Corbyn and Islington North: let’s not go there

David Osland offers a personal interpretation of recent media reports

If Jeremy Bernard Corbyn were on the ballot paper in Islington North at the next general election, he would almost certainly retain the seat. The only question is under what designation he would do so.

The temptation to flash a massive metaphorical V sign at Starmerism is understandable. But those positively willing him to an independent candidacy or even the foundation of a new leftwing party need to be careful what they wish for.

That this situation could even have arisen would have been inconceivable even two years ago.

After all, Corbyn has been a Labour Party member for something like half a century and a Labour MP for just one year shy of 40. He was of course a former Labour leader.

But a dispute over his statement in response to criticism contained in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into Labour antisemitism led to the withdrawal of the whip in October 2020.

Gridlock has obtained ever since. The left accuses Starmer of ratting on a reinstatement deal brokered by Len McCluskey, the right insists Corbyn can get back in any time he says the magic words. Neither side has shown any sign of backing down.

So we have reached the impasse documented in two speculative news stories over the weekend. The Telegraph website reported that Corbyn is looking not just at an indie tilt at saving the seat, but the launch of an actual new party built around his existing Peace and Justice Project.

I doubt if any firm decisions have yet been taken. Yet people on the left have inevitably started having ‘what if’ discussions.

Thelma Walker, the unsuccessful independent left candidate in the Hartlepool by-election, has for some time been trying to corral forces such as the Northern Independence Party and the Breakthrough Party into some sort of electoral ticket.

The Socialist Party-linked Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Chris Williamson’s Resist movement and George Galloway’s Workers’ Party of Britain would obviously be potential participants.

Insurgent leftwing candidates can win, especially in London. Ken Livingstone’s mayoral campaign in 2000 and Galloway’s victory in Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005 prove that.

Money wouldn’t be an issue. Corbyn would easily be able to raise up to the constituency spending limit, in fivers and tenners from around the country rather than tapping up wealthy donors.

Nor would muscle on the doorstep be in short supply. N4 would resonate with provincial accents as thousands of activists from around the country descend on Finsbury Park. And that’s just the Labour Party members.

Corbyn’s name recognition and the national publicity would do the rest.

Labour response, in poker betting terms, has been to call.  The Mail on Sunday claims it has already been lining up possible candidates, including former Wakefield MP Mary Creagh.

Creagh fancied herself as a leadership contender in 2015, but her bid humiliatingly collapsed even before the contest started, thanks to her inability to find even a dozen colleagues prepared to nominate her. That should tell her something, one feels.

At least Creagh wouldn’t be a parachutist. Prior to reaching Westminster, she was an Islington councillor for seven years. But many consider her to lack a certain degree of charisma.

Let’s just put it like this: there are no recorded instances of crowds of several thousand spontaneously bursting into rousing choruses of “Oh Mary Creagh”.

‘Inside or outside the Labour Party’ is something socialists have had to decide for themselves ever since the Labour Party’s inception.

There are plenty of arguments against revisiting this old saw. And some of them are Militant Labour, Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect, Respect Renewal, Left Alternative, TUSC, No2EU and Left Unity.

What experience has repeatedly taught us since 1900 is that nailing half a dozen jellyfish together doesn’t give you a shark.

If a Peace and Justice Party ever did see the light of day, it would get an MP and a parliamentary and media platform, which of course are both worth having. And that’s it.

I would not expect any Labour MPs in safe seats to defect to it, although some sitting Labour MPs might do so if unfairly deselected.

I could just about see it saving a handful of deposits, perhaps even costing Labour a few seats. But the problem is that it would run headlong into the first past the post system, which alone precludes wider success.

It would also have to decide between letting factionalists run riot and instituting a fatally bureaucratic internal regime that would stifle its prospects of meaningful growth.

Unless Corbyn were keen to be more of an ideological policeman than he has been in the past, there would also be the real risk that its political outlook would degenerate into an unholy amalgam of what can charitably be labelled the less incisive elements of current leftwing thinking.

Surely the most constructive way forward for all concerned would be to reinstate the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. Sadly, that outcome looks unlikely right now.

David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time left wing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland

Image: Jeremy Corbyn. Source: Author: Jeremy Corbyn,  made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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