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Deborah Ross: Why I might vote for the 'beardy Bolshevik' and his compost bin

Tuesday 03 May 2005 00:00 BST

So, who am I to vote for, then, here in Islington North? I don't know. I just don't know. It's so very vexing. On the whole, we appear to like Jeremy Corbyn, our Labour MP since 1983. He is anti-war, anti-top-up fees, anti-foundation hospitals and all the things that many of us are very keen on anti-wise.

So, who am I to vote for, then, here in Islington North? I don't know. I just don't know. It's so very vexing. On the whole, we appear to like Jeremy Corbyn, our Labour MP since 1983. He is anti-war, anti-top-up fees, anti-foundation hospitals and all the things that many of us are very keen on anti-wise.

Indeed, he is the most consistent rebel in the parliamentary Labour party, and is much amused when I tell him the local Liberal Democrat bumf describes him as 'Blair's candidate Corbyn.'

"The very idea!," he exclaims.

He is also, it is generally agreed, an exemplary constituency MP. Even my friend Rebecca, who recently sought his help on a local issue, and never usually has a nice word to say about anybody, which is why I like her, describes him as a "totally genuine mensch".

But, and here's the utterly vexing part, isn't a vote for Corbyn also an endorsement for Blair, perhaps even a vindication? And does one really wish to endorse or vindicate someone whose behaviour is, maybe, best likened to some kind of homicidal and mendacious Boy Scout?

On the other hand, though, isn't not voting for Corbyn rather dumb, if you think he's a good thing, part of the Labour tradition proper and cares, as he so obviously does, more for people than presentation, power and going to war? I don't know. I really don't. Vexing, like I said.

I figure, eventually, as I am rarely quick off the mark, and anyone who says otherwise is simply being kind, that the best way to sort all this out is to meet Mr Corbyn and put something to him along the lines of: "Hey, Jezza, help me out here, I kind of want you in but the Government out. Talk me through it, baby-cakes."

Although I might not use those exact words. He is hard to pin down. He is not evasive but always seems to be furiously on the go, campaigning, racing to tenant's meetings, and then on to events to save one children's library or another which, now I think about it, might be a little irresponsible, as everyone knows books can, in some extremely rare instances, distract kids from their Playstations. I shall have to take him up on this. Obviously.

Certainly, he has always been extremely visible in the constituency - he is everywhere; lives here; knows everybody - which partly explains his strong local support. As it is, one of his sons attended the same nursery school as my son, and I used to see him racing up the hill, late, with the poor boy flailing under his arm. It was most endearing somehow.

He is certainly not and has never been a power-crazed, showbizzy career politician. He is pictured in his own election communications wearing a fleece and standing next to his compost bin. Hardly glamorous or charismatic. I don't think anyone could ever accuse him of putting personality before politics.

And at least he's not laughing with a black person or looking glum outside a closed Post Office, which is what all the other candidates seem to be going for this year. Plus, of course, he has a beard, which just isn't what you do have if you seriously wish to get on in New Labour (viz.: Blunkett, Dobson, Cook and Clare Short, if you looked closely)

Anyway, we finally get it together, initially at a meeting in the borough on: "Why Islington residents who are against the war should vote Labour." Why indeed? It might even be like holding a meeting on: "Why those who are against meat-eating should still enjoy lamb chops."

There are lots of balloons at the venue but no goody bags. That is a great pity and a missed opportunity, as everyone knows there is nothing like a goody bag to concentrate the mind of the wavering voter, especially if a few choice trinkets from Prada are included, and maybe a Rolex or tiara.

However, we do get Robin Cook, which isn't entirely compensatory, but he is a fabulous speaker and does argue the Labour case most powerfully. "The vulnerable people in Britain", he says, "must not be made further collateral damage of the Iraq war."

Mr Corbyn speaks. He says we should not forget what Labour has achieved in health, education, getting people back to work, alleviating child poverty. He says he sees himself as a Parliamentarian, "keeping the Government accountable." He wonders if we really want to wake up on Friday to find we've let the Tories or Liberal Democrats in the back door.

He does not mention the Greens, presumably because they aren't a threat. Phew. I don't know about you but they terrify the life out of me and probably won't be happy until we're all washing our children at low temperatures while recycling our own mothers.

I catch up with Mr Corbyn again a couple of days later, leafleting outside Highbury & Islington tube, in the early morning rush hour. He is accompanied by the Labour candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, Emily Thornberry, who is, alas, not one of the wild Thornberrys, which might have livened things up a bit. A passer-by mistakes me for one of Ms Thornberry's team. "What do you plan to do about the traffic lights at the Angel,' he asks. 'Nuke them', I reply. I should have been in politics. I really should.

But what most people say is what one man says. It is: "Jeremy, I like you, but I can't stand Blair." "Dislike Blair," replies Jeremy, "but do not hate the Labour Party." "I'm sorry," says the bloke, "but I'm much too furious to see past him." How do you feel when you hear responses like that, Jezza ? "Saddened." Do you feel betrayed by your own party?

Have you ever thought about, say, going independent? "I've been in the Labour party all my life and I believe in social justice the political side of the movement Obviously, I wish the party had very different policies, but I will continue to campaign on what I believe is right."

What did you think of Blair when he became party leader? "The optimistic bit of me said we could win an election but the pessimistic bit of me said he wasn't just moving the party to the right, as other Labour leaders have done but was fundamentally changing the structure of it to win that election." So how do you stick it? OK, he says, as a rebel, he doesn't always win, "but I can make a difference to the way legislation is framed."

We break for a coffee at the café over the road, where, once we've covered the most pressing issues - plans to incorporate my road into a CPZ, the heart -breaking dereliction of Hornsey Baths - we get on to Iraq. Has anything decent come out of it? "No. It was immoral and illegal. Look at it this way, vote for me and you get Labour government money and opposition to the war at the same time." That's true. And it's a 2-for-1 offer. I like those.

As The Sun would have it, Mr Corbyn is a "beardy Bolshevik' and "loathsome lefty" but he does not come across as either. He has strong opinions but does not demand you listen to them, if you don't want to.

He is scandal free, unless you count the hoo-ha a few years back when it was revealed that Jeremy's oldest son would be attending a grammar school outside the borough. But, as I understand it, the decision was ultimately his wife's and it did lead to the break up of his 12-year marriage, which shows what? That he is, first and foremost, principled? He says he will not discuss his children, and never has done which, as far as I can recall, is the case, but might piss off those who argue that the personal is necessarily political.

That said, though, he has never flaunted his own family for advantage. I think, even, his case might be different from Ms Thornberrys who, just last week, was mightily criticised for not sending her oldest child to a local school. But, then, she does have a picture of them all smiling happily on bikes in her election bumf, so might be much fairer game.

So, what to do? Well, Islington North is viewed as a fairly safe Labour seat because, once you get past the Dualit toasters and Alessi wine-stoppers on Upper Street, it is the eighth most deprived borough in the country and has a strong left-leaning tradition.

At the last election, Labour got 61.9 per cent of the vote, the Liberal Democrats got 19 per cent and the Tories didn't really cut it at all. Still, the Liberal Democrats do insist, according to their own polls, they are up to 32 per cent, and I've received a letter from Charles Kennedy telling me how important my vote is and how "with the birth of my son, I am reminded more than ever elections should be about our children's' future."

Funny, that. With the birth of my son I was only reminded how nice sleep is. I lack political vision, obviously. Do you feel the Liberal Democrats could do it, Jezza? "It would be a mistake to ever feel secure," he replies.

So, should I vote for him? I think one big thing he has going for him is the respect due to someone who has never sold out. Normally, I tend to believe there isn't much to socialism that age and a bit of money can't cure but, at 55, he still believes in everything he always has and most of us might once have. Also, if Labour win, don't we need MP's like Jeremy snapping at their heels? Can you be a vegetarian and enjoy the odd lamb chop too? It's a bugger, this quandary. Quite frankly, I'm hoping to be struck by a moment of absolute clarity in the ballot box but do think I might go with Corbyn. And his compost bin. It looks nice

What the voters say defines itself as "a resource for dismayed Labour supporters whose dismay about the Labour Party under Tony Blair will come into sharp focus at the next election." The website was inspired and set up by John Harris, author of the book So now who do we vote for? It contains a database of Parliamentary seats, sitting MPs, and claims to offer constituency-by-constituency advice for voters. A forum offers potential voters the chance to offer their opinions.


* "I passionately oppose what Labour have done with their time in office and I would like to see them booted out (and several of them prosecuted for war crimes). For me it is absolutely no defence to say we don't want Tories - I don't want Labour just as much - the Prime Minister was backed by the Cabinet and then by his party. They are all responsible. We need a third party in British politics (Labour being lost to progressive politics), and the Lib Dems are it. Let's get as many of them in as possible, raise their percentage of the vote as high as possible, and break this terrible status quo." Labour Suck

* "In seats where the Tories and Lib Dems (or Nationalists) are fighting it out, Labour supporters would best back the Lib Dems...? This would keep the Tories down without helping Labour's percentage share, and the more seats the Liberals pick up, the more it'll indicate to Tony that people feel betrayed on issues like Iraq and student fees." Geekmcgeek

* "... now is the time to be pragmatic. Vote (and pray) for a hung parliament." Dave

* "The party of the British working class must be saved from the destruction to which Tony Blair is leading it." The LINK

* "If Jeremy Corbyn was an independent candidate I would vote for him - but I am not comfortable with the Orwellian situation of voting for a Labour candidate in order to deliver a message to the Labour Party that they have lost my trust, and I hold them responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq." Citizenandvoter

* "Whilst I can't vote in Sedgfield, like so many who'd like to see TB binned by the electorate, it seems to me that tactical voting is the only way to change anything & this place better than anywhere." Micky T

* "Tactical or Strategic Voting is NOT negative voting. It is the result of a rational consideration based on experience - in this case bitter experience." mouflem

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