Jeremy Corbyn at Islington Somali Banadir Association: ‘Diversity is our strength
A 66-year-old man stands at the front of a crowded community hall. His audience offers him thunderous applause – but there is a slight delay after each clap, rather like an expectant football crowd waiting for a free kick to be taken. Jeremy Corbyn grins bashfully.
The Islington North MP took time out of his packed schedule as Labour Party leader to help the Islington Somali Banadir Association celebrate its 19th anniversary last night.
If celebrating a 19th anniversary sounds strange, it’s because the group – founded and still chaired by Sharif Abdalla Abubakar Sangaaf – celebrates every year of its existence each April.
This time last year, Mr Corbyn attended the 18th anniversary as a backbench MP. Last night, he arrived (half an hour late) as leader of the opposition, arguably a more talked-about man than the Prime Minister himself.
But as everyone knows, his heart lies in his consituency. Addressing the crowd at the Old Fire Station in Mayton Street, Holloway, Mr Corbyn said: “We have very strong community organisations such as this in our borough and they deal with our big issues: such as housing and the issues facing young people.
“They bring people together with solidarity and support in times of stress – so many young people go through extreme difficulty growing up in London.”
Referring to Islington’s Somali community, he said: “Our borough is made up of people from all over the world and that is our strength.”
He also rounded on cuts led by his counterpart David Cameron: “I was extremely angry when ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] funding was cut by the government. I want us to have a government that funds adult education and English classes, irrespective of faith or nationality.
“Children who grow up speaking more than one language often do better at school because they have had the fantastic opportunity of growing up in a bilingual household.
“When we had this celebration a year ago, our hopes were high for the general election. Thanks to those in here who helped give me the best election results for my party in Islington.
“But we also have a government spending a lot of time saying austerity is a good thing, and taking many millions of pounds away from Islington Council, which means every service is affected in some way and the council has to make difficult decisions.”
After certificates were presented to group members, Mr Corbyn took his leave to doorknock in Archway for London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan.
Earlier, he had wistfully admitted to spending less time in his constituency since September. But it matters little to his public. Crossing Seven Sisters Road with his bicycle, each surprised passer-by does a double-take – each with a grin on their face.