour MPs voted for Corbyn to be nominated as a leadership candidate to ensure that the political debate within Labour was widened. He took on Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall. He was elected with 60 per cent of the vote.
His most notable appointments in the Shadow Cabinet were that of John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor and Diane Abbott as Shadow Home Secretary, lifelong Corbyn allies and Labour backbenchers.
Corbyn’s earliest demonstration against David Cameron’s Conservative government came in November 2015, when he refused to support military intervention in Syria but was forced to provide members with a free vote on the issue.
In the aftermath of the EU Referendum, Labour MP Owen Smith stood against Corbyn for Labour leader after MPs voted for a motion of no confidence against him following mass Shadow Cabinet resignations. He was re-elected in September 2016 with 61.8 per cent of the vote.
Corbyn managed to increase the number of Labour MPs in Parliament to 262, up by 30, during the 2017 General Election after then Prime Minister Theresa May hoped to increase her majority to ensure Britain leaves the EU.
In September 2019, the Labour Leader opposed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s calls for a general election, but eventually supported the Government in voting for the 2019 General Election.