To each one of you I send my heartfelt solidarity. Due to the entire country being in lockdown since early April, our last coming together in one space was in February. As I handed over the leadership to Keir Starmer on April 5th, the Coronavirus pandemic had already begun to transform our world.
High-level discussions on Covid 19 had commenced by early March when I attended a meeting with the Prime Minister. I was also in contact with London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, Trade Unions, and of course Cllr Richard Watt’s brilliant team at Islington Council (LBI).
I took the PM to task on his management of the crisis in my final PMQs in late March: https://bit.ly/3biDQm8. The chamber was very sparsely populated, with just a few staff members permitted into the Visitors’ gallery. Our work continues remotely, with Parliament having undergone a technological transformation to cope with Coronavirus restrictions. I remain in regular contact with LBI, and my hard working team continue to support me from their homes.
Ahead of the “lockdown” in March I was privileged to deliver the Bernie Grant Memorial Lecture at the Bernie Grant Arts centre. Bernie was a great friend and comrade to many of us and was the MP for Tottenham from 1987 to his premature death from a heart attack aged 56 in 2000.
Despite the lockdown it’s been a very busy period: I have enjoyed the opportunity of attending a variety of inspiring events (zoom or Webinar) on very many different subjects including Mayday, Palestine, nuclear weapons, Denis Goldberg (memorial), Shrewsbury Trades Council, and more. I have also delivered several carefully crafted video messages from my evergreen Islington garden to Whittington mental health workers, as well as for the annual Levellers event, the latter being obliged to cancel this year’s live event and several others.
This year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference routinely held in New York was cancelled and instead I spoke at a Webinar organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Over 6,000 people watched the webinar which should be available on their website.
The shortcomings in the government’s approach to the pandemic have had dreadful consequences which we can see in both the overall death toll, which includes a significant loss to life of medical professionals and key workers, and additionally, in care homes, where a quarter of the current death toll has taken place. There are always lessons to be learnt from an event of this magnitude, but no one should paper over the cracks here, and we must continue to put pressure on the government as appropriate.
The Whittington hospital are generous with their time and I have regular, if not weekly catchups with their Chief Executive, Siobhan Harrington. The same goes for Richard Watts’ team at LBI whose praises I cannot sing loudly enough – the Councillors, the Chief Executive, Linzi Roberts-Egan, Daniel Lawson, COVID-19 Silver Commander and of course many others.
I continue to receive an exceptionally high volume of enquiries, a significant portion being Coronavirus related.This guides me in making representations to the government on behalf of constituents: including those who have recently lost their employment; those stranded overseas; those with struggling businesses; and of course the very many individuals who desperately need assistance but fall short of the government’s eligibility criteria for financial support.
I am very proud to see that the people of Islington North have united spectacularly as a community and have set up fantastic initiatives to support those who have been affected by Coronavirus. While for so many it is a time of fear and grief, it is also a time of great courage and service.
In recent weeks I have had the opportunity of visiting several food banks across the constituency and I continue to be impressed and inspired by the efficiency shown by our communities. Those I lent a hand at include Caxton House, Brickworks, Hornsey Lane, Andover Community Centre, Elizabeth house (photo), Mildmay Club, the Mildmay Centre, and Light Project International.I would like to express my deep gratitude for all the work Islington Council, ward councillors, mutual aid groups and volunteers have been doing to support the food banks and ensure that people have food on their tables.
Photo: Elizabeth House food bank
“We are only as healthy as the safety of our neighbour.”
“We will only come through this as a society through a huge collective effort. At a time of crisis no one is an island.”
In March, I attended an event held by Stand Upfor Racism where many shared the daily difficulties experienced due to the hostile environment facing migrants in Britain. Tens of thousands of migrant workers in our public services do a fantastic job and must be treated with dignity and respect. Racism, discrimination and inequality must be opposed at all levels of society.
In education, I would like to thank all school staff for the work they do to care for our children. Those working in schools have made a huge effort to ensure that the most vulnerable children can continue to receive an education.What they do enables parents who are health workers, care workers, delivery workers, street cleaners and cleaners, and so many others doing such an incredible job, to continue to do their work. This is essential to keep our society functioning during these difficult and unprecedented times. For many teachers and school staff this has been a time of great anxiety, instability, and grief. Yet despite the difficulties and challenges, they show great courage and service to our communities. Our excellent teachers and essential school staff deserve our deep appreciation and gratitude.
I am all too aware ofthe anxiety surrounding the imminent reopening of our local schools.I am also of the view that it will be an extremely difficult situation to manage as it is very likely that children will find it very difficult to follow social distancing measures.I will continue to liaise with Islington Council regarding this matter.
You may be aware of an incident on May 7th which resulted in the injury of a police officer onBlackstock Road. I spoke with council staff and local police immediately afterwards and we continue to liaise in weekly conference calls.Unfortunately, anti-social behaviour on Blackstock Road is familiar to all of us who pass through the area, and the economic issues that lie at the heart of these problems must be addressed.
I believe it is important that we celebrate our strength as a community: I want to thank Islington Faiths Forum, the Muslim Welfare House, and Finsbury Park Mosque for their continued work in the area. They have been instrumental in arranging a virtual meeting with residents, the Council and the police a few days after the incident took place. I will continue to liaise with local stakeholders, council staff, and the police on this.
I hope everyone had a wonderful International Women’s Day in March. I attended several events organised by Islington4Women, Muslim Welfare House, and One True voice. This is a very important day of the year when we celebrate the advances for women in Britain and around the world. The day celebrates the rights fought and won by determined women working together for real change, often in the face of resistance and abuse.It is a time to reflect on how violence against women in our society persists and presses the importance of educating boys to ensure they respect all women and not grow up to be violent men.
I was delighted to speak at the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate Andrea Levy. In attendance were members of Andrea’s family, and her good friend Baroness Lola Young. Cheryl Smith of Islington Museum organised Islington Council’s event for this wonderful novelist and chronicler of the British Caribbean experience.Andrea was born and grew up in Islington and lived with her family in Twyford House, Elwood Street from 1956 – 1974 until she left to attend college.Several of her novels drew on her life in Islington. Her most famous book –Small Island– won several awards including the Orange Prize for Fiction and The Whitbread Book of the Year in 2004. It has since been made into a play which ran at the National Theatre earlier this year.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, I had the chance to visit Newington Green School to unveil their Mary Wollstonecraft mural, which is beautiful, and I look forward to visiting again. Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer and a passionate advocate of education and social equality for women. She called for the betterment of women’s status through such political change as the radical reform of national educational systems, and it is only right that her very strong connection to Islington is marked here.
I also visited London Metropolitan University and had a very constructive discussion regarding the university’s role in the community. I greatly miss these visits and I look forward to resuming them once lockdown is lifted. In the meantime, I will remain busy attending virtual meetings, visiting foodbanks, responding to constituents’ enquiries, and representing my constituency in parliament.
Communities have come together, and we are all presented with an opportunity to address the inequalities that have been exposed during the pandemic. We must continue to organise together and watch out for one another, and we must also reflect on the type of society we are witnessing now. We cannot become complacent when this crisis moves on for there will be so much more to do.
Every Thursday night we applaud the NHS and key workers, but it isn’t enough; the clapping and bell ringing must be underpinned by the right protection for keyworkers, both in terms of financial support, as well as practical requirements such as PPE and their ability to get to work safely.
I will continue to use my role as Member of Parliament for Islington North, in highlighting the importance of social care, school funding, employment rights, environmental policies and equality.
Sadly, in February we said goodbye to:
Sheila Sawyer; Sheila leaves behind her husband Derek, and son Philip. Having grown up on a farm in Lincolnshire, Sheila had a love of the open air and farming and a sense of community that she enjoyed in Lincolnshire, and subsequently brought to her life in Islington.
Many of you will have known Alice Kilroy who volunteered at almost every possible left-wing event I attended for many years and remained a stalwart of Islington’s socialist movement and beyond. Alice made beautiful political banners so will be well remembered all over the country via her artwork, as well as for her vibrant personality. Islington awarded a posthumous merit to Alice for her contribution to the community, though she was told earlier that this award was coming to her.
Fortunately for the families and friends of both Sheila and Alice, these funerals took place just ahead of the lockdown, (Sheila 24/02; Alice on 3rd March).
Coronavirus took the life of Barbara Short on 31st March. Barbara was a much-loved community figure who was integral to the Hornsey Lane Estate. I attended a social distance restricted funeral (21st April) to ensure she was given a significant farewell. The hearse was surrounded by family and friends and Islington residents who valued her for both her personality and the good work in supporting them on or near the estate.
I was also privileged to have known Denis Goldberg, anti-apartheid campaigner who was imprisoned for 22 years in South Africa, having been tried alongside Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and others in the Rivonia Trial.
Denis arrived in Britain in 1985 and made a great impression on me. During his time in Islington, he ran Community HEART, a bookshop he founded on the Harvest Estate in Islington which raised funds to help improve the living standards of black South Africans. He died 29 April I have concluded an interview for Yannis Mendez ofDoubledown TV on Denis’s life.
The above friends will be much missed by so many of us.
CONTACTING JEREMY CORBYN MP
My contact details remain unchanged and Advice Sessions are being held over the telephone with my staff.
Constituency Office Tel: 0207 561 7488 (Mon, Tues, Thurs 10am – 12pm)
Postal address: The Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA