What Starmer’s election bar on Corbyn means for Labour’s left

Islington North is a constituency of contrasts, multimillion-pound Georgian townhouses next to council blocks, with one of the UK’s highest child poverty rates.

Jeremy Corbyn’s particular brand of politics navigated that for 40 years, appealing to his diverse working-class constituents as well as wealthier socialists. It is one of Labour’s safest seats – but now looks like it will be a bitterly divided battleground.

Should Corbyn decide to run at the next election as an independent it would pose an existential dilemma for Momentum, the grassroots leftwing group that emerged out of his leadership campaign and which has become a pressure group for the Labour left and the loudest critic of Starmer’s leadership.

Senior Labour sources have made it clear that should Momentum campaign for Corbyn, Labour would proscribe it as an organisation – similar to the way Militant or other leftwing groups that challenged the party’s MPs have been treated.

That same dilemma faces some of Corbyn’s closest allies who are still Labour MPs – John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon. It is a tortuous decision – to back a Labour candidate or, instead, one of their oldest friends – and there is no doubt it is one they will be publicly asked to make.

There is no certainty Corbyn will stand as an independent. He has a huge support base locally, including among some local councillors, and a significant number of grassroots activists who have quit Labour want to campaign for him. He has a ready-made vehicle – his Peace and Justice Project – and the public urging of his family members to run rather than retire.

But that run will have significant repercussions far beyond Holloway Road. The decision will almost inevitably seal the fate of many of the leftwing movements, politicians and activists still in Labour. And for the sake of the future of the left in the party, some former close advisers to the ex-Labour leader hope he will not stand.

Locally, party activists will need to decide if they are prepared to lose their Labour membership to support Corbyn, and councillors will need to choose whether to defect to Peace and Justice, if that is how the race pans out.

Anyone running for Labour selection will be under the spotlight for previous support for Corbyn. Matt Kerr, a senior figure in Scottish Labour, who ran for deputy leader, was recently blocked from the shortlist for Glasgow South West, where he had previously stood. Issues raised by the NEC panel were his support for Corbyn after his suspension – he had tweeted: “He’s been suspended for telling the truth.”

None of these dilemmas are particularly new for those they affect. For many months it has been clear that Starmer had no intention of readmitting Corbyn to the party, even if some of the former leader’s backers thought there may still be a path, given Corbyn is technically a party member.

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Starmer takes no persuading to be hardline on the issue, and many of those who advise him dedicated the past few years to removing any trace of the previous leadership from the party’s structures. They are unapologetic about a desire to remove any association with a period of Labour’s history that led to a historic election defeat and unprecedented censure from the equalities watchdog for unlawful discrimination against Jewish people.

Equally, Corbyn has been dedicating his time to defending his legacy, in particular on austerity and on international politics – where he has also clashed with Starmer on Russia and Ukraine.

Many on the Labour left still want to keep the party as a broad church where they can fight on issues like nationalisation, student fees, trade union rights and fair pay. The question now is whether supporting the leader that first inspired many of them will cost them their ability to influence Labour in government.