Jeremy Corbyn was in Derby today as part of his national tour to promote his leadership campaign. His 45 minute speech reinforced his well-understood philosophical position on a wide variety of issues which have gained a huge amount of backing in the country. Anyone who is socially conscious, community spirited, sensitive to the vulnerable, focussed on equality, principled and has a global view cannot fail to be supportive of much of what Corbyn espouses. The majority of the people present today required no converting. However, there is a yawning gap between his compassionate politics and the way that the Labour “brand” is executed in Derby – there really is no correlation.
The value of Corbyn being in Derby was not to hear him speak on national policies but to influence his attention on local issues.
Before the event started Nicole Berrisford, UNISON Branch Secretary made contact with Corbyn and asked him to comment on the Teaching Assistant dispute in Derby.
Chris Williamson, ex-Labour MP for Derby North, and local eminence grise, managed to allow his prejudiced politics to interfere with his understanding of the Teaching Assistant/ Support Staff dispute and laid the blame for the 25% Pay Cut at the door of the Tory Government and not recognise the fault of Derby City Council. Perhaps a little more homework might have informed him that many people in the Local Authority received significant pay increases as a result of the Equal Pay review – also due to Tory Cuts? In his speech, Corbyn made a passing reference to the Teaching Assistant dispute but, on that occasion, committed no personal support to the cause.
At the end of his speech, Corbyn was surrounded by members of the Press. They were given short shrift by the media guy, confining them to a few pre-prepared questions. I took the opportunity to ask Corbyn direct
“Will you be speaking to Ranjit Banwait and asking him why he is destroying Derby City”
– he replied “Of course!”
I then asked him about the Teaching Assistant issue and the fact that the pay cuts were unrelated to central government austerity policies….his answer was curtailed as the scrum of people needing selfies consumed his attention.
Shortly after, he made his way to Nicole Berrisford, and the group of UNISON members / Teaching Assistant / Support Staff. Nicole explained in detail the nature of the dispute, the poor communications with the Council, how the changes to the working week / working year and Job Evaluation had resulted in cuts of up to 25% to many of her members. He recognised the basic similarity with the Durham TA dispute. Corbyn was asking how the national UNISON were involved and shared his personal knowledge of the value of Teaching Assistants – his son is ( or was) a TA. The conversation went on for 5-10 minutes, and Corbyn’s engagement was one of genuine concern based on an informed understanding. He was not making comments to placate the audience – in fact although many were listening intently it was simply a dialogue between Nicole and Corbyn.
He was then asked directly, by Nicole, about his position and he said very clearly ” You have my support!”.
Corbyn’s ability to really connect with the people he spoke to was impressive – there was no political PR spin, or gloss. He came across as a genuine man. There were a few Labour Councillors present but Banwait was absent – apparently he had a prior appointment. The Derby City Council Labour Party should really focus on the style and principles of their national leader – and realise that they are now a liability for the aspirations of the Labour Party in Derby in 2020. Hopefully Corbyn will speak to Banwait as he suggested….and influence changes? This would be the real value from his visit today.