An old Navy boss of mine used to bark at me when I dared offer an alternative view or queried the prevailing, asserted opinion: ‘When I want your opinion, Paddy, I’ll give it to you!’
That was 1979 when I was barely 18 years old.
I doubt it was something new then. Of course, as young boy growing up in sectarian-divided Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s, I’d already become very aware of this trait in our culture.
He was a Naval Officer, a born to rule, entitled Tory boy, after all. So he’d know how it works, wouldn’t he?
Another Chief Petty Officer manager I had at the same Naval establishment would get upset with me when he heard me discussing politicians and the media. One day he came into the galley where I was a young chef and demanded I shut up about it because ‘they all lie, all the time. About everything!’
I told him that he didn’t need to tell me that and asked him why he was so upset with me over it. He just said that the very mention of those two industries and those who operate in them gets his back up. I could relate to that. Except I didn’t want to stay muted in my expression as to why to whoever would listen and even those who would not.
My deep distrust and, mostly, utter contempt for most things and people in politics meant that I never even remotely felt I had any identity with or representation by any political party.
To me they were all self-serving, careerist, gravy-train riders who cared nothing for the people they were supposedly serving and would quite easily see those people divided, suffer and die if it meant their own advancement in position, esteem, power and wealth. They made my stomach churn with nausea just thinking about how they operated.
They never carried my voice. All this despite my incredibly passionate feelings and beliefs about the human condition, justice, equality, conflict and the happiness and welfare of all people on this earth.
Crossed my radar
So, imagine my surprise when I first saw Jeremy Corbyn pop up on my local TV channel in Plymouth, giving a speech and a delivery which I only ever dreamed might happen in this country.
As a distruster of politicians all of my life, it was not even his fantastic politics which crossed my radar the most. It was his being, his manner, his passion, his honesty, his integrity. And the biggest factor to me was that he cared. And it was obvious. I remember thinking to myself ‘they’ll never allow this guy to be the leader of the Labour Party.’
I called my elder brother in Northern Ireland, who had been trying unsuccessfully since I was 16 year old to get me to join the Orange Lodge and told him that if this man, Jeremy Corbyn, becomes Labour leader then I would join the party. We both laughed. He knew I didn’t join anything political; I thought I knew that Jeremy Corbyn was never going to win that leadership ballot. So I could be as brazen as I liked about my intentions. It was never going to happen anyway.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A few weeks short of my 55th birthday, I joined the Labour Party. And the following year in 2016, I voted at the local city council elections, the first time I’d ever voted in my life.
On October 22nd 2015. I made my first entry in my notepad at my first ever Labour Party meeting:
‘There is a clear culture of “I’ll tell you why you’re wrong rather than ask you why you think you’re right” in this group.’
Nothing had changed in the past 50-odd years as far as I could make out when it came to politics and the charade that is authoritarianism dressed up and sold as leadership under the Divide and Rule strategy that governs virtually every aspect of our society. I thought that this event which changed my life would be an epic and turbulent journey. What else could it ever be?
With Jeremy Corbyn, the very bedrock of what had controlled our politics and cultural behaviour for centuries was under threat. The privileged beneficiaries of that were never likely to give that up without a fight. And their institutionalised structures that support and administer that were going to resist on their behalf with every sinew of their being.
It felt both petrifying and invigorating in equal measure to realise I was sat in the actual company of an environment and mentality which I had been sickened by all of my life. I was seeing the whites of its eyes and hearing the fear, hate and intimidation in the tones of the voices.
It wasn’t all bad, however. I was motivated for the battle ahead and I realised that there were also others just like me in that very room. I could see the glances and the warm smiles of reassurance and relief that we had come in from the dark to discover we were not the only one. That was a moment and an experience I will never forget.
Nor will I forget the many individuals who have been among the very best human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside in my life.
As an ex-Falklands War veteran, I have been in the company of some extraordinary characters. You find out a lot about yourself and others around you when the stark reality of dying at any given moment now engulfs you, and them. And here I was, sitting with and collaborating with like-minded people who were all too aware that we were also operating among others who would like nothing more than to see the back of us, by whatever means, fair or foul.
Foul seemed the traditional, habitual choice, as far as I could make out.
But, to my mind, these people against us were even more the victims of a ruthless and unforgiving system of rulership than we were. You could see it in their desperation and fear. The insecurity and paranoia made them afraid of good people whose sole desire was to help them take our leader and party into government and rid us of the most abhorrant and psychotic political party this nation has ever experienced.
However, it would appear there were other items on the agenda before that.
I’ve always felt that politics in the UK was akin to being the victims of an abusive relationship. And these victims wanted more abuse. They also needed a dog to kick. I think that’s how it works.
And now? Nearly five years on and with Jeremy replaced as leader, I have gone from being among the 17 million eligible electorate to not vote to being elected Chair of my local Momentum group in November 2015, Vice Chair of my CLP for the last three years and Secretary of my branch.
Me, knocking on doors and making speeches on the streets to get a message to people about the hope and dreams of a new kind of politics. How things had turned around!
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Corbyn on a handful of occasions and lately shared Zoom meetings with him!
Who’d ever have thought all of that would ever happen?
For me, life will never be the same, no matter what the latest sly trick that is thrown into the circus ring. If I survive the disgraceful witchhunt that saw me hounded out of the shortlist hustings for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate at GE2019 less than 24 hours before the event, I’ll work tirelessly to build on the platform created by Jeremy Corbyn and supported so valiantly by the members of the Labour Party, despite the undermining and sabotages that we all knew about and felt from within the party – as the leaked report has confirmed for us all.
I’d love to do that within the Labour Party, but if that is not to be I will do it outside of it.
Never has the true socialist left of the Labour Party been so strong numerically and ideologically. And it would be a travesty if we were to let that opportunity go to waste.
The Jeremy Corbyn legacy must live on and evolve. We are the ones who can exhibit our gratitude to this great man by following his example in how to speak to power, oppose inequality, injustice and all forms of oppression, bigotry, prejudice, hate and racism.
For the many, not the few.
Terry Deans, Plymouth Moor View CLP