SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Islington North as Jeremy Corbyn wins again

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SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Islington North as Jeremy Corbyn wins again

News that Labour’s former leader had been elected as an independent MP temporarily silenced the party’s Tate Modern post-election celebration

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Flyposter on telephone box in Islington North
Flyposter on telephone box in Islington North

Little could dampen the celebrations among Labour staff as the general election results, confirming Keir Starmer as prime minister, continued to roll in during the early hours last Friday.

But as those gathered at the party’s election event at Tate Modern heard the result from Islington North, where Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as MP, the room fell into a stunned silence.

Despite several opinion polls predicting the former Labour leader, now expelled from the party, was heading for defeat on 4 July, in the end Corbyn comfortably beat his Labour rival Praful Nargund, securing 24,120 votes.

Nargund, meanwhile, was left to reflect on the disappointing 16,873 votes he secured.

It would be wrong to suggest the Islington North result dented the celebrations after Labour’s landslide victory.

“So good were many of the results from other parts of the country for Labour candidates, the anger over Corbyn’s victory in Islington North was quickly put into context,” said one Labour source at the Tate Modern.

Party insiders later also pointed out that the fact that Corbyn was no longer synonymous with the Labour brand had secured far more votes for Starmer candidates elsewhere in the country.

Corbyn victory confirmed at Islington North count

For Jewish voters, it was also a sign that Starmer was sincere in his promise to root out antisemitism from the party. The expulsion of Corbyn helped to secure vital votes for candidates in seats like Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, and Chipping Barnet.

The banishment of Corbyn, with his controversial views on foreign policy and national security, undoubtedly helped Labour secure seats in areas such as Aldershot, an army stronghold.

But there can be no doubt Corbyn’s victory in the north London seat he has represented since 1983 will also raise concerns within the Jewish community about why, despite conclusive evidence of his failure to tackle antisemitism, voters in Islington North continue to back him in such numbers.

Just two hours before the polls closed last Thursday, Jewish News joined a team of Labour activists on the ground in Islington North, who were desperately trying to get locals who hadn’t yet voted to back their candidate. At that point, it was clear that regional party chiefs sensed there was not enough support for Nargund.

One official, who had previously held a senior role in the party, told Jewish News there was a distinct lack of data on the strength of local support for Nargund in the final days of the campaign.

Many voters, when spoken to on the doorstep, had been unclear about who they were planning to vote for. Others said they had made up their minds, but did not want to relay that information to canvassers.

And yes others, who freely admitted they were voting for Corbyn, many because they said he was a “good constituency MP”, others because of his outspoken support for the Palestinians, and some “because he’s always been our MP”.

It would be wrong and hugely problematic to portray all who voted for Corbyn as antisemitic.

“For many people, antisemitism wasn’t an issue at the forefront of this election like it was in 2019,” a Jewish Labour source argued. “And the community should be grateful for that.”

Labour campaigners for Praful Nardund

The source added: “There are also people who thought Corbyn was harshly treated by the Labour Party over his antisemitism, many of whom reside in Islington North, and who thought that in actual fact their MP was being picked on.

“Some of these people may have actually felt that Labour did indeed have an antisemitism problem in the past, but that putting the blame on Corbyn for this was wrong.”

Meanwhile, Corbyn’s continued commitment to the Palestinian cause convinced others to back him. Within this group some, but not all, may have been motivated by factors other than just human rights concerns for the people of Gaza.

But the reality was that Islington North was always going to be a difficult seat for Labour to win, no matter how well Starmer’s party did elsewhere.

One local official, who previously worked closely with Corbyn, but who now worked on Nargund’s campaign, told Jewish News: “Jeremy is in many ways more like a local councillor than an MP in the way he works.

“He’ll be invited to weddings, barbecues , the opening of an envelope  by residents, and rather than saying he’s busy with work, he’ll make a point of trying to attend an event, even if it’s in someone’s back garden.

“He’s familiar to  loads of people in the constituency, so it’s quite hard to persuade people not to vote for him now.”

Until recent months the local Labour Party was also controlled by members completely loyal to Corbyn.

It meant that vital data on where the majority of support for Corbyn and Labour was in the seat was, until recently only known to them.

With such a tight grip on the CLP by the Corbynistas, campaigners for Nargund only came to gain access to some of this data at a very late stage, after the general election was called.

But when campaigners for Nargund arrived on doorsteps to attempt to confirm support for their candidate, it was often clear that canvassers for Corbyn had also arrived at the same addresses.

The unique circumstances of the Islington North election also caused confusion on both sides.

Having started out convinced that Corbyn would romp to victory in the seat, a series of polls showing he was losing to Labour sparked panic among his supporters who flooded the area in the last few weeks to campaign for him.

There was evidence of campaigners for Corbyn being bussed and tubed in from all areas of the country to campaign for him, with posters urging locals to back him plastered across the borough, to the anger of some residents.

Meanwhile, with only one week to go before the election, some campaigners close to Nargund were telling Jewish News they were confident their candidate would win, although it was clear the gap between him and Corbyn was closing.

But on election day, it was clear that voters who had previously always voted Labour had decided that they would in fact stick with the MP who had represented them for 40 years.

Divided loyalties in Islington North

Some Labour insiders told Jewish News they always feared that Nargund was “not the right candidate” for the election, despite his background as a local councillor.

His work in private healthcare had made him a sitting target for often nasty attacks from Corbyn campaigners, who once again rallied around their man’s pro-NHS credentials.

Data on voter turnout in areas of the borough that had traditionally been the most pro-Corbyn also showed his supporters put an X by his name in large numbers. Turnout in Islington North was overall nearly 10 percent higher than the national average.

But compared to his vote in the 2017 election, where more than 40,000 people in Islington North had backed Corbyn, just over 24,000 had done so again in 2024, a 40 percent drop.

And as MPs return to Westminster, the reality is that Corbyn will return as a relatively powerless backbench MP, while more than 400 MPs sit in the Commons representing Starmer’s government.

As one Labour insider said: “We’ve got bigger things to worry about than Jeremy Corbyn from now on. He’s history. We’re more concerned with trying to run the country in the best way we can.”

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