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Jeremy Corbyn is still a major threat to Keir Starmer

MP for Islington North for over 40 years, Jeremy Corbyn has now been expelled from the Labour Party. Credit: Getty

May 27, 2024 - 7:00am

After months of speculation, Jeremey Corbyn announced late last week that he will stand as an independent candidate in Islington North, where he has served as MP since 1983. In a video announcing his run, the former Labour leader argued that local members “have been denied the right to choose their own candidate”. He stated that his exclusion from the Labour shortlist was fundamentally undemocratic and had “disempowered” his constituents.

In historical terms, Corbyn’s odds are not good. Putting aside the party splits of the Thirties and Eighties, just four former Labour MPs have gone on to win their seats as independents. Politicians often vastly overestimate their own personal appeal, such as when anti-Brexit MPs stood as independents at the last election. In 2019, Conservative Gagan Mohindra defeated Remain supporter David Gauke with a majority of over 14,000, despite Gauke having represented the seat for 14 years and served in the Cabinet.

Independent Parliamentary candidates have several critical weaknesses. They lack a local party infrastructure, with councillors and party members providing an enduring grassroots base of activists. They sometimes struggle with funding, which is vital to boosting their name recognition.

What’s more, partisanship, although much more volatile than in the past, still guides vote choice. The national media frames the general election in terms of party politics, a basic choice for voters between the incumbent government and the official opposition. Independents fit uneasily in this dichotomous framing. There are too many constituencies for the traditional media to provide in-depth analysis of peculiar local factors.

Yet there are good reasons to think that things could be different for Corbyn, who is almost uniquely well-disposed to hold his seat as an independent. While a Corbyn victory is by no means certain, Islington North might be one of the few Labour losses on 4 July.

Of course, Corbyn has basically universal name recognition in Britain, as well as an unparalleled record of service in the constituency. This will be his 11th time standing in Islington North, a record that will be surpassed by no other Parliamentary candidate at the next election. Corbyn has lived in Finsbury Park for four decades. He knows the local business owners and is an active supporter of community groups. It is telling that he began his announcement video listing various local issues, before entering into the wider discussion of Labour Party democracy.

Another factor in Corbyn’s favour is that party loyalty is weaker now than it used to be. We live in a volatile political age. Although Labour is riding high in the polls, in the early months of this parliament the Conservatives were doing even better than Keir Starmer’s party is now. Tribalism is waning, and voters are more likely to lend their vote to different parties. Fewer people now see themselves as “lifelong Labour” or “lifelong Tory”.

It’s also worth noting that Starmer’s pitch has been to middle England, not North London. Even the strong national polling for Labour should not be mistaken for an intensity of affection for the party leader. This week, 46% of voters said they thought Starmer was doing “badly” as Labour leader, compared to just 36% who thought he was doing well. Corbyn, meanwhile, has a loyal band of activists and a capacity to fundraise unmatched by other independents. Last month, Left-wing ex-Labour mayor Jamie Driscoll was able to raise £147,000 for his (failed) independent candidacy for the North East mayoralty. Corbyn won’t have to raise as much money for a far smaller electorate, but he certainly could if he needed to.

Crucially, Corbyn takes clear and consistent policy stands which endear him to the Left-leaning electorate of Islington North, differentiating him from Starmer’s Labour Party. Corbyn supports nationalising the Royal Mail, water and energy. He opposes the two-child benefit limit. He has consistently challenged Israel’s intervention in Gaza. He can therefore present himself as the “principled” Left-wing choice.

A year ago, I wrote here that Starmer would regret ejecting a previous leader from the party, a move which is historically anomalous within Labour (with the very different exception of Ramsay MacDonald in 1931). While Starmer is likely to see Labour make dozens of gains on 4 July, his decision to purge Corbyn from the party could cost him at least one constituency that night.


Richard Johnson is a Lecturer in US Politics and Policy at Queen Mary University of London.

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Geoff W
Geoff W
27 days ago

Even if Jezza wins his seat, what exactly is the threat to Labour nationally?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
27 days ago
Reply to  Geoff W

Very true. Jezza’s chances of winning are significant because his seat is likely to be unimportant given the prospect of a Labour landslide. Were the election to be close, Labour voters would stick to Labour and he would lose. In the longer term, Jezza’s defection weakens the Left within the Labour Party. Anyone unhappy with Starmer’s leadership will be told to stand as an independent.

Peter B
Peter B
27 days ago

Something’s gone wrong with UnHerd this morning.
First, the absurd article about the ICC. And now this.
Corbyn is noise at this point.
And how can anyone seriously write this: “It’s also worth noting that Starmer’s pitch has been to middle England, not North London.” Middle England – really ?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Labour have already committed not to shift any of the tax burden from productive activity to unearned property wealth via Council Tax. The middle class is safe in Labour’s hands. Small businesses and the self-employed? Not so much. More taxes and growth-killing regulation for them.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

If you believe anything LibLabCon commit to then may I remind you of Cleggs student fees commitment

Peter B
Peter B
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

My mistake – I somehow read “Starmer” as “Corbyn” !
Yes, Starmer is trying to appeal to Middle England. Perhaps he as an individual is even genuine. But the Labour party still hates and despises Middle England.
Only the state employed middle class can consider themselves safe. For now. Until they’ve drained other people’s money.
Council Tax is not a tax on unearned property wealth. To do that, you need to reform CGT or create a Land Tax. Let’s just remember that Council Tax is supposed to be there to pay for local public services. And should be broadly proportional to service usage (like electricty or water) and not used as a battering ram for redistribution. That’s what income tax, CGT and inheritance tax are for.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
27 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

“Unearned property wealth”? The property market is…a market. Like every other market it is governed by supply and demand.
Demand has increased, no doubt many factors but mass immigration being a major one, supply has not kept up due to state imposing controls eg planning laws. The inevitable result is increased prices.
The wealth is not “unearned” any more than good investment is unearned eg as is expected from pension funds ( those things which pay the pensions people invest in…)

Restrictions on rental properties has the same effect, as Scotland has discovered…fewer properties means higher rents…restrict rents then no rental properties.

It really isn’t difficult to understand.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

The property market is…a market.
The British property market is driven almost entirely by government fiscal and monetary policy. It’s the least ‘perfect’ and most comprehensively rigged ‘market ‘ in the world and the root cause of this country’s economic malaise.

David Morley
David Morley
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Even if you consider it a genuine “market”, it is failing to deliver what we want from it.

In effective markets, the following are in evidence in relation to the goods they provide: reducing prices and /or improving quality and/or marked innovation. Indeed these correspond to the choices in business strategy available to businesses in those markets. The housing market is not characterised by any of these.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It is driven by people needing somewhere to live…everyone does.
It is skewed by state policy…which is exactly what I said.

David Morley
David Morley
27 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

This is disappointing, since this is probably the only real source of the money needed to set the country back on path. And there is no good moral reason why this accumulated unearned income shouldn’t be taxed.

I assume you suggest council tax, simply because it is an existing mechanism which could easily have a wealth tax element added to it.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
27 days ago

Starmer argues that his cleansing of the Corbynites from the Labour Party is the key reason we can trust him with national power. It is such a typically Starmerite Big Lie. Pushing out a crazed incompetent anti semite who supported both Hamas and IRA terrorism and could not sing the National Anthem is no great achievement. And beneath the surface – muzzled – many and most of Corbyns mad dog nasties still serve as MPs. Starmer thinks we forget that he served the creepy Corbyn loyally and led the greatest assault on the principle of democracy with his vile Peoples Vote. His ill informed green zealotry will bring coerced smart meters heat pumps LTNs and the crashing of our energy security. Everything they will do is guided by toxic progressive ideology – hence 16 year old right to vote. Only those idiots who bashed pans in favour of the far harder lockdowns this property & pension millionaire sought could give trust or support to such a man and such a party of the entitled Broken Blob, one wholly detached from the enterprise and private sector. But we are trapped in a Cage now, so this nightmare and farce must play out to its calamitous end.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
26 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

One of JC’s cronies is my MP in Brighton and likely to be re-elected in July. What can one do?

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
27 days ago

I can’t help thinking that politics would have been more interesting had we had Keir Starmer running against Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn running against Rishi Sunak.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
27 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Smith

Forget running races. Politics would be more interesting if we had sumo matches between any pairing out of the four of them.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
27 days ago

Corbyn in reality is a demagogue who has been found out by the electorate, except for those few socialist fundamentalists who still follow him.
This will be his last hurrah … a failed one.

L Brady
L Brady
27 days ago

Corbyn re-started all this anti-semitism in the uk. There are few politicians I genuinely hate, but Corbyn is one of them.

Pip G
Pip G
27 days ago

I suspect Mr Corbyn will be elected for Islington N. The large number of social neo-liberal will vote for him.
After that it turns on how Mr Corbyn acts in House of Commons. He could be a critic of the Labour government. The Twitterati will give him publicity.

Christiane F Hankinson
Christiane F Hankinson
27 days ago

why is this a story? He is publicly very pro-Palestine. He has a large local loyal male following with many Muslims in his constituency, nurtured over many years. He will win his seat and it will be one seat? how is that a massive danger? It’s obvious.He’s probably safer in than out.

Rob N
Rob N
27 days ago

I hope Corbyn wins. Sure it will not stop Labour winning but I would much rather a principled independent, even if deluded, than a Labour clone who probably does not even know what a woman is.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
27 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

“My name is Jeremy Corbyn, pronouns he/him, and I’m very proud to be here tonight.” Pink News award ceremony, October 2019. i doubt that he has left the cult since then.

Kit Read
Kit Read
26 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

A life long Brixiteer whilst leading the Labour Party seemed to ditch his hate for the EU in the 2017/19 elections. What principles.

william langdale
william langdale
27 days ago

Not sure about this.Up to now Corbyn could always hide behind the cloak of Labour membership so people could hold their nose for the particular candidate while voting for Labour as a party.This time he’s on his own as a Marxist,anti imperialist,white poppy wearing,Nato leaving,IRA and Hamas “friend” and Putin apologist.Also,please remember that he only became leader due to Ed Milliband’s lunatic decision to let basically anybody vote in that election for leader,reversing the usual order of events in that we had farce followed by tragedy.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
26 days ago

Yes, the appalling people who speak for modern Labour are obsessed with the fact that they are post-Jeremy and his PLO-aligned Socialist Workers.
They have little in the name of policy, and insultingly nothing of an economic vision, but the Labour front bench can talk about how well they have got ready for power by dumping the Corbyn tendency.
Vote for them BECAUSE of Jeremy!