by CJ Stone
Dear Jeremy Corbyn,
I’m writing to send birthday greetings to you on your 72nd birthday. Many happy returns of the day, as my old mum used to say.
I don’t know if you will get around to reading this or not. I imagine you will have many, many such messages, from people who are much closer to you than I. I’m a stranger, I know, but, like a lot of people in my position, I do feel an intense connection to you.
We did meet once, briefly, back in the 90s. I was part of the organisation campaigning against the then Criminal Justice Bill: the one that picked on travellers, ravers, squatters and protesters and that famously defined music as “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” That was the first time that the establishment had used the law to criminalise squatting, which had always been a civil offence until then, and which, from time immemorial (think the Diggers of the 17th Century) has always been a significant tool in the armoury of protest groups. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 is the latest extension of such legislation, attacking both Occupy-style protests and the lifestyles of travellers at the same time.
Our group – we called ourselves The Advance Party – were meeting with representatives from other groups in the Islington Labour Club and you came in briefly to say hello. I don’t suppose many words passed between us, but the fact that you even bothered to take time from your busy schedule to greet us impressed me greatly. I think that was probably the first time I became aware of your presence in the Labour Party.
We held three marches that year, including one that had both Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn as speakers. That was the first time I met Benn too, someone I went on to meet and to talk to on a number of occasions. I’ve written about that here: https://discover.hubpages.com/politics/TonyBenn
I know that you and Benn had a close relationship and that he famously said that you were his favourite MP. That alone would serve to recommend you to me.
But even without that, you would have stood out in my mind for the sheer volume of causes you have been involved with, from anti-apartheid to CND, from Anti-Fascist Action to the Stop the War Coalition. A quick look at your Wikipedia entry shows just how many, and how righteous, those causes were. In pretty well all cases I have found myself on the same side as you.
I was member of the Labour Party in the 80s. I left in 1990 over the Labour Party’s position on the poll tax. Neil Kinnock told us we were to pay the tax, and that it would be repealed once a Labour Government got into power. Of course Kinnock never got into power, and if it hadn’t been for our stance against the poll tax, refusing to pay and creating anti-poll tax unions throughout the country, then the poll tax would still be with us.
Maybe Margaret Thatcher would have held on to power for that much longer too. It was the poll tax that brought Thatcher down, not the Labour Party. Personally I’m proud of the part I played in that little bit of history.
I continued to campaign on a variety of issues after that, thinking that, generally speaking, membership of the Labour Party was more of a hindrance than a help. I remained a member of my local Labour Club in Whitstable, however, and mixed with, and was friends with many of the members of the local party.
The Whitstable Labour Club
You may remember the Whitstable Labour Club. You came to visit it once. We have pictures of your visit in the back room. That must have been some time after we moved from our old premises, to the new building, which we now own.
Anyway, I stayed as a fellow traveller alongside the Labour Party throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s. I was opposed to Blair, however, and made my opinions clear to any Labour Party member who would listen. Beware of the man, I said. He means us no good.
After that came 9/11, and Blair’s unquestioning support for the US expansionist aims that followed.
I was a member of a group who campaigned, both against the war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq. We were called Whitstable Anti-War Alliance, or WAWA. We met in the Labour Club. We were the first group in the country to march against the war in Afghanistan, before the war even took place, and, right at the outset we were clear that the next target would be Iraq.
You and I shared a view, once again, that has since turned out to be the correct one. We both knew that any invasion of Iraq would unleash forces and attitudes in the Middle East that no one then had dreamt of. Did we know that ISIS would arise as a consequence? Well no, not exactly; but what we did know was that the results would be unpredictable and dangerous, and that it wouldn’t bode well for the future of our life on this planet.
You were the leader of the Stop the War Coalition, and campaigned energetically from that elevated position. Myself, I remained, as I always was, a writer and a campaigner. I actually managed to secure an interview with Noam Chomsky at the time. It was printed in the Big Issue, Feb 3rd-9th 2003. That was my personal contribution to the anti-war effort.
You can read that here: https://christopherjamesstone.wordpress.com/2020/02/08/noam-chomsky-on-the-war-in-iraq/
Anyway, the years went by. You were always the exception that proved the rule in my mind: one of the few honourable Labour MPs who stood out, as much in opposition to your own party, as to the Tories or the Lib-Dems. I remained semi-detached from the Labour Party, but a fellow traveller, as it were, almost invariably on the same side as the Labour Party members who were my friends, but opposed to what many of the Labour Party MPs were saying and doing.
And then it happened. In the leadership election of 2015 your name appeared on the ballot, almost by accident. I was a postal worker at the time. I said to myself, and to anyone who would listen: “if Corbyn wins the election, I will join the Labour Party.”
The rest is history, as they say. You won the ballot, and I rejoined the Labour Party.
I wrote many pieces in support of you. Chief amongst them was this one, which went viral on the internet, securing nearly 13,000 views on my blog site: https://christopherjamesstone.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/does-corbyn-have-a-messiah-complex/
I suspect that the title might have had something to do with it. It was called “Does Corbyn have a Messiah Complex” and many people read it as an attack upon you, and clicked on it because of that. It was only on reading it that they found that it had the opposite intention.
From the moment you were elected I was enthused about Labour Politics again. I started attending meetings, and even put myself forward as a candidate in the local elections. The level of support for you during those years was phenomenal. Not only did hundreds of thousands of people join the Party, but we became active within it too, delivering leaflets, canvassing, and, in my case, writing complimentary articles in the local press and on my blog.
The 2017 Labour Party manifesto was a a profound and inspiring document that showed conclusively that we didn’t have to put up with the austerity lies any longer.
The attacks upon you in those years, from 2015-2019, were extraordinary and unprecedented. You were, and are, the most misrepresented, the most maligned MP in history, as much by the MPs in your own party, as by the Tories or the right-wing press. Once the campaign against you turned on the question of anti-Semitism I knew that we would lose.
It was, and is, a bogus argument, drummed up by an unholy alliance of supporters of the State of Israel, both the right and the left-wing press (which is never really all that left), by Tories and members of the establishment, as well as the right wing of the Labour Party, many of whom had been parachuted into positions of power during the Blair years. It was relentless and unremitting. It went on and on and on. It used rumour and innuendo, misrepresentation and lies. It was supported by the BBC and the Guardian, who shamelessly climbed into bed with the far-right on this issue. It was itself anti-Semitic, attacking Jews who supported you and drumming them out of the Party. It was as underhand and as vicious in its nature as the McCarthyite witch hunts of 1950s America, from which it almost certainly borrowed. During that time you had to endure an unprecedented level of intrusion, which, for a private man such as yourself, must have been torture. I can’t imagine how you withstood it. I know that I would have buckled under the pressure. Nevertheless, despite the occasional peevishness, you did manage to hold your own.
“Peevishness”. That’s a good word. You did show signs of it occasionally. But, really, given the pressure you were under, that’s a remarkably small reaction to such an extended and sustained period of monstrous attack. It’s a wonder you managed to get through without hurting anyone. John Prescott would have knocked someone’s lights out.
Anyway, that sort of brings us up to date. I’m still in the Labour Party, even though it’s you who is semi-detached these days. I refuse to leave. They will have to kick me out first, and, if they try, I will make such a noise. Meanwhile, along with the majority of members, I continue to support you. I won’t rest until you have the whip restored. If you left to form a new party, I would join you in that. I don’t expect you to. The Labour Party has been your life and your blood ever since you became a member. I have no doubt that it will continue to be for the rest of your days.
I know you don’t like to make politics personal, and I too would rather avoid that, but, I have to say, the current leader of the party is not up to the job.
Jeremy, we miss you. We would love you to visit us in Whitstable. Please come and join us here in the Labour Club, to help inspire us once more, with your kindness and commitment.
You are the best Prime Minister we never had.
With all my best wishes,
Christopher James Stone.
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.
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