Monday, 17 August 2015

Islington Councillor Kat Fletcher reveals volunteer power behind Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign By KOOS COUVÉE

AS BALLOT papers are being sent out to hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members and registered supporters all over the country, a key figure in Jeremy Corbyn's surging leadership campaign has given an insight on the volunteer effort which underpins it.

St George's ward Councillor Kat Fletcher was the Islington North MP's election agent and as soon as Mr Corbyn scraped onto the ballot in June she was asked coordinate the volunteer effort in London.

Working out of the Unite The Union building in Euston, she coordinates an ever-growing “phone bank”, which consists of volunteers calling members to persuade them to back Mr Corbyn.

 “Over the past six weeks the movement has just grown and grown,” Cllr Fletcher said. “Initially I sent out a test email sending to 350 people in London to see if they wanted to volunteer for Jeremy. Within two hours I had 220 responses.”

Cllr Fletcher, 35, who was first elected to the Islington Council in 2013, works for a small pub company and has been given time off by her boss to work in the campaign. “I have never been so busy”, she said.

When she sent out her first email, 3,000 people across the country had already signed up to volunteer for Mr Corbyn. On Monday, that figure stood at 8,038, while the number of volunteers turning up at the phone bank every evening has reached 130. On Tuesday, £120,000 had been raised for the campaign from small donations averaging £23.50.

 “The response has been astonishingly positive,” Cllr Fletcher said. “You can tell that from the energy in the room. The volunteers are excited to be there and they keep coming back. They are winning the arguments. It doesn't feel like an uphill struggle.”

Previously disillusioned with politics, Giles Anamzoya, 23, decided to join Mr Corbyn when he was out canvassing after the general election. “I wanted to take stock of him and he impressed me very much”, said the charity fundraiser of Finsbury Park, who has been volunteering at the phone bank.

 “I wanted to volunteer for him from the very start. He is a very refreshing politician, and although he is the oldest of the four candidates he understands the youth and he stands up for what we believe in.”

Cllr Fletcher said there are lots of teenage volunteers, but added the demographic is “incredibly varied”. “A lot has been made about the young energetic youthful element that is definitely true, but there's also people in their 70s and 80s sitting there,” she added. “That's just wonderful.”

Pensioner Jennifer Hall, 67, of Highbury, is not a volunteer, but she is one of many who has come back to the party after an almost 20-year absence. She said many people of her generation have been buoyed by the movement that has sprung up around her MP.

“I think many people are like me in that they were waiting for somebody who is credible and not in the careerist mould,” she said. “I don't feel compromised by being Labour if there are people like Jeremy who stand a real chance of making a difference within the party. He's a genuine article.

 “He has been my MP for over 30 years and he represents real socialism, and I think the things he's coming out with now are brilliant. It's refreshing to have a different voice.”

Cllr Fletcher said the volunteering effort is creating a new network of political activists.

 “A lot of new people are joining the party and they are creating networks to organise. This is a huge opportunity. After this initial excitement we have to build the party as an electoral force.”

Asked whether she fears Mr Corbyn's momentum might wane, she added: “My experience is that every day is bigger. I can't predict it but as far as I can see we are not yet at the top of our momentum.”

Ballot papers will be sent out Friday, and voting can take place by post or online. The result will be announced at a special conference on September 12.

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