AM Jennette Arnold OBE: ‘Even as a child I was in charge – always bossy’

Jennette Arnold

Jennette Arnold - Credit: Archant

The Gazette chats to London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold MBE, who first came to Hackney as a child so she could go to church

Jennette Arnold with Jeremy Corbyn in Islington

Jennette Arnold with Jeremy Corbyn in Islington - Credit: Archant

Jennette Arnold has always been an activist – even as a nurse in Birmingham in the 1960s: “You couldn’t be passive in the Thatcher era”, she remembers.

The first campaign she was involved in was stopping men having the right to sign consent forms for their wives’ gynaecological operations. “There was a growth in activism and we were saying: ‘It’s not his uterus and why does she need his permission?’” she said.

Jennette, AM for Hackney Islington and Waltham Forest, was born on the volcanic island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, and came to the UK aged three. “I remember this great journey on a ship, and being constantly surrounded by people, which then became a fact of life,” she said.

Her grandfather had helped found an evangelical church for expats and she remembers “bussing it all the time” as a child, from one church event to another in Hackney, Leeds and Birmingham. “I was a proper little miss,” she said. “I was in the choir, and I was a church youth leader – always in charge and being bossy. I’m sure I wasn’t past telling people: ‘This is my grandfather’s church so do as I say.’”.

Religion is still a big part of her life. She sets Sunday aside for worship at St Thomas in Finsbury Park, and family – being her son Craig and eight-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, who she knits dolls’ clothes for.

“The other six days I’m off galavanting and knocking on doors and campaigning,” she said.

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She campaigned for Harold Wilson’s government in 1964 and was elected as a Labour councillor in Islington in 1994.

“At that time they called us the “loony left”, but when you look now, and see what we were campaigning for – women’s rights, disability rights, homes, education – they are every day issues that needed to be changed, and we continue to campaign for them.

“That’s what draws me: going back to this optimistic view I have of life, that all children should be loved and nurtured and we should look after our elders because if they hadn’t led the way we wouldn’t be here.”