– by Marianne Gibbs

Mine must be one of the most unusual reasons for joining a political party. Initially it had nothing to do with politics, more to do with fair play, and I would like to tell the story because it illustrates how a lifetime’s voting habits can change just by chance.

My son bought me a book with a picture of a beefburger on the front cover at a car boot sale. After a cursory glance I thought it was about how unhealthy beef burgers were and put it to one side. Having just passed my level three exams in nutrition I had no interest in reading any more about the subject. Hold that in your mind because it is relevant.

McLibel - Burger On Trial
McLibel - Burger On Trial

Fast-forward three months and Labour are choosing a new leader. The line up of candidates came out in time for the one o’clock news. I had no real interest but looking at the candidates I thought Jeremy Corbyn was too old, Liz Kendal was too young, Yvette Cooper too middle aged so I thought people would go for Andy Burnham simply because he was a good looking bloke in a suit (he still is).

I switched the telly off, picked up my beefburger book and took it into the garden to read. Within a minute of opening that book my life changed. It was not a book on nutrition at all, but a book about how McDonalds sued for libel two penniless young activists, Helen Street and David Morris. It became the longest legal trial in British history, lasting seven years, and for McDonalds it became a McNightmare – in part due to the free advice given to Helen and David by Kier Starmer, a good looking guy in a suit if ever there was one.

At the start of the book it says:

Early Day Motion sponsored by Jeremy Corbyn, MP, lodged in the House of Commons 26 May 1994.

That this house opposes the routine use of libel writs as a form of censorship particularly by US multinationals taking advantage of the United Kingdom’s more repressive libel laws, notes that McDonalds has threatened or initiated libel actions against numerous organizations.

Corbyn then goes on to list them and if I did the same it would take up a whole page so I won’t, I’ll just explain my reaction to reading the motion.

At first I thought there must be two Jeremy Corbyns, but I realised pretty quickly that this was highly unlikely and I decided to take a better look at him when the six o’clock news came on.

Fast-forward again to the election results. Jeremy won! Liz Kendal and Yvette Cooper resigned immediately, while Andy Burnham swallowed his pride, held back his tears and stayed with it. I was bemused by the actions of both Liz Kendal and Yvette Cooper because it seemed such sour grapes. I decided to take a closer interest in the Labour party from then on but not with a view to joining.

Throughout the rest of the year the Parliamentary Labour Party tried every which way to get rid of Corbyn. I started to feel a real anger about this as he had won the leadership election fair and square after all. When they finally managed to launch a challenge, they again tried every trick in the book to prevent him from standing and I got more and more angry. That’s when I decided to join the party just so I could vote for him. I also paid for my son to join thus giving him two votes.

However, that was not straightforward. First I was told we couldn’t vote because we had not been members long enough. Undeterred I decided to also sign us up as a supporters for £3 each only to find this has now been raised to £25. Bear in mind I was paying for two people, therefore being able to vote for Jeremy was costing me £50. Nonetheless I decided to bite the bullet and pay the money.

What a good job I opted for electronic votes, – which I completed the moment they arrived in my in box. Within a couple of days I received a phone call from ‘Labour Head Office’ wanting to know why I had joined the party, how I had voted in the past and how I intended to vote in the leadership election. I had great pleasure in informing the caller that I had already voted for Jeremy. The caller then put the phone down on me.

That was meant to be the end of my association with the party but then I received a letter from the Broadland Constituency Labour Party inviting me to the AGM. I liked what I found and stayed, getting more involved as time went by.

At the 2017 Labour Conference in Brighton I managed to get both Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Kier Starmer to sign my McLibel book, which is now one of my most treasured possessions.

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