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Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Cambridge Union



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Mr Corbyn, leader of the opposition from 2015 to 2020, was interviewed by Union president, Joel Rosen, and also fielded questions from students on Thursday, June 10.

Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić
Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić

Despite social distancing rules meaning that the Union could not be at full capacity for the event, there were still plenty of students queuing up outside to attend this talk from the occasionally divisive figure on the left who has been an MP since 1983.

Dressed in a linen suit and turquoise shirt, and clearly grateful to have been invited to speak, Mr Corbyn - the independent MP for Islington North - stood and spoke about, among other things, his hopes for the G7 summit, his latest endeavour, the Project for Peace and Justice (which has 50,000 subscribers since launching earlier this year), and his dedication to issues such as inequality and human rights.

Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić
Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić

He then sat down to be interviewed by Mr Rosen, the Union's Easter 2021 president. The first question put to Mr Corbyn was whether he prefers life on the backbenches to life in the leader's office. "Well it's different," he replied.

"I'm now back on the backbenches where I always was before... What I enjoyed about being leader of the party was the ability to have resources to do campaigns and to mobilise and to motivate people, and to develop policy changes.

"Life on the backbenches is incredibly frustrating because you can spend a whole day just trying to get one question in, so yes it's frustrating but it does mean that you have the time and the opportunity to take up causes that nobody else will take up - and so you can give voice to things that wouldn't otherwise get a voice.

"I wouldn't say I prefer one way or the other... I always enjoy life and I enjoy political discussion and debate, and I enjoy campaigning."

Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić
Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić

Mr Corbyn said he had tried to fulfil his 2015 pledge to deliver a "kinder, gentler politics" during his time in office, but said that people weren't always kind or gentle towards him - but noted: "I don't care about that particularly."

He added: "I wanted to develop a politics where there was a more inclusive form of debate and a better form of policy making within the Labour Party and the trade unions, and an inclusive politics - and so I have spent a lot of time campaigning on and supporting mental health campaigns and issues, because I do think that it's one of the great unspokens in our world, is the number of people that suffer from mental health conditions that don't want to talk about it and feel discriminated against if they do.

"So I tried to develop much of that... I think by the time the 2017 election campaign came around, we had achieved a very high level of inclusivity in politics - hence the very high turnout and participation in that election campaign."

Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić
Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić

Over the course of the hour-long event, Mr Corbyn was accused by various people present, including Joel Rosen, a Labour Party member who said he had suffered harassment at the hands of other members, of not doing enough to combat anti-semitism within the party.

At one point, Mr Corbyn said: "I want to make it absolutely clear - anti-semistism is an evil in our society, any racism is an evil in our society."

He insisted that he wanted the issue "dealt with" and that he wanted the party to be an "inclusive space for everybody" - "and that is what I tried to achieve." He added that "no anti-semitic or racist stuff is ever done in my name - ever. I would not tolerate it, I would not allow it, I would not do it."

Taking questions from the floor, Mr Corbyn was asked about the current state of the Labour Party. "As to the opposition that's being conducted at the moment, yes I do think that the party has gone too far in supporting the government on its response to corona," he said, "because the corona response is one, recognising what it is, a very serious condition, secondly, that you use it as an exemplar of how to improve and develop public services and publicly owned public services."

Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić
Jeremy Corbyn at the Cambridge Union, June 10 2021. Picture: Nordin Ćatić

Sharing his view on what politics should be, Mr Corbyn, who opposed the Iraq War and has also advocated for a unified Ireland, said: "Politics is not a media discourse, a Channel 4 debate, or a university discussion - politics is real, everyday life for people who are really up against it, trying to hold down two jobs, trying to feed children, trying to survive. The left has to have an answer to them."

Though he may often divide opinion, there was a large number of enthusiastic well-wishers waiting for the MP afterwards, hoping to converse and/or get their photograph taken with him.

For more on the Cambridge Union, visit cus.org.

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