Profile: Who is Jeremy Corbyn?

The 68-year-old socialist was usually seen on backbenches. Now, he’s within striking distance of 10 Downing Street.

Jeremy Corbyn
A popular election campaign by Jeremy Corbyn has resulted in more votes for the left-wing Labour Party [Niklas Hallen/AFP]

Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of Britain’s Labour Party, has repeatedly beaten the odds in his long and colourful political career and he appears to have done so again with an unexpectedly strong result in the UK’s national election.

A 68-year-old socialist stalwart who has never held major office, Corbyn began his election campaign as rank outsider – a status he turned to his advantage – and experts say the results mean internal party rumblings against his leadership will be toned down.

Drawing comparisons to Bernie Sanders in the United States, Corbyn on the campaign trail railed against the establishment and harnessed public angst over Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership in turbulent times.

After an exit poll and near-complete results suggested the ruling Conservatives might have lost their majority and Labour might have come a strong second, Corbyn on Friday said voters had “turned their backs on the politics of austerity”.

“Whatever the final result, our positive campaign has changed politics for the better,” he said, adding later that May should resign.

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May and the right-leaning tabloids lambasted Cobryn as ill-prepared to face the challenges of security and Brexit, even branding him a threat to the nation.

But Corbyn was able to score unexpected points against May during the bitterly fought campaign, casting her as cold and uncaring on social welfare reforms and reckless on police funding cuts during her tenure as interior minister.

Relaxed and tie-less, he came across at lively rallies as an amiable underdog making a principled stand for society’s poorest and managed to appeal to many younger voters.

“Jeremy Corbyn appears to have been vindicated,” Mike Finn, politics researcher at the University of Warwick, told the AFP news agency.

“It seems now clear that his approach to Labour politics resonates with the public and he is undeniably strengthened,” he said.

Protest credentials

A fixture of British politics for four decades, Corbyn boasts an impeccable socialist background – his parents met as activists in Britain during the Spanish Civil War.

He had a comfortable upbringing, spending much of his childhood in a sprawling manor home in a Tory-voting village in the West Midlands.

He was elected MP for Islington, a left-wing London stronghold, in 1983 but never dirtied his hands with a major public office, preferring the view from the opposition backbenches.

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From there, he championed human rights and pacifist causes. He was also a serial rebel against his party’s line and a thorn in the side of centrist Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, notably over the Iraq war – which he voted against. 

Few expected he would get within striking distance of 10 Downing Street.

But his surprise election as Labour leader in September 2015 came on the back of left-wingers signing up to the party in droves to support him.

A lifetime building up protest credentials endeared him to waves of young voters disillusioned with mainstream politics.

Brexit questions

The 2016 Brexit referendum saw Corbyn vilified for lip-service-only support for the Remain campaign.

Angry moderates tried to oust him as party leader, only to be thwarted, again, by the popular party vote.

The battlefield experience may well have helped Corbyn, suggests Tim Bale, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, calling Labour’s rise under Corbyn “phenomenal”.

“Corbyn has fought and won two leadership campaigns in two years, seems to have benefitted from that experience and is at least authentic rather than, like Mrs May, robotic,” Bale said.

His charisma and leftist credentials could well see him carry the Labour banner into the next general election, due in 2020.

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Famous for his frugality, the bearded father-of-three holds the record among MPs for the lowest expense claims.

Teetotal and vegetarian, he does not own a car and prefers to cycle. His hobbies include making jam and allotment gardening.

“You do your job better if you give yourself time to collect your thoughts and do something else,” he said.

His wife, Laura Alvarez, is 20 years his junior and runs a company importing fair-trade coffee from her native Mexico.

They have a cat named El Gato, Spanish for “the cat”, which he sardonically claims has “socialist tendencies” as it shares its food with the neighbours’ feline.

Source: AFP