For 18 months, Britain’s top investigative author has been uncovering the truth about the Marxist who wants to be PM.
TOM BOWER’s new biography paints a chilling picture of a bitter extremist hiding behind a mask of geniality.
Here, our first exclusive extracts reveal how Corbyn took Diane Abbott into his bed and how his cold-hearted neglect and chaotic finances cost the mother of his three sons their family home…
Disappointed lover: Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott began their relationship in the 1970s
Shortly after his first wife Jane Chapman walked out, Corbyn encouraged his friend Keith Veness and Steve Hull, another political ally, to join him posting leaflets around a council estate.
At about 11.30am he announced ‘We need to collect more leaflets’, and drove them back to his flat. The three walked in to discover a naked woman on the bed. Diane Abbott, Corbyn proudly announced, was his new girlfriend. ‘He wanted us to see her in his bed,’ recalled Veness. ‘She was shocked when we entered.’
Abbott, who quickly wrapped herself in a duvet, was the antithesis of a white, middle-class English woman. Born to Jamaican immigrants in 1953, she went to a grammar school in London, then to Cambridge.
As the first female black student from a state school at Newnham College, she enjoyed a hectic social life and became firmly hard Left, passionately committed to the class struggle.
After graduating, she began working as a race relations officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties. Belying the human rights group’s name, her colleagues rummaged through her desk and found her private diary. One entry recorded her sexual fantasy of being manhandled by her lover Corbyn – ‘a bearded Fenian and NUPE national organiser’.
There were also descriptions of a motorbike holiday with him around France and a passionate romp in a Cotswolds field, which she described as her ‘finest half-hour’.
Diane Abbott became passionately committed to the class struggle
Corbyn’s passion for Abbott ended any hope Jane Chapman might have had that their relationship could be restored. He had found a political soul mate who regarded Britain as the country that ‘invented racism’, and echoed his praise for the IRA. Feisty and, in her early years, good-looking, Abbott even persuaded Corbyn to change his habits to suit her, at least for a while: he enjoyed social evenings with her and friends at restaurants and dinner parties.
Abbott secured a job as a TV producer but fretted that Corbyn and Chapman were still meeting at Haringey Council.
Chapman recalled a ‘nervous, tense and slightly hostile’ Abbott knocking on her door one evening, and making her demands clear. ‘Get the hell out of here,’ said Abbott. ‘You’re in the media and everywhere and I want you out of town.’
‘I can’t,’ replied Chapman, ‘I’ve been elected to office.’
Later, Chapman explained: ‘She wanted a clear run. I was in the media a lot then because of my political work and she wished I wasn’t.’
Abbott also grew fed-up with Corbyn’s way of life; just as he had ignored Chapman, he began ignoring her.
At 27, she wanted marriage and eventually children. Corbyn wanted neither.
One morning, Bernie Grant, the firebrand Tottenham MP, called Keith Veness. ‘Diane’s had enough of Jeremy. She’s moving out. Come and give us a hand.’
Labour activist Keith Veness arrived at Corbyn’s flat to find its rooms strewn with papers and clothing
Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn at day three of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on September 25
Veness arrived in a large van at Corbyn’s flat, finding its rooms strewn with papers and clothing.
‘It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t come home for two weeks,’ said Abbott defensively.
She, Grant and Veness set about packing away her things.
Suddenly the door opened, and in walked Corbyn. ‘Hello, mate,’ he said to Grant. Then he saw Veness carrying out Abbott’s possessions. After hearing why the two men were there, he walked away without comment; he was off to a meeting, he said.
Appalled by the way Abbott had been treated, Grant chased after Corbyn.
‘Get real,’ he said, knowing full well that Corbyn remained insult-proof.
Later, Corbyn would recall: ‘Diane always says to me, “You learned everything you know in Shropshire, and unfortunately you’ve forgotten none of it.” ’
- Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot For Power, by Tom Bower, is published by William Collins on February 21 at £20. Offer price £16 (20 per cent discount) until February 24. Pre-order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery.
His idea of fun? Cold Tesco baked beans or sitting on the floor singing IRA songs: Book lifts the lid on life for Corbyn’s first wife that turned into a succession of political demos
1974 was the tumultuous year Britain endured two General Elections. It was also the year that, during endless hours of leafleting and canvassing, Corbyn met the woman who’d become his first wife.
Jane Chapman was 23, an attractive graduate studying for a doctorate at the London School of Economics. ‘Jeremy professed love early on,’ she recalled, ‘and said that I was “the best of the best”, so I thought this must be the thing.’
Consumed by what she described as a ‘whirlwind’ three-month romance – ‘he constantly urged us to marry’ – she agreed because ‘he was friendly and lively and seemed bright and not bad-looking’.
Naturally, both were hard-Left activists – she says ‘Jeremy was a Trotskyist, no doubt about it’ – and their respective local Labour branches selected each to stand in the council elections for the North London borough of Haringey. Both were elected and two days later, on May 4, 1974, they were married at the town hall.
Neither set of parents was impressed by their child’s choice. Chapman’s mother, a lifetime Tory, was not pleased that her ambitious daughter was marrying a poorly off, uneducated trade union official.
‘Jane was shocked that Corbyn didn’t read a single book in four years of marriage’ (pictured: Jane Chapman)
Corbyn’s mother Naomi disliked her new ‘alpha female’ daughter-in-law. It was wrong, she thought, to have such an obvious competitive element in a marriage.
Tensions were aggravated when Corbyn’s brother Piers arrived at the wedding looking even more scruffy than normal. Embarrassed, Naomi swept him off to buy a shirt and a suit, but they did not return until after the ceremony.
Following a brief honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds returned to a tiny ground-floor studio room in Haringey, moving a year later to a bigger ground-floor flat nearby. There, several chickens, a cat christened Harold Wilson and a dog named Mango ran around the garden.
Married life became a succession of political meetings and demos. Some mornings they would head for a picket line at 5.30am to support strikers.
Among the biggest surprises for Chapman was the total absence of books in her husband’s life.
Throughout the four years of their marriage, he never read a single one. He did not think deeply about ideology or political philosophy. Her initial judgment that he was ‘bright’ was mistaken.
His other handicap, Corbyn was acutely aware, was his lack of a working-class pedigree – especially when his childhood family home had been Yew Tree Manor, a five-bedroom 17th Century farmhouse in Shropshire.
From there his parents – scruffy, unconventional but undeniably middle-class – moved to a new home in Wiltshire, chosen to enable them to pursue their burgeoning interest in archaeology.
During Corbyn and Chapman’s visits for Sunday lunch, politics were politely discussed, but Corbyn’s parents never mentioned that they had been present at the Battle of Cable Street, or that his father David had ever considered going to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
Their son’s introduction of those key events into the biographies of his parents would come much later. As Jane Chapman discovered, her husband’s understanding of their domestic finances was no better than his dismal grasp of economics. In line with his lifelong disapproval of aspiration and success, he never talked about buying a bigger home or car or increasing his income. When he returned home at night, he’d happily open a can of beans, swallow them cold and declare himself satisfied.
Jane Chapman addressing a Labour Party event in 1975 during her marriage to Jeremy Corbyn
Occasionally, he returned late from a meeting of the Hornsey Labour Party with friends to sing IRA songs while they all got drunk on beer.
He would sit on the floor in his greasy, unwashed army surplus store jacket, oblivious to his wife’s irritation.
They rarely went out together. Dinner invitations were refused. Chapman spent lonely evenings in their small flat with Mango the dog and Harold Wilson the cat as her only companions, while Corbyn met political cronies.
Among them was fellow Haringey councillor Bernie Grant, a bombastic Black Power Marxist from Guyana.
‘It’s racism to control immigration’, Grant frequently declared – an opinion that Corbyn quickly adopted.
In the summer of 1976, Corbyn and Chapman set off on his 250cc Czech motorbike for a camping holiday across Europe.
‘Jeremy always chose to go on holiday in August,’ explained Chapman, ‘because there were no political meetings.’ She feared the holiday would be as uncomfortable as the previous year in France, Spain and Portugal.
The ordeal was not just riding pillion on Corbyn’s bumpy bike, but his passion for abstinence.
While Chapman wanted to sleep in a proper bed and eat in interesting restaurants, Corbyn insisted on a small tent and cooking tins of beans on a single ring Calor gas stove. The nearest Chapman got to comfort was after a rainstorm flooded their tent outside Prague.
Begrudgingly, Corbyn agreed to spend the night under cover – not in a hotel, but in a student hostel. He became furious when his motorbike broke down in Czechoslovakia, assuming that because it had been manufactured there it would be easy to have it repaired. Instead, he was introduced to the realities of a communist economy.
Following a brief honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds returned to a tiny ground-floor studio room in Haringey, moving a year later to a bigger ground-floor flat nearby
The bike had been made exclusively for export, and no Czech garage mechanic knew how to fix it. For two days he fumed until it was finally repaired.
During their journey, Chapman discovered that her husband was not interested in equality within marriage, or in sharing any domestic chores. ‘He never spoke about sex, music, fashion or books. He put class first.’
Equally distressing was his indifference to Europe’s most beautiful cities. In Vienna, he refused to enter the palace of Schönbrunn, the Kaiser’s summer retreat, because it was ‘royal’. ‘You go in,’ he told her, ‘I’ll stay outside.’
European culture offended him. He stood in Vienna’s Ringstrasse – said by many to be the most beautiful boulevard in the world – and pronounced it ‘capitalist’. He walked past all the museums and art galleries, and found no pleasure in medieval towns.
In villages, he was only interested to watch the peasants going about their lives. In Prague, soaking wet from torrential rain, he did not lament a missed visit to Hradcany castle, and turned down a walk through the old town. Nor did he comment on the dilapidation of the city’s old buildings, all neglected by its communist overlords. ‘Preservation of architecture and heritage,’ recalled Chapman, ‘didn’t appear to be on his agenda.’
For similar reasons he had always refused to accompany her to Paris, where she did occasional research, or to Los Angeles to visit her aunt. He spoke only about elections, campaigns and demos, although his knowledge even of these was incomplete.
By contrast, he expressed a deep interest in Britain’s manhole covers, especially their dates of manufacture: ‘My mother always said there’s history in drain covers.’
Most travellers who crossed into Czechoslovakia from Austria during the Cold War were shocked by the experience.
Running just behind the customs buildings were two rows of electrified barbed wire and between them a minefield. Looking out over the eerie silence were armed soldiers in guard towers, with orders to shoot on sight anyone approaching from the Czech side.
Those caught within five miles of the border without police permission could expect imprisonment. Any Western visitor riding a motorbike through those fortifications would be left in no doubt that Eastern Europe was a prison. Czechs were badly dressed, had limited food, and lived in decaying buildings.
Czechoslovakia, a rich democracy before 1939, was a police state. But Corbyn uttered not a single word of criticism, and expressed no sympathy for the country’s 1968 attempt at liberation from the Soviet Union.
He said nothing about the thousands of skilled and scholarly Czechs forced to take menial employment as street cleaners or worse, as punishment for opposing the Soviet occupation.
‘He was a Tankie,’ said his old friend and constituency agent Keith Veness, meaning that Corbyn had supported the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolt in 1956 and the Prague uprising 12 years later.
When in conversation Veness mentioned Stalin’s cruelties, ‘Jeremy walked away. He couldn’t do political arguments.
‘He was a communist fellow-traveller. The bastard never apologised for the Moscow trials.’
The Corbyns returned to London with Jeremy unaware that their marriage was cracking up.
‘Jeremy never thought there was anything wrong,’ recalled Chapman. ‘He assumed that, because our politics were compatible, that amounted to a proper relationship.’
‘She tried to make it work,’ said Keith Veness, ‘but he was uninterested. He never came home, and the relationship just slowly broke up.’
Chapman’s requests for more than just a political life – cinemas, restaurants, clubs, children – were ignored. ‘He didn’t acknowledge my emotional side,’ said Chapman. ‘He doesn’t recognise a woman’s feelings.’
At Christmas she prepared a special five-course vegetarian lunch for Corbyn and his brother Piers. ‘They stuffed it down their gullets and never said thanks,’ she recalled. Her husband, she knew, would have been happy with a can of beans: ‘Usually Tesco, not Heinz, but he wouldn’t know the difference.’
Just before Christmas 1979, Chapman walked out of the family home. According to Keith Veness, she ‘just gave up on him’. As she packed her belongings, Corbyn told his wife: ‘You should read Simone de Beauvoir.’
Clearly, ever the non-reader, he had heard about de Beauvoir from someone, and had failed to understand the author’s philosophy. Women, de Beauvoir complained, were regarded as ‘the second sex’, and defined by their relationship to men. To rescue themselves, they should elevate themselves by exercising the same choice as men – precisely what Chapman had decided to do.
Corbyn was exhibiting all the contradictions of an unresolved personality, disconnected from the real world.
His self-portrayal as a universal ‘do-gooder’ was at odds with his inability to care for his wife, or indeed any female companion. He was quite incapable of understanding why his marriage had collapsed.
‘He thought I left him on a feminist kick,’ recalled Chapman, ‘but it was because I wanted some fun. His lack of emotional awareness didn’t change. My emotional life as part of a relationship was forgotten.’
Finally, she realised that his judgment at the beginning of their relationship that she was ‘the best of the best’ was because ‘I was the only woman who would put up with his political obsessions’.
Nearly 20 years later, Corbyn invited Chapman for tea in the Commons. ‘You should lighten up,’ he advised her, convinced as usual that he had been in the right.
If anyone lacked a sense of humour, thought Chapman, it was her joyless former husband.
Married to a joyless fanatic: How Jeremy Corbyn neglected the mother of his three sons and cost them the family home because of his chaotic finances, new book claims
The father-to-be was distracted – and anxious. His wife Claudia was due to give birth to their first child at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, and Jeremy Corbyn headed for the telephone outside the delivery room.
If his old friend and constituency agent Keith Veness was surprised to get the call, he was even more startled by what Corbyn – running for re-election as an MP in the 1987 General Election – had to say.
‘I’m really worried,’ the lifelong Marxist many believe will be Britain’s next Prime Minister complained as his new wife lay in a hospital bed preparing to bring their baby son into the world. ‘We haven’t put out that leaflet about Northern Ireland.’
‘Haven’t you got something more serious to worry about?’ asked Veness.
‘You’re about to be a father. I’ve never heard of anyone who lost an election because they didn’t get a leaflet out.’
But then Jeremy Corbyn has never done family life like everyone else.
When Claudia tried to hire a cleaner, Corbyn’s friends asked if his wife had ‘bourgeois tendencies’
He met Claudia Bracchitta, the fiercely intelligent and good-looking daughter of Chilean exiles, the previous year at a protest meeting against her homeland’s military dictatorship, addressed by Ken Livingstone.
‘She wanted to get off with me,’ Livingstone later ungallantly recalled, ‘but I had to go off to meet Kate, my partner, so she went for Jeremy.’
Claudia was already married, but by the following year she was pregnant with Corbyn’s child and rushed through a divorce to marry her new admirer.
Neither of Corbyn’s parents was present at the wedding: his father had died the previous year and his mother was not invited.
In fact, he didn’t tell even his close friends about his marriage.
Within little more than a decade the relationship was dead, killed not by, as they told the world, principled political differences about whether to send their son to a grammar school – but by Corbyn’s financial incompetence, his neglect of his family, his arid lifestyle and his apparent misogyny.
‘I’ve got all these debts,’ Corbyn told his long-time friend Reg Race as they sat in the spartan living room of the politician’s semi-detached house in North London in late 1996. ‘Can you work out why?’
Political upbringing: Corbyn’s sons Sebastian, Benjamin and Tommy applaud their father at last year’s Labour Conference
‘I don’t need to be a genius to tell him what’s wrong,’ Race thought. ‘He’s in danger of bankruptcy.’ Across the room sat his host and Claudia, positioned unnaturally far apart. Race, a former hard-Left MP who’d transformed himself into a successful financial consultant, had been summoned by Claudia as a mutual friend to solve their differences.
The papers in front of him showed that the Corbyns owed their bank £30,000, the equivalent of twice that figure today. Several personal loans had been guaranteed by Corbyn’s income as an MP – and he was also burdened by high mortgage repayments.
As a last resort, the bank could threaten to recover its money by seizing his home. ‘You’ve run out of loans,’ said Race. Unchecked, within five years the debts would be £100,000. Corbyn’s annual salary was £43,000. Claudia interrupted. This was entirely the result of her husband’s folly, she said. She and their three young sons – Sebastian, Benjamin and Thomas – had little money even to buy food and clothes. ‘We can’t afford a decent life.’
The principal cause of the debts was the Red Rose Community Centre in Holloway – a bar and dance area on the ground floor of a building that fulfilled his commitment to open his party office in his North London constituency. Corbyn was paying its rent and some staff salaries out of his own pocket. Simultaneously, he owed a large sum to the Inland Revenue for his employees’ unpaid National Insurance and pension contributions.
The financial chaos was matched by his management style. His employees complained about being both undervalued and underpaid.
Among the casualties was Liz Phillipson, his battle-scarred assistant, who had resigned rather than continue to tolerate Corbyn’s fecklessness. ‘You haven’t got enough money for what you’re doing,’ Race said bluntly. ‘You should close your office and move to the Commons.
‘I won’t,’ replied Corbyn.
‘Oh, come on, Jeremy, you know he’s right,’ Claudia said, her voice rising. Corbyn mumbled, then fell silent. His body language showed he felt no inclination to follow Race’s advice. Claudia was becoming noticeably agitated. ‘It was clear a breakdown was coming,’ thought Race.
He was not surprised by the tension. Throughout their marriage, Corbyn’s lack of interest in material things had meant that he ignored her need for comfort.
Debt-ridden: Jeremy Corbyn in the 1980s
At one stage she had planned for the family to move from Islington to leafy Kingston upon Thames, but was quickly disabused of the idea. ‘He has to live in his constituency,’ a political aide told her.
She got the same short shrift from her husband when she tried to hire a cleaner – a move that prompted one of Corbyn’s friends to question whether his wife had ‘bourgeois tendencies’.
To Corbyn, Claudia’s list of complaints was familiar. Over the years, a succession of women had made the same observations: he never changed his ways, and he rarely thought about them.
He wore the same shabby clothes, ate the same bland food and stuck to the same dogmatic political convictions he first developed as a teenager.
Admirers hailed his inflexibility as proof of his integrity. Detractors blamed his limited intelligence and lack of education for his failure to appreciate others.
Long before the onset of their financial problems, life with Corbyn had proved difficult for Claudia. Labour MP Tony Banks witnessed just how difficult as one day he walked into Westminster’s central lobby and spotted her standing by the wall, tearfully holding her children.
Jeremy, Claudia explained, had promised to meet her two hours earlier. He had not turned up. Banks took the four Corbyns to the Commons family room and went off in search. Eventually he found Corbyn in a committee room. ‘You’d better come out and look after your children,’ he suggested. Corbyn did not seem fazed for a moment. Banks was not surprised. ‘When pushed to have a day off,’ he recalled, ‘Jeremy’s idea was to take his partner to Highgate Cemetery and study the grave of Karl Marx.’
His old friend Reg Race had experienced something similar when he had invited the Corbyn family for a week’s holiday at his country home in Derbyshire.
On the day, Claudia arrived with the children.
‘Where’s Jeremy?’ asked Mandy, Reg’s wife. ‘I don’t know,’ replied Claudia with sadness. ‘He just told me, “I’ve got to go to a meeting”, and I haven’t seen him since.’
Over the following 36 hours, Claudia called several numbers searching for her husband. Two days later he turned up, explaining his absence as a necessary sacrifice for ‘the movement’.
By the time Race was called in to help resolve Corbyn’s financial crisis, the marriage was all but over.
Corbyn had regularly picked wood from neighbourhood skips, and also collected railway junk as he criss-crossed the country on trains
That afternoon Race told his friend that he had little choice but to sell the family home.
Claudia agreed. Reluctantly, so did Corbyn – and thereafter broke off his relations with Race. The messenger was to blame, a failure to take personal responsibility that left Race to conclude of the man he’d worked closely with over three decades: ‘He’s not fit to be leader of the Labour Party, and not fit to be Britain’s Prime Minister.’
In early 1999, the Corbyns’ home was sold for £365,000 (£730,000 today), and they downsized to a house in Mercers Road, a shabby street off Holloway Road.
On the day of the move, Corbyn was told by Claudia to empty the fridge. He forgot. He also forgot to clear the garage. Late in the afternoon, while their former home’s new owner fumed on the pavement, the garage door was opened to reveal rubbish crammed to the ceiling.
Corbyn had regularly picked wood from neighbourhood skips, and also collected railway junk as he criss-crossed the country on trains. Boxes of safety lamps, metal signs, track signals and other paraphernalia had been stuffed in any old how. Late in the day, everything was finally shuttled across to the basement of Mercers Road, creating a new world of clutter.
The move brought one advantage. The building had been converted into bedsits, making the estrangement between Claudia and Corbyn easier.
She and their three sons took the top floors, where she lived with a young South American dubbed ‘the toy boy’, while Corbyn, in the basement, had relationships with a series of younger women.
The Labour leader has always done his best to conceal his chaotic personal life from the media – which he loathes. His break-up with Claudia was no different, shrouded as it was with obfuscation and lies.
Late in 1999, while Corbyn was at a peace conference in The Hague, a journalist contacted his wife and asked whether the two had separated. She said their 12-year marriage had ended in 1997. She said she had wanted their 11-year-old son Ben to go to Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Barnet, but that Corbyn had stipulated that he should go instead to Holloway School, a failing local comprehensive.
From The Hague, Corbyn confirmed Claudia’s account. Defending his ideological purity against selective schools, he implied, was more important than his son’s education – or his marriage.
In a series of interviews, Claudia reinforced the same message. ‘My children’s education is my absolute priority, and this situation left me with no alternative but to accept a place at Queen Elizabeth Boys’ School. I had to make the decision as a mother and a parent… It isn’t a story about making a choice, but about having no choice.’
To the public, Corbyn appeared to have acquiesced in his wife’s wishes, but, like so many communists, he had put his political principles first, and ended the marriage: he could not live with a woman who did not accept his beliefs.
The only dent to that image of ideological purity was Claudia’s revelation that Corbyn had agreed for another of their sons to spend two years at the local Montessori nursery, at £600 per term.
If that had been the last word on the subject, the notion that the marriage had broken up over Corbyn’s principles might have been plausible. But Claudia, possibly with Corbyn’s encouragement, went further. ‘He is first the politician and second the parent,’ she said. ‘It’s very difficult when your ideals get in the way of family life… It has been a horrendous decision.’
Sixteen years later, the whole tale was expanded. Rosa Prince, Corbyn’s semi-authorised biographer, described, with Claudia’s help, a tormented family: ‘Corbyn and Bracchitta went round and round in circles for months.
‘She would not send Ben to Holloway School and Corbyn could not bear for him to go to Queen Elizabeth’s… In choosing Queen Elizabeth’s, Bracchitta was aware that she was ending her marriage.’
Is this version correct? Friends say the marriage ended because of Corbyn’s behaviour – his financial fecklessness, his thoughtless absences and his selfish refusal to do anything to make his wife’s life more pleasant.
‘He told me that the marriage had ended long before the school bit,’ Ken Livingstone recalled. ‘We had a chat at the time and he said his marriage had fallen apart over other things, not the school.’
Livingstone had discovered that Corbyn’s ‘authenticity’ was fictitious – a confection for political appearances. Like his great hero Lenin, the Labour leader had mastered a critical ruse to grab public support: ‘A lie told often enough’, wrote the Soviet revolutionary, ‘becomes the truth.’ Few politicians have deployed this tactic as ruthlessly and effectively as Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn’s 40 years of plots, lies, intimidation and chaos: Chilling biography tells how Labour leader followed Lenin and Trotsky’s bloody footprint – seize power, purge moderates, crush dissent and leave the dirty work to others
If Corbyn’s class-war politics are unchanged from the 1970s, so too are his tactics: lies and deceit, bullying and intimidation – and getting others to do the dirty work while he plays Mr Nice Guy.
And if you want to understand how Corbyn wins power – and the chaos and misery that results – there’s no better place to look than his early career in Haringey, one of the most notorious of London’s ‘Loony Lefty’ boroughs.
It was there he honed the malign modus operandi many now fear will land him in No 10.
Lenin was the first on the far-Left to advocate the infiltration of Labour, telling British communists: ‘Support the Labour Party as the rope supports the hanged man.’ Lenin’s idea was that once communists controlled the party, they could win an election – and with it the power to destroy capitalism.
If Corbyn’s class-war politics are unchanged from the 1970s, so too are his tactics
This was the lifetime’s journey Corbyn began when he joined his local Hornsey Labour Party and discovered, for the first time in his life, a sense of purpose.
The Hornsey party was viciously split between warring communists, Marxists and Trotskyites – as well as social democrats. Starting a soon-to-be familiar pattern, Corbyn deftly gave the appearance of not belonging to any faction.
But Barbara Simon, the branch’s long-serving secretary, wasn’t fooled. ‘He was a natural Marxist,’ she noted, seeing him as a sly agitator seeking political advantage at every turn.
Douglas Eden, a polytechnic lecturer and a member of the Hornsey Labour Party, watched as Corbyn manoeuvred to take over the branch.
‘In his carefully self-controlled way,’ said Eden, ‘he presented himself to the lower orders of society, the vulnerable and inadequate people who felt indebted to him, as working-class.’
Indeed in his early years Corbyn would introduce himself by saying ‘I’m from Telford New Town’, suggesting he came from a working-class area when the truth couldn’t be more different.
Republican friend: Corbyn with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness in 1995
His tactics paid off and in early 1974, at the age of 24, Corbyn won a seat on Haringey Council.
Although he never read Trotsky, he adopted his ideas to foment what Trotsky had called ‘a permanent state of unrest’ as a prelude to eventual victory.
‘You could not out-Left Corbyn,’ recalled Robin Young, Haringey’s Labour whip. ‘He detested everyone who disagreed with him. And he always got others to do his dirty work.’
Vegetarian… until invited to eat meat with Castro
Pictured: Fidel Castro enjoys a steak dinner
Corbyn had been a vegetarian ever since he witnessed the treatment of farm animals in Shropshire as a boy.
But then came a visit to Cuba with his wife Claudia as official guests.
The highlight was dinner with Castro, pictured right.
In his welcoming speech, Castro hailed Corbyn as a trusted friend against American imperialism.
The main course was meat.
To Claudia’s bemusement, rather than mentioning the fact that he was a vegetarian, her husband swallowed the beef with his principles.
Now began a campaign of intimidation that set the template for those carried out by Corbyn’s Momentum shock troops 40 years later. And, just like today, the man secretly driving it all swore blind that it had nothing to do with him.
So Corbyn quietly ordered junior councillors to propose motions to destabilise the moderates, encouraged activists to confront his ideological enemies and energetically recruited far-Leftists as Labour members.
Meetings of the Hornsey Labour Party grew raucous. ‘Corbyn was encouraging all the Left groups to join,’ says Toby Harris, its chairman. ‘Some arrived with fake names, especially the hardliners.’
The 1979 General Election loomed and Corbyn was certain Labour would win, especially in Hornsey, a marginal seat. The chosen candidate was Ted Knight, a 45-year-old unmarried Trotskyite and leader of Lambeth Council – as debt-ridden and rotten as Haringey. Always dressed in a dark suit, foul-mouthed Knight addressed everyone as ‘Comrade’, always delivered with a hint of menace.
In a campaign leaflet issued by Corbyn, Knight pledged to ‘weaken the capitalist police who are an enemy of the working class’, pay ‘not a penny for defence’, and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act – at the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign.
Going well beyond Labour’s official policy, the two men also advocated mass nationalisation of banks, major shops and even newspapers – all without compensation.
Targeting the immigrant vote, Corbyn spread the word that Labour would abolish border controls. Tories accused his canvassers of telling West Indian immigrants they’d be sent home if Labour lost.
Yet despite his best efforts, on May 3, 1979, Mrs Thatcher swept to power.
Not surprisingly, Haringey became one of the new Tory government’s prime targets.
Over the previous five years, the council had hired an extra 1,000 staff and accumulated a £6 million deficit, yet its services were deteriorating. Endless strikes, enthusiastically encouraged by Corbyn, had meant uncollected rubbish, closed schools and unrepaired council homes.
Now, Thatcher forbade all councils to increase their debts and, at the same time, reduced their government grants. Most sought to improve efficiency, but Corbyn demanded that Haringey’s Labour group defy the Government by setting illegally high rates.
‘We’ll be personally surcharged,’ the moderates retorted, fearing that their privately owned homes would be seized to pay the fines.
Corbyn continued to demand the sacrifice, without revealing that his own flat had been bought with a GLC mortgage, and was therefore safe from repossession.
‘Where’s that member of Militant who just won in Hayes?’ asked Greater London Council leader Ken Livingstone jocularly about a trusted comrade in his sprawling headquarters opposite Parliament.
Although he never read Trotsky, he adopted his ideas to foment what Trotsky had called ‘a permanent state of unrest’ as a prelude to eventual victory (pictured: Corbyn aged 18 in 1967)
‘That’s me!’ replied John McDonnell. ‘And I’ve left Militant.’ Livingstone admired McDonnell’s ‘macho form of class-based politics’. The Trotskyite’s fondness for a violent revolution to topple the capitalists, said Livingstone, had been learned during his training as a supporter of Militant Tendency – the hard-Left faction eventually defeated by Neil Kinnock.
Livingstone brought McDonnell out of the shadows to make him GLC deputy – and, together with Corbyn, set out trying to destroy Thatcher’s government. But the 1983 General Election – famously fought on a manifesto dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’ – was a catastrophe for Labour, if not for Corbyn, whose exhaustive campaigning won him a seat as MP for Islington North.
Although he enjoyed his new status, for Corbyn real life was outside Parliament.
‘Smash the Tory state!’ he would yell into his megaphone on endless marches through Islington.
Nevertheless, once Corbyn left Haringey Council, his image began to change – an illusion that would end up having catastrophic consequences for everyone who fell for it.
Few at Westminster had witnessed his vituperative campaign against moderate Labour councillors. And many saw him as a ‘good guy’ because of the way he always employed a mild manner in debate. The ‘hatred and divisions’ recalled by Haringey councillors at ‘nasty meetings’ orchestrated by Corbyn were lost in a smokescreen of indifference.
Still, some saw through him. After the 1992 General Election handed the Conservatives their fourth successive victory, Corbyn’s constituency agent Keith Veness resigned. ‘I’ve had enough,’ he told his MP. ‘You’re an anarchic shambles, without any discipline.’
In particular, he was fed up with the candidate’s obsession with leaflets. ‘There’s so much paper around that no one can open the doors,’ he complained.
Corbyn’s financial indiscipline was another irritation. Whenever Veness protested that there was no money for another leaflet, Corbyn replied: ‘We’ll find it.’
When on May 1, 1997, Tony Blair secured Labour’s return to power after 18 years, even Corbyn could not resist celebrating. The other good news for Corbyn was the selection of John McDonnell, one of 145 new Labour MPs.
McDonnell’s arrival in the Commons strengthened Corbyn, the Liverpudlian’s education and understanding of Marxism compensating for Corbyn’s intellectual deficits.
While Corbyn was uncertain how Marxist ideology fitted in with lip service to capitalist democracy, McDonnell admitted he was a member of Labour only as ‘a tactic’, because it was a ‘useful vehicle’.
Discounting the ballot box as a means to change the world, McDonnell – who called himself ‘the last communist in Parliament’ – explained: ‘There’s another way too which in the old days we called insurrection.
‘Now we call it direct action. It’s when the Government don’t do as you want, you get in the streets or you occupy.’
McDonnell was taken aback when Corbyn announced he was standing for the Labour leadership after Ed Miliband’s 2015 defeat. ‘I thought we decided not to put up anyone from the Left,’ he said. ‘Well, we’ve decided that we need a debate,’ replied Corbyn.
He wants unrestricted immigration… anyone who disagrees is racist
Show of support: Corbyn celebrates with Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant, dressed in their parents’ national costume, as they mark their first day in Parliament in 1987
Dressed in a dirty jacket and creased trousers, Jeremy Corbyn arrived in Westminster as a new MP in the summer of 1983.
He immediately told friends that Parliament was ‘a waste of time’ with no relevance to his Islington constituents, especially the immigrant communities.
To meet them, he set up offices in the Red Rose Centre in Holloway where his door was always open to a tide of human misery: Cypriots, Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis, South Africans, South Americans, Somalis, West Saharans and Kurds all sought his help.
The procession of petitioners reinforced his conviction that Britain should allow unrestricted immigration – and offer the world’s destitute an open invitation to share our wealth. In his opinion, all immigrant communities were victims of white imperialists, and the British state owed them a financial obligation. Anyone who disagreed was racist.
Four years later Corbyn was back in Westminster for another first day of the new Parliament.
To celebrate a new era, Britain’s first three black MPs – all Labour – marched into the Commons chamber together.
Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant, together with the Asian Keith Vaz, each dressed in their parents’ national costumes, created an unprecedented spectacle as they walked towards the Speaker to take the oath.
Acting as part-supplicant and part-valet, Corbyn walked immediately behind, pleased to have a place as the honorary white man for the black caucus.
‘Look at Jeremy,’ said Brian Wilson, a new Scottish MP, to George Galloway, who had also been newly elected. ‘He would black up if he could.’
The only obstacle was obtaining enough nominations and Corbyn called every Labour MP, asking for their support.
‘He’s a good bloke,’ many agreed, mentioning that, unlike McDonnell, Corbyn was always polite, and never openly threatening. Soon his name was on the ticket.
Many of those who backed him quickly considered it the greatest mistake of their career.
Now came a key addition to Corbyn’s inner sanctum: Seumas Milne, his 57-year-old intellectual consigliere, an alumnus of Winchester and Oxford, and the son of Alasdair Milne, ex-director general of the BBC.
Known as a ‘Tankie’ when he joined the Guardian as a journalist because he supported the Soviet suppression of the uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Milne praised Stalin for offering ‘socialist political alternatives’.
There were lessons to be learned, he wrote, from the Soviet success: ‘For all its brutalities and failures… communism in the USSR, Eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education and job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment.’
Milne’s political convictions and intellectual eloquence were to prove vital in helping Corbyn get elected Labour leader in September 2015 in a stunning victory that even dwarfed the mandate for Blair in 1994.
‘You’re too nice to be leader,’ Ken Livingstone told the most unexpected winner in his party’s history.
‘No one’s scared of you.’
‘John McDonnell will do all the scary stuff,’ Corbyn replied.
Just like in the 1970s, Corbyn’s winning power was quickly followed by chaos.
While the new leader wrestled with Shadow Cabinet appointments, office phones rang unanswered, messages remained unacknowledged and arrangements for meetings disappeared because there was no diary. The few scheduled meetings that did take place were abandoned after Corbyn failed to appear, often because he was averse to making decisions. ‘The atmosphere was fraught, tense and unhappy,’ reported adviser Harry Fletcher, ‘because the staff were terrified of having power.’
In the weeks after Corbyn’s election, most outsiders were still unaware that Trotskyite groups were disbanding so their members could qualify to join Labour in targeted constituencies. Many came from Momentum. Their attempt to rejoin was supported by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who saw the move as helping to purge the party of moderates – still unfinished business.
Leaving his office (decorated with a large portrait of Lenin), McCluskey set off to tell a meeting: ‘We may lose some people along the way. All I can say to that is, “Good riddance.” I’ve got a little list here in my inside pocket with names of people I’d like to see go.’
He was voicing the private thoughts of Corbyn, McDonnell and Milne. In public, all four talked about a kinder, gentler politics, at odds with the campaign of hatred, unprecedented in British politics, which then followed.
The conspirators were helped by the list of party members’ names, email addresses and telephone numbers that had been handed to Momentum founder Jon Lansman during the leadership election.
It was now used ruthlessly to flush out their foes. The first traces emerged in mid-October 2015: Hilary Benn was voted off Labour’s National Executive Committee and replaced by a loyalist.
Next, Corbyn supporters challenged moderate Labour councillors in Portsmouth, Lambeth and Brighton. Naturally, Corbyn denied any responsibility. ‘I want to make it crystal clear,’ he told questioners, ‘I do not support changes to make it easier to deselect MPs.’
Milne introduced ideological discipline to Corbyn’s office. He persuaded him to make Katy Clark, a hard-Left bruiser, his political secretary. To assist her, Corbyn appointed the Trotskyist Andrew Fisher, who was advised to delete blogs describing his enthusiasm for violence.
Clark’s arrival aggravated the office chaos. Meetings arranged to start at 9am were delayed because no one arrived until 11, and some staff did not come to work at all. ‘They were lazy and p***ed on £100,000 a year,’ said a member of Corbyn’s team. If, by chance, sufficient numbers had arrived by midday, the next hurdle was to find Corbyn.
But even once he was located, aides quickly discovered their leader lacked the mental agility to chair a meeting without a clear brief of what he was to say. Milne was well aware he was serving an indecisive man prone to change his opinion depending on whoever he had last spoken to.
Corbyn’s malleability played to his own strengths, but also required careful handling. Too many outside the room judged Corbyn ‘thick’. At meetings, Milne sat expressionless when Corbyn asked the room nervously: ‘What’s wrong?’ In response, there was silence.
Meanwhile, the relentless campaign against his enemies was directed from the Labour leader’s office. Milne and others ‘anonymously’ briefed social media websites such as The Canary and Squawk Box to target anyone who stood up to them.
The vitriol was given rocket fuel by Momentum, by then employing permanent staff and strengthened by Len McCluskey’s union money.
Without a leader or an ideology, many MPs were cowed by Labour’s ‘shock troops’, led by Lansman, a battle-hardened party activist. Based in his office overlooking Euston station, Lansman claimed to control 90,000 supporters spread through a hundred groups across the country.
Arsenal fan… who finds game ‘crude and awful’
Fairweather fan: Corbyn with ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
Over the years Corbyn has made great play about his alleged passion for his local football club, Arsenal.
But, according to his old friend and constituency agent Keith Veness, he regarded the game as ‘crude and awful’, and much preferred not to go.
So Veness took Corbyn’s sons to matches, while their father went to political meetings.
‘Jeremy wasn’t interested in football,’ recalled Veness.
‘Except, that was, on Cup Final day’ – when, no doubt, his attendance was sure to generate positive man- of-the-people media coverage.
He spoke about ‘permanent mobilisation’ to defend Corbyn, not least action by Momentum’s members to trigger ‘mandatory deselection’ of untrusted MPs.
To root them out, in early 2016 a ‘loyalty list’ was drafted to classify MPs into five categories, from ‘core group’ to ‘hostile’. It listed only 17 unquestioned loyalists, including McDonnell and Abbott. Every Jewish MP was ‘hostile’ or ‘negative’, including Ed Miliband. Chuka Umunna, another ‘hostile’, was described by a Momentum activist as not ‘politically black’.
While authorising these classifications from his own office, Corbyn the consummate hypocrite publicly ordered his MPs to cease their personal abuse, public sniping and anonymous briefings.
When, over the summer of 2016 Corbyn faced a challenge to his leadership, Momentum activists went to war against the 172 rebel MPs on Twitter, issuing stark threats of deselection, violence and even murder. Fearing for their safety, some MPs hesitated to leave their offices.
Meanwhile, the purge of the moderates intensified.
Hundreds of Momentum members stormed into the annual meeting of Brighton and Hove’s Labour Party in an attempt to deselect MP Peter Kyle. Momentum directed similar tactics against Thangam Debbonaire, the MP for Bristol West, while she was being treated for breast cancer.
Other women MPs accused John McDonnell of urging supporters at rallies to demonstrate outside their constituency offices. A brick was thrown through a window of Angela Eagle’s office.
She directly accused Corbyn of allowing a ‘culture of bullying’ to develop. ‘It’s being done in your name,’ another of the victims told Corbyn. He replied with the old lie: ‘I don’t allow bullying.’
High on the list of targets was Ben Bradshaw, the MP for Exeter, who denounced Corbyn as a ‘destructive combination of incompetence, deceit and menace’.
John Woodcock, another victim, reviled Corbyn and McDonnell for having ‘set themselves up as the high priests of honest and straight-talking politics. Yet as soon as they are challenged, their operation squirms, spins and distorts like the very worst of anything that came before’.
But, once again, the bullyboy tactics worked.
In the new leadership contest, Corbyn won 61.8 per cent of the votes, even better than a year earlier. Election success against Theresa May in June 2017 unleashed yet more bloodletting.
‘No jobs for traitors,’ declared McDonnell on seeing his party’s rising black star Chuka Umunna interviewed on TV. Umunna, McDonnell seethed, was not one of ‘our people’.
In a chillingly Stalinist twist, Momentum turned against 50 Labour MPs accused of failing to praise Corbyn during their election campaigns.
The pressure to pledge allegiance to their leader was unpleasant and intense.
Although she was on maternity leave, Liverpool MP Luciana Berger was told by a Unite official who had recently been elected on to her constituency’s executive committee to ‘get on board quite quickly now’, and apologise to Corbyn. She duly succumbed.
The intimidation of Berger was not unique. Many female Labour MPs, particularly Jews, complained of renewed abuse by the Left.
As in 1970s Haringey, Corbyn did nothing to protect them. He inspired the attacks, then stood back. Now was the moment, he agreed with Lansman, to revive the deselections interrupted by the 2017 election.
Momentum members in local branches were empowered to remove Blairite MPs. In Hampstead, Enfield, Lewisham, Hastings, Mansfield, Stoke and Brighton, moderate Labour MPs were under siege.
Then came a twist to bring the story of Corbyn’s toxic brand of politics full circle.
In his old stomping group of Haringey, members of Momentum intimidated the moderate councillors to succumb to what they termed a ‘democracy review’.
Claire Kober, the borough’s popular Labour leader, resigned after ten years because the activists’ anti-Semitism and misogyny, she said, ‘got too much’.
Richard Horton, the chairman of Haringey’s Stroud Green branch, complained of aggressive Marxists ‘destroying my mental health and damaging my family life’ and he too departed.
How proud the young Jeremy Corbyn would have been.
Principled? Corbyn secretly believed in Brexit… but ‘campaigned’ for Remain, bombshell book reveals
It will appal many of his young supporters but Corbyn welcomed David Cameron’s Referendum announcement – because his Euroscepticism is long-standing and deep-rooted
Europe, he told President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela in 2014, had ‘suffered appallingly’ because the EU was a capitalists’ club and a barrier to his life’s work to ‘build socialism’.
The EU, he believed, existed for greedy bankers and multinationals to exploit the working class.
If Britain voted to leave, and freed itself from Brussels’ control, a socialist government could prevent British investment abroad and control markets, tariffs and profits – all contrary to EU laws.
Criticised: Corbyn angered Remainers with his appearance on the comedy show The Last Leg
Both Corbyn and McDonnell wanted to campaign for Britain to leave, but were challenged by Hilary Benn and others in the Shadow Cabinet. Reluctantly, Corbyn agreed to campaign for Remain. The Remainers’ chances of success, Corbyn knew, depended on Labour voters. Cameron’s fate was equally bound up in the outcome. If Britain voted Leave, Corbyn calculated, the PM would be humiliated and the Tories weakened. Those were good reasons not to appear on any platform alongside him. To Alan Johnson, appointed to lead Labour’s Remain campaign, Corbyn’s reluctance to preach the advantages of the EU was ‘risible’.
Within weeks of Johnson starting his work, tensions intensified. According to him, Corbyn’s closest associates were undermining his efforts.
Corbyn ignored him at meetings and found regular excuses not to appear on the Remainers’ platform while he continued to speak in favour of the IRA and Hamas.
‘You’re deliberately sending Jeremy to speak in areas where he’s not needed,’ a journalist told Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s spin doctor. ‘Don’t be so stupid,’ said Milne, laughing. He would not dream of ‘scuppering the vote’.
Corbyn knew the contrary. For Labour supporters tempted to vote Leave, controlling immigration was critical, but to him those opposed to open borders were racist. To keep ideologically pure, he ordered party officials to remove every reference to immigration from Labour’s campaign. As he understood perfectly well, his stance was deeply damaging to Remain. Hilary Benn intervened. Entering Corbyn’s office, he said: ‘You need to think in the language of the national interest.’
Milne laughed. ‘What’s funny about the national interest?’ asked Imran Ahmed, Benn’s assistant.
The EU, he believed, existed for greedy bankers and multinationals to exploit the working class
Milne’s dismissive shrug sparked an outburst from Benn directed at Corbyn. Trashing Cameron, he said, was short-sighted. The Referendum could be lost. Milne started to interrupt. ‘Shut up!’ Benn shouted. ‘This is for elected people to discuss!’
‘We won’t speak about immigration or the national interest,’ Corbyn told Benn. Soon after, he removed from an important leaflet a personal endorsement written by a party official. The words he deleted ran: ‘I am clear, just like my Shadow Cabinet, the trade union movement and our members, that it is in the interests of the people of this country to remain in the EU.’
His not-so-subtle sabotage of his own campaign went on. On Milne’s advice, Corbyn chose to star at the British Kebab Awards rather than attend a major Remain rally. Johnson was even more indignant about his leader’s appearance in a white fur coat and black tie on The Last Leg, a Channel 4 comedy show.
Not only did Corbyn deliberately look unserious, but, to harm the campaign still further, he told the audience that he was only ‘7 or 7.5 out of 10’ in favour of Europe.
‘I’m not a huge fan of the EU,’ he said, smiling.
The result of the Referendum on June 23 shocked everyone. The puzzle on that momentous night was to locate Corbyn. He had disappeared – his staff assumed he had gone home to sleep, and had turned his telephone off. After getting up late the following day, Corbyn was seen laughing over breakfast with his team. Although Milne and McDonnell admitted to voting Leave, Corbyn would deny that he had done so.
After a telephone conversation, his old friend Keith Veness believes that he did vote Leave, not least because he sounded so delighted.
Before Corbyn arrived at his office that morning, he publicly demanded that the Government should immediately apply for Article 50, the process to terminate Britain’s membership of the EU. Back then he saw no reason to prepare for negotiations or for a transition period.
He simply wanted Britain out of the European Union without establishing any relationship with the customs union or the single market, and emphatically ruled out a second referendum.