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What Do Prisoners Think of the Labour Leadership Contest?

'Corbyn's fucking off his head, everyone hates him but he doesn't care. If he's still around in ten years when I'm out I might give him a go!'

by Anonymous
21 July 2016, 10:40am

Names and identifying details have been changed.

I teach at a prison. It is approaching 30 degrees outside and the large water pipes and radiators in the classroom are inexplicably pumping out heat into the small airless room. I'm covering an over-subscribed maths class – 15 men in a space suitable for about half that number – and not one single person is in the mood to complete 20 pages of long division and multiplication exercises. Instead of struggling through the worksheet, we decide to drink water out of decrepit grey plastic mugs and talk about the Labour leadership battle.

'The people love Corbyn even more now'

Martin, 29, is possibly the poshest person I have met in prison. Both of his parents are consultant surgeons, he went to a private secondary school and graduated from the same red brick university that I attended. Martin, an artist, is serving a four-month sentence for a series of vandalism, criminal damage, and trespassing offences. Popular with the other prisoners because he's a novelty in this environment, everyone is keen to hear Martin's opinion.

"The people put him [Corbyn] in place, the people love him even more now, it's just the rats in the PLP," Martin says. I ask Martin why he thinks Corbyn is so popular with "the people" but seemingly terminally unpopular with his fellow MPs? "They just see him as this rebel, basically someone who's not into all their fuckery. He's actually standing for what he believes and not backing down. Most of these other clowns are Tories in disguise."

Other people in the group are listening pretty intently to Martin, and he is met with an equal amount of agreement and abuse. I want to know if Martin thinks someone as divisive as Corbyn could ever lead a strong opposition, let alone realistically aim to become Prime Minister. "Doesn't matter. He's building an army of people. Like Akala says, when the people realise their power, empires fall."

Martin's choice for leader: Corbyn.

'It's fucking madness at the moment'

Gary, 40, is a lifelong Labour voter and union member. He's waiting to be sentenced for a domestic assault on his partner of four years. Having pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, the most likely outcome is that he will walk from court on license having already served most of his sentence in custody. Gary will return to his job as a forklift driver once he leaves prison.

"It's fucking madness what's going on at the moment, you can't have that," he says of the Labour in-fighting. "I've always voted Labour, it's what we do, but never have I voted for anyone as useless as that Miliband before. They [Eagle and Smith] at least seem to have some balls and be up for a fight. I'll be honest, I'm still for Corbyn. I just wish he'd get off his high horse and show a bit of fucking give and take once in a while."

Gary's choice for leader: Corbyn

'Owen Smith is just another man in a suit'

Tony, 28, says that the first time he voted was in the 2015 General Election. He voted Conservative and says he is happy with his choice, but would consider UKIP in 2020 – if he's released in time. Currently waiting to go to trial, Tony says he can expect between six to ten years for dealing heroin if found guilty.

Tony tells me that he's seen Owen Smith being interviewed on the news and isn't overly impressed. "Just another man in a suit. What's he all about?"

As for his policies, Tony's not that impressed. "Sounds to me like he's just saying what he thinks people want to hear. Aren't the different parties meant to be different?"

There is some muted support for Smith from one or two of the prisoners in the class, but nothing noteworthy.

I ask Tony what he thinks of Corbyn. "He's fucking off his head, everyone hates him but he doesn't care. If he's still around in ten years when I'm out I might give him a go!"

Tony's choice for leader: None / Corbyn

'The last one I liked was Gordon Brown'

Steve, 50, says that taking into account both general and local elections, he has voted for every mainstream party at one time or another. "I'm not arsed about which party it is, I'll vote for whoever seems like the most honest and hardworking person," he says. A chef for over 25 years, Steve has two months left of his sentence for driving dangerously while five times over the alcohol limit, and also with his license suspended.

"None of these impress me much. Last one I liked was Gordon Brown. Got on with it, knew his business, didn't try and show off on the telly all the time," he says. I say that it's unlikely we'll see a Gordon Brown comeback. "Good luck to him. He got treated like shit for things that weren't his fault in the first place. We're well and truly getting what we deserve now," he says.

Would Steve vote for any one of Corbyn or Smith? "Corbyn maybe, yeah, he's knows what graft is. That's if he can make it through to an election. It might be they [Labour] have to go through a fair bit of aggro before they can win again. Might be worth it in the long run, but what the fuck are we all going to do in the meantime?"

Steve's choice for leader: A resurrected Gordon Brown

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Evidently, Owen Smith seems like a fairly distant afterthought; the reality is that most of the prisoners have very little knowledge of what they would be getting should they endorse either of them. Corbyn definitely has the most backers in the room overall, and seems to gain support as the session progresses. "The media can try and black out Corbyn all they want," Martin says, "but he's going nowhere and people best get to know that."

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Teaching in Prison

How to Survive Life in a British Prison

My Time Snorting Cocaine and Taking Beatings in a Turkish Prison