The ‘Unite for Freedom’ protest over the bank holiday weekend drew what might politely be described as an eclectic bunch to London’s Trafalgar Square. Ostensibly held to argue that the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax, the demonstration served instead to unite the cranks.
Among those in attendance were anti 5G protestors, anti-vaxxers, anti-mask wearers, someone waving the flag of the British Union of Fascists and the conspiracy theorist David Icke who announced to the crowd “what a joy it is to look out upon an island of sanity in a world of madness”.
Standing next to him on the speakers’ podium, grinning in a baggy grey blazer and wearing a sticker reading ‘Refuse the Tracking App’, was Piers Corbyn, older brother of the former Labour leader and one of the principal organisers of the event.
The 73-year-old Corbyn was later bundled into a police van and held for 10 hours after which he was given a £10,000 fine – one of the first handed out under new lockdown measures introduced last Friday designed to prevent gatherings of 30 people or more. In a later tweet to his more than 32,000 followers, Piers Corbyn called the demonstration an "epic success".
Confirming #PiersCorbyn's https://t.co/zUmOeShYAS LongRange forecast— Piers Corbyn (@Piers_Corbyn) August 30, 2020
- after epic success 29Aug 35,000 #Unite4Freedom -#StopNewNormal RALLY:-
- Piers 1stSpeaker then,
-’ ARREST Under new cov19+£10k FixedPenalty fine as Organiser, held 10hr
FightBack=> https://t.co/Lqm5q8LFaf https://t.co/xasmf38NqZ
The weekend arrest was far from Piers Corbyn’s first brush with the law. In recent months he has been given a fixed penalty notice for allegedly protesting against lockdown restrictions and later this year will stand trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court accused of two counts of contravening coronavirus rules by attending protests at London's Hyde Park on May 16 and 30 – both of which he denies.
His views on the pandemic aside, Piers Corbyn is also a supporter of a no deal Brexit and a fervent climate change denier, who recently described the teenage activist Greta Thunberg as “an ignorant, brainwashed child” and once tweeted a doctored image of her alongside a Nazi flag with its red background turned to green.
Given such controversial public utterings one might assume that the former Labour leader and Islington North MP Jeremy, who at 71 is two years younger than Piers, might prefer to keep a distance from his brother.
But actually they remain as close as when they were growing up as prep school boys in the leafy Shropshire countryside, and often spend Christmases together. Instead of being the black sheep of the family, there is much, in fact, that Piers and Jeremy have in common. Both share a deep distrust of the mainstream media, the same propensity for contrarian politics – Piers was a revolutionary socialist as a student and was affiliated for a time to a body called The International Marxist Group – the same bizarre fashion sense and the same faint West Country lilt which betrays their somewhat rarefied roots.
In 2016 when the former Labour MP Louise Ellman criticised Jeremy Corbyn for failing to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party, Piers tweeted out in reply "ABSURD". “We are a family that were brought up fighting racism from the day we were born,” he said around the time.
Following his arrest in May, Jeremy’s son, Tommy, admitted Piers Corbyn “can be a nightmare” but added “we’re a close family and we all get on”. Tommy runs a hemp business while his brother Seb works as an adviser in Westminster and other brother Ben is a football coach. All three sons are from Jeremy Corbyn’s second marriage, to Claudia Bracchitta.
After speaking fondly about his uncle, Tommy gave an insight into the Corbyn dynasty as “big family Zoom calls” and "group WhatsApp “banter”.
Piers and Jeremy were quite literally to the manor born. Jeremy was the youngest of four brothers (the other two were Andrew and Edward) who grew up in a seven bedroom manor house in rural Shropshire that was once a hotel. The Corbyn brothers were educated privately at Castle House prep school and later sent to Adams' Grammar School.
The family lived first in the pretty Wiltshire village of Kington St Michael in a large detached house before moving to the Shropshire home called Yew Tree Manor in the late 1950s after Corbyn’s engineer father, David, stayed in it while working in Newport and liked the property so much he bought it.
“It had been a manor house on the Duke of Sutherland’s estate,” Piers once said of the family home in Shropshire. “It was far too big but we had a whale of a time.”
Jeremy and Piers played bicycle polo on the rolling lawns or went fishing at the nearby lake. The freedom of such surroundings helped nurture in Jeremy and his brothers a creative, inquisitive streak. Edward, the eldest brother, who became an engineer for Concorde, built a forge in the garden and tinkered with cars.
Piers, who would become a meteorologist, constructed devices to study the solar system and the efficacy of a dew pond in the grounds. Andrew, the second brother, became a geologist but later died from high blood pressure in Papua New Guinea. Jeremy was the least scientific of the four, preferring reading about politics instead.
“Jeremy was a country bumpkin like me,” said Piers in an interview in 2015. “When I first came to London in the Sixties I didn’t understand how lifts worked. I would have thought Jeremy would have had similar problems.”
A few choice anecdotes concerning Piers and the relationship between the two brothers appear in Tom Bower’s biography of the former Labour leader published last year. At the wedding between Jeremy and his first wife, academic Jane Chapman who he met on the 1974 Labour election campaign, Piers turned up to the service at Haringey Town Hall looking so scruffy their mother Naomi was forced to rush him off to buy a shirt and suit – meaning the pair missed the ceremony.
One Christmas soon after Ms Chapman prepared a special five-course vegetarian lunch for the Corbyn brothers at their north London flat. “They stuffed it down their gullets and never said thanks,” she alleged. She left Jeremy after four years of marriage.
Jeremy was the only one of the four brothers not to attend university. Piers read physics at Imperial College London. After pursuing a career in meteorology, he launched a weather service, WeatherAction, which floated on the stock exchange in 1997 and went back into private ownership two years later.
Specialising in long-range forecasts and claiming that the earth is, in fact, cooling down rather than warming up, he decries the accepted science as a ‘cover-up’ that exists to push up fuel prices.
Last year he was photographed at a small counter-protest at the Extinction Rebellion occupation at Waterloo Bridge waving a banner calling global warming a “hoax”.
Piers, who is understood to be unmarried and without any children, earns a living from his business from a tiny, cluttered office in Southwark. He claims to have earned a decent living through his weather prediction models – engaging the bookmaker William Hill to make bets on long-range forecasts. As the scientific evidence has hardened against him, he reportedly still does the odd presentation for oil companies and climate sceptics.
Piers has lived in Southwark for 40 years and served as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1986 and 1990. He quit the party over its housing policies in 2002 and despite attempting to re-join when his brother was leader in 2017 – his bid was blocked, reportedly by his local constituency.
In May 2015 Piers stood as an independent councillor in Southwark but received just 67 votes. That, then, is a final family trait shared between the two brothers Corbyn – both have proven themselves about as popular with voters as a 5G mast at a Unite for Freedom rally.