‘No question – Jeremy every time’: Islington voters on Corbyn not standing for Labour

  • london
  • February 15, 2023
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Brandishing the meal he calls his “Jeremy Corbyn falafel”, Hussein Jabar’s reaction to the news that the former Labour leader would be prevented from standing for the party was one you might expect from a man who has emblazoned his cafe with images of the Islington North MP.

“There’s no question – Jeremy every time,” said the owner of Gadz Cafe in Finsbury Park, the nearest thing to a Corbyn shrine in a constituency where many view him as nothing less than a political deity, when asked which way he would vote if the MP faced an official Labour candidate in the next general election.

While it’s not hard to find sentiment as passionate as Jabar’s in a constituency that Corbyn has represented since 1983 and where he would command huge support as an independent, what is also clear is that the fuse has been lit for a fresh Labour civil war – with local members shrugging off warnings of expulsion as they openly declare they would canvass for him.

“I think the way they treated it was really a disgrace from start to finish,” said Phil Graham, one of a number of Labour members of the local council whose loyalty lies first and foremost with Corbyn. Graham believes the former Labour MP would win if he stood as an independent.

“I joined the Labour party to fight the Tories and it doesn’t matter what colour of rosette they wear, so I’m happy to fight the Tories inside as well as outside,” he added. He accepted his own days in the party would come to a halt as a result of backing Corbyn.

If Corbyn does choose to go it alone as an independent, the ensuing battle will be a fascinating one in a constituency where he won his seat with a majority of 26,188 in 2019. Wildcard factors include what Liberal Democrat and Conservative voters – though small in number – would do, as well as the extent to which Corbyn’s ability to draw on support from particular sections of the multi-ethnic seat would make a difference.

Local Labour figures who support the stance taken by leader Keir Starmer are confident, however, that a bulk of local members, as well as voters in the constituency, do not feel that Corbyn truly represents them – whether that is because of his lack of contrition over the handling of antisemitism and other matters under his leadership or his stance on Brexit.

“Jeremy Corbyn is recognised in Islington as a popular local MP, but it has been clear for some time that he wasn’t going to be able to stand again as a Labour candidate,” said Alice Perry, a former councillor in Islington and chair of Labour’s National Executive Committee.

“As hard as it is for some people, it’s important, both locally and nationally, that Labour moves on.”

Elsewhere, at local landmarks synonymous with Corbyn – his favourite kebab shop, the cafe where he sometimes carries out interviews and a nearby newsagent stocking the Morning Star and the Leinster Leader (both titles of which he has spoken fondly) – he was discussed in tones of awe.

Fresh from finishing his shish at the Archway Kebab Centre, NHS clinical support worker Tony Douglas Goodan credited Corbyn with standing shoulder to shoulder with striking public sector workers and backing campaigns against cuts, such as those threatening a local sheltered accommodation centre Goodan worked with.

“He’s also got the personal touch, which you might say Starmer lacks,” he said.

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Yet two younger local voters had takes on Corbyn that might suggest a victory for him is not quite such a done deal. “Look, Jeremy Corbyn was the man who was there for communities like Grenfell and people won’t forget that,” said Merveille Mpoyi. “But, at the end of the day, he speaks to the heart, but Keir Starmer speaks to the mind.”

Mary Chafer, a theatre worker and – like both northern parents before her, a member of the Labour party – spoke of her grief at how the party she loved continued to be divided.

“It’s sad that it just feels so polarised,” she said. “I worked in a theatre in Finsbury Park before and you could see that Jeremy Corbyn was an icon in the community. It was apparent when he walked in.

“What’s happening is very hard, but at the same time I understand Keir Starmer. I pay a membership subscription and I want Labour to be in power.”