Jeremy Corbyn’s first full day as Labour party leader began in unconventional style as he attended an event promoting an NHS mental health trust before starting work on the thorny task of appointing a shadow cabinet.
The MP refused to be diverted from the long-planned mental health event in his Islington North constituency, saying it was important to keep up his local duties. Corbyn declined an invitation to appear on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, with his new deputy Tom Watson appearing on the BBC1 programme instead.
“Attended and spoke at Camden & Islington NHS Mental Health Trust’s Fun Day – important annual community engagement event,” he said on Twitter along with pictures of him talking to locals at a small park in central London.
He travelled by taxi to the event after leaving his north London home without any comment to waiting journalists.
Corbyn told the small crowd at St Pancras Gardens that this was his first official engagement as Labour leader, “because I’m a local MP and support the work of the trust and all the volunteer groups and all the other groups that come together to build that community around mental health”.
He said: “As a society we have to recognise that one in four of us during our lifetime will suffer a degree of depression, some of it will be very severe, some of it will be less so. Many of us will become sufferers of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. We all have family or friends who are going through periods of stress.
“And now this can be dealt with, it can be supported, it can be treated. It can be treated by various therapies, talking therapies, as well as drug therapies. In some cases people need to go into hospital to be cared for and supported. But we have to do two things – recognise that mental health is an intrinsic part of our national health service … it’s instrinsic, central and absolutely the main part of it for many people and their lives.
“Stop the jokes, stop the cheap jibes, stop the unpleasant language to describe people who are going through a crisis in their lives and recognise that we could all be in that place.”
Labour also revealed on Sunday that 15,000 people had joined the party in the 24 hours since Corbyn was elected leader. The party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, said membership was “now over 325,000 and rising”.
“A warm welcome to the 15,500 who have joined in the last 24 hours,” he wrote on Twitter.
Watson said he hoped many of the more than 100,000 who had paid £3 to vote as registered supporters in the campaign would upgrade to full membership.
“I hope they can come with us on the journey to the election in 2020,” he told the Andrew Marr Show. “Let’s get these new members involved in campaigning, helping re-lay our roots in communities, being involved in a digital revolution in the party that allows members to feel that they’re more included in the decisions we make.
“We want them to be part of that and I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with that,” he said – ruling out any move to convert registered supporters automatically on grounds of practicality and cost.
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