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10-year journey: Jeremy Corbyn on how he went from unknown rebel to political game-changer

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Andrew Dickens
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Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn was little known outside north Islington and the Labour back benches a decade ago. Now people chant his name at football stadiums and festivals… 

My expectation 10 years ago was that I would carry on my job representing the people of Islington North. Also to continue using parliament to raise issues of injustice and human rights in Britain and around the world. I was very proud to do that, and still am.

I was very critical of corporate greed and excesses in 2007. All of that came home to roost a year later. Since 2008, there’s been a massive political development around the world challenging the consensus that you let global capital rip and somehow that will ensure development across the world. In reality, it’s led to the most absurd levels of personal wealth and grotesque levels of poverty.

I was nominated for Labour leader because I felt there had to be an alternative voice there. There was no guarantee of getting on the ballot paper, let alone winning the election. With one minute and 50 seconds to spare, I got on the ballot paper.

When we started the leadership campaign, we had nothing but my name on the ballot paper and my credit card, which lasted a week. Then we started raising money, getting a team together and went on the campaign trail. I did, I think, 100 events. It was great the way people came together. It wasn’t about me, it was about ideas.

I was the last person in the office to think we’d win. I didn’t think we’d win until the end of August, but everyone else thought we’d won three or four weeks before then. I took a lot of convincing.

I had to be literally pulled through the crowd at the QEII Centre [where they announced the winner]. I had bruises on my head from cameras. It was a strange feeling.

The first thing I did as leader was speak to the Refugees Welcome rally that was outside. People thought I shouldn’t, but if you believe in people and humanity, you believe in all people.

Jeremy Corbyn Refugee Rally

The attention has changed my life. It means that sometimes my house has been under siege, and the intrusion into family members’ lives has been totally unacceptable. I understand that they have an interest in me, but they should lay off everybody else. People tried to talk to my family and to my wife Laura’s family in Mexico. They must have spent a huge amount of money chasing after people, some of whom had never heard of me.

I don’t think about how I dress, but others do. It’s a constant discussion and source of debate. Wear what you feel like wearing, be comfortable – I say that to everybody.

I’m conscious of what I do all the time. I go out for a run around Finsbury Park and then somebody stops me and says they want to talk to me about some policy. I have to say, “If I stop now, I’ll never start again – do you want to run with me?”

Leadership has taught me that you need to know who to go to for help and advice – and sometimes go to unusual sources. Over the years I’ve met many people in many countries who know a lot about a lot of things. You should never shut yourself off to the creative ideas of other people.

The media and experts wrote us off in the election, but there was something different happening in the country. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t quite win it.

I’ve discovered I have the ability to switch off from things. I’ve always kept a balance in my life and you have to be assertive to maintain that balance. With the best will in the world, everybody wants you to do something, so you have to be clear about what you’ll do and what you won’t do. Even in the midst of a crisis, you need to be able to switch off and do something else, otherwise you’ll just end up stressed out.

Jeremy Corbyn bicycle

To deal with stress, I run, cycle, read widely and I have an allotment and a very small garden at home. And I make jam. At the moment I’ve got some damson, some plum, a lot of blackberry and apple. The chutney season’s about to develop. Being England, a lot of our fruit doesn’t ripen properly – or maybe there’s just not enough sun in my back garden – so I end up making a lot of chutney.

Making jam is quite stressful. You have to get the temperature right, you have to get the timing right, you have to get the jars sterilised, seal them properly. I do a lot of that kind of thing, and Laura and I will do that together.

Too often vegetarian food has been seen as a punishment. The best vegetarian dish for a meat-eater would be a really well-prepared, thought-out, mixed vegetable soup. A really thick one, with potatoes, carrots, courgettes, spinach, a good thick stock to go with it, and maybe a bit of corn as well. If you’re into cheese, have grated cheese across the top.

It was strange seeing T-shirts with my name on, because I’m not a personality. The way I see it, I’ve been asked to represent a set of ideas and lead our party on a very practical level. It’s not just me, there are hundreds of thousands of us and we have to do things together.

There was a lot of weeds in my allotment after the election. Actually, one or two people had helped out a bit – my neighbours had cut the grass paths around it – so it wasn’t too bad.

People’s values are very similar across the country. Community, volumes of support for each other. It’s only if you allow the politics to descend into blaming minorities, blaming each other, that things get nasty.

(Photography: Tom Barnes/body images: Rex)

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Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is Special Projects Editor at ShortList. A veteran of eight years on the magazine, he makes up for his lack of pace by having ‘an extra sentence’ in his head. Twitter: @andrewdickens Instagram: @andrewdickens

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