Yemi Hailemariam met Jeremy Corbyn a year ago.
She was waiting outside his office in Islington North. She was there to speak to him about her partner, Andargachew Tsege, who one week earlier had been detained in a Yemen airport, had a sack put over his head, and had been transported 500 miles in the dark to an unnamed Ethiopian prison.
Andargachew, or Andy, as he is known to Yemi and their children, had been wanted by the Ethiopian authorities for several years. A political refugee and UK citizen, he wrote a book that irritated the regime, and in 2009 was issued with a death penalty in return.
Corbyn arranged a meeting in parliament with the Foreign Office, and then a press conference. He raised three separate early-day motions with parliamentarians, delivered a petition to Downing Street, and held two personal meetings with the Ethiopian ambassador in the UK. Andy remains in detention – held in solitary confinement.
Anytime I ask, he is there. Now I am supporting him in return.
Yemi is one of 7,000 who have so far signed up to volunteer for the Corbyn for Leader campaign. I’m another. We meet at an unofficial Saturday picnic event in Russell Square for Corbyn supporters. I’m curious about Corbyn and the people who are volunteering in his campaign. Unsurprisingly there are lots of teenagers here, but also a considerable number of pensioners. Both have been involved in manning the phone banks at Corbyn supporters HQ earlier that day.
Hassan, volunteer, 16, from Hayes and Harlington
A few days later I visit the London office space that Unite union has lent to the campaign. The room is abuzz, and can barely handle the number of volunteers. I speak to Will Armston-Sheret, a 20-year-old student, who has been volunteering since day one and has since become unofficial head of data. “When I joined there were four,” he says. “Now we have over 7000.”
“At the start of the campaign we were on such a shoestring that we barely had enough money for leaflets,” says chief volunteer and journalist James Schneider. “Now we’ve raised over £100,000 in small donations.”
I ask Armston-Sheret, who is volunteering 10am-8pm, six days a week, what’s prompting the enthusiasm.
We noticed a particular spike in donations after Tony Blair came out against the campaign. The bad publicity plays into our hands. It shows that negative campaigning just doesn’t work.
Kaya Mar, satirical artist
Kat Fletcher, who is in charge of the volunteer movement, is keen to keep expectations in check. “Most of all, we need to decide how this movement continues after 12 September,” she says.
I go to see Corbyn speak at a rally in Camden Town Hall. Outside, it’s mayhem. The event is so overbooked that the queue stretches a quarter of a mile back. There are new volunteers leafleting here tonight.
“We’re fed up by personality politics, by the politics of personal abuse, by the politics of celebrity,” Corbyn announces. “We want something stronger.” But the politics of personality which Corbyn so disparages, he also exudes. How can it be that a 66-year-old white male with a beard has galvanized this many people?
After the rally, Yemi says: “For me he makes politics personal, and he makes power personal. He has the higher level but he also makes it possible for the little people. He connects the dots. He connects the little people with the power. You can see the path clearly.”