January 2019 was the worst month of my life. Ever since my dad, my best ‘bud’ as he used to call me, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016, we knew the end was coming but nothing could prepare me for the heart-breaking finality of his death. My dad was an extremely kind and gentle man, almost to the point of being too kind. He cared deeply about society and the growing numbers of homeless people really upset and angered him. I remember one instance where someone had dropped two £20 notes and after asking around the street whether anyone had dropped it, my dad instantly and without a thought gave £20 to a nearby homeless man and then saved the other £20 for another homeless man he had given money to near the car park earlier on in the afternoon. He cared deeply about kindness and in what proved to be my last ever birthday card he wrote ‘always remember personal achievement is never more important than being a kind person, be kind and you will always be loved by others’. I miss my dad, my best friend, the man I looked up to most, every day, writing this I feel the familiar pang of despair and absence, the empty hole in my heart where he used to be.
This blog is not solely about my dad, however. There is an election on Thursday. My dad no longer has a voice and it is for this reason I have decided to write this article. My dad worked for Jeremy Corbyn when he was a relatively unknown Labour MP in the 1990s as his parliamentary assistant. Their relationship was not your typical boss and employee relationship, through this period they struck up a strong friendship over many years. However, as Jeremy Corbyn would later tell me after 2000, the year in which I was born ‘Steve stopped working the long hours he had been known for’, he wanted to spend time with and look after me. My dad and mum eventually moved to a different city where I grew up. Despite all his virtues, my dad was not a man who was very good at staying in contact with old friends and as such he fell out of touch with his old friend and boss. It was one of his big regrets he told me many a time before Jeremy Corbyn had even run for the Labour leadership.
I remember vividly the day Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party; it was retrospectively one of the happiest days of my life. Previously I had always been interested in politics because of my dad but it was the leadership race of 2015 that truly enthused me and as a 15-year-old was the first political election I ever voted in. To see my dad so happy and alive with hope makes it a precious memory. As I sit lie awake fraught with sadness, grief, fear and yet hope on this cold Tuesday night, that day and the hug we shared upon Jeremy’s victory feels a world away.
To see my previously fit and healthy dad in his late fifties gradually wear away before my eyes over the last couple of years broke my heart and not a day goes by where I wish I had spent more time with him, sometimes just lying with him with my head on his chest as I did far too few times through his illness. He had happy days in the time of his illness, such as when his cancer was temporarily in remission, but these days were few and far between. Jeremy Corbyn gave my dad and our family one of these days in the harrowing most lonely last days of his life.
Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t seen my dad, his ex-employee for 18 years and yet upon hearing about his illness and hospice admission in January of this year, took time out in what was an extremely busy time of Brexit and parliamentary chaos to visit him in the hospice, Birmingham. This act for me just demonstrates what kind of a man Jeremy Corbyn is, a loyal and kind man who cares deeply about other people. How many of us in such a busy and high-profile job, with advisors pressuring us to go here there and everywhere, would really take the time out to see a dying friend we hadn’t seen for 18 years?
2 hours. That’s the amount of time Jeremy Corbyn and Nicolette, another friend of my dads from the nineties spent with us on that day. My mum had told us they were only coming in for 15 minutes, a time that would have been completely understandable given the pressures of his job. And yet Jeremy sat for 2 hours at my dying dads’ bedside as he struggled to breathe even with his oxygen mask under the stress of laughter about some anecdote from ‘the good old days’. What Jeremy Corbyn gave us that day was a memory. In a period where there were no happy memories, Jeremy Corbyn gave me, my dad and my mum something priceless. To see my bed-ridden dad so happy, his face full of life, his eyes alit with verve and vigour was beautiful. When I see Jeremy Corbyn portrayed in the media as this horrible evil racist, ‘most dangerous man in Britain’, it pains me because I know this not to be the case. He did not have to pay what was a completely non-political visit to the hospice that day, but he did because he is a kind man who cares about other people. His policies show this, there is only one leader in this election who wants to end rough sleeping, lead the world in saving the planet from climate change and unburden our young people from a lifetime of debt. There is a myth in the media that Jeremy Corbyn is an obsessive man who is too focussed on ideology and politics takes precedence over everything else in his life; this is not true as is shown by him taking time out of such a busy political week to talk to, reminisce with and ultimately be there for my dad, his employee and friend who he had not seen for almost twenty years on his deathbed.
My dad was so energised by this visit, that at the end, his eyes lit up with hope, he promised to ‘try and come down to London soon’. And at the end of a week in the hospice where my dad had got better every day, it did not seem so unlikely. Maybe, these two friends would against all the odds meet again. That day, coming even in such a dark and painful time is one I hold close to my heart. This day, which was full of life, made my dad’s death four days later even more sad and shocking.
Jeremy sent his condolences and to our surprise he even offered to speak at the funeral. My mum and I thought this was extremely generous although conceded it may be unlikely given how busy Jeremy was at the time. A man of his word, however Jeremy Corbyn did come to my dad’s funeral and spoke movingly about their friendship and who my dad was as a person for an extended period of time. I am not ashamed to say that my dad was, for much of my childhood, at home to look after me and my little brother while my higher-earning mum worked in London during the week. However, my dad sometimes felt(wrongly) as if he had achieved little in his life, and to see a man who could be the future prime minister speak about my dad’s work for him in such glowing terms in front of my family and friends describing him as ‘laying the foundations for where we are now’ , filled me with such pride and I know if my dad was watching on, it would have brought a tear to his eye. I wish my dad could have seen how valuable his life was to others whilst he was still alive. To have my close friends who had also attended the funeral message me afterwards saying hearing about my dad ‘inspired them to be a better person’ and that he sounded like ‘a truly great man’ meant the world to me and is again down to the kindness, loyalty and generosity of Jeremy Corbyn.
I wanted to tell my personal story because many people have a warped image of Jeremy Corbyn as some sort of antisemitic terrorist when he is nothing of the sort. He is a kind, principled, peaceful and loyal man both personally and politically. At this election we have a choice between Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson, a man who has written the ‘n word’ in comics he has authored, who has voted repeatedly for cuts that hurt disabled and poor people the most , a man who has described Muslim women as ‘letter boxes’. I just want you to ask yourself if you can ever imagine Jeremy Corbyn doing one of these things, let alone all of them? And perhaps more importantly can you imagine Boris Johnson doing for an ex-employee what Jeremy did for my dad and our heartbroken family? My dad wrote in my birthday card ‘be kind to others and show solidarity to those less fortunate than yourself, ‘all for one and one for all’ ‘. A sentence could not sum up Jeremy Corbyn and his politics more, he is an inspiration. 2019 started with heartbreak, yet on December 12th, 2019 could end with real hope and unbridled joy. Vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Vote for kindness. Vote for Labour.