My mate the Marmite Man

Is this the face of the most-hated man in Britain?

There are people (including politicians) who are loved by some and hated by others. Yet the majority don’t care one way or the other.

Jeremy Corbyn, as we know full well from the media hype, is not one of these.

He is like Marmite – you love him or you hate him.

Love is maybe not the right word but it comes closest in suggesting admiration, respect, belief or a hundred other terms.

Hate certainly seems to be the right word for the attitude of so many who shudder and cross themselves at the mention of his name or if his face appears on the television screen or the front page of a newspaper.

Why do people fear him? Especially as the vast majority have never even seen him in the flesh, at Glastonbury, or one of the many rallies he addressed while campaigning for the leadership (two years’ running) or when he campaigned against Brexit.

I first met him at a much smaller rally over 20 years ago – the Burston Strike School Rally in Norfolk.

I already knew about him and the work he was doing – especially regarding his actvities opposing racism in general and apartheid in partiular.

He was this feisty, casually-dressed (some would say scruffy) man who looked nothing like the popular image of an MP. After all in the 70s MPs didn’t take their jackets off in public, let alone remove their ties and roll up their sleeves.

Jeremy Corbyn arrested in the 1970s at a rally protesting about apartheid in South Africa

At the Burston rally as many people as possible joined the Candlestick Walk, which goes around Burston and its environs to visit sites important to the Strike School story.

As a steward I was in the vanguard of people with Jeremy and on that 45 minute walk we (about half a dozen people including Jeremy) chatted but it wasn’t all about politics.

As we all appear to know these days, Jeremy is a keen cyclist.

That Sunday morning he had risen early and cycled from his home in Islington to Liverpool Street Station (about three miles or 15 minutes by bike); travelled to Diss; cycled out to Burston (about five miles); mingled with the crowds at the rally; joined the Candlestick Walk (about two or three miles) and at about 4pm he set off by bike to Diss station (another five miles) and when he got to London cycled another three miles home.

Not bad for a man over 50 who cycled 16 miles and walked another three as well as standing for most of the day addressing the crowd as well as walking around the green visiting socialist stalls and just chatting to people.

I was already an admirer of the man. After all here was a believer in socialism who would not betray his beliefs just to gain power.

This first meeting with him strengthened my admiration of the man.

I kept an eye on his activities from then on and met him a few more times at conference or similar socialist gatherings.

It made my day in 2015 when I heard he was putting himself forward for the leadership of the Labour Party.

By this time I had retired from journalism and had moved to Hampshire, but when I heard Jeremy Corbyn was to attend that year’s Burston Rally I determined to drive the 150 miles to the Norfolk village on the Sunday of the rally. My son accompanied me.

The rally has always attracted hundreds of socialists to the small village but on that day there were thousands. It was estimated in local newspaper reports that there were at least 3,000 people present that day.

Leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn speaking to 3,000 socialists in the tiny Norfolk village of Burston on 6 Sepember 2016

Over the past few years one of the names given to Jeremy Corbyn has been Magic Grandpa – not in a kind way but as an insult in suggesting that is all he is, a doddering grandpa not a real politician.

Well on that day in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was a real politician AND a Magic Grandpa.

As he addressed those thousands of socialists they listened with rapt attention to a man who was offering a brighter and better future for the whole country.

At the end of an enthralling speech, as thousands applauded this great socialist, a little boy appeared at the side of the stage.

We know Jeremy Corbyn is good with children and at that moment we discovered why.

He turned and saw the little boy, probably a child or grandchild of one of the organisers, and gestured him forward. The little boy trotted over and held the great man’s hand in the most natural way.

That little boy recognised a man who cared. At that moment he WAS Magic Grandpa.

He was also the best chance the Labour Party had to recover from three disastrous leaders.

He proved his capabilities in the surprise election of 2017 – less than two years after becoming leader.

No wonder they got scared and ratcheted up the campaign against him.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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