Despite the city being a relative southern stronghold for the Labour party, it’s been a while since a London MP caused as much consternation within the ranks as Jeremy Corbyn has since he tossed his hat into the leadership battle.
A YouGov poll has indicated that the old-school lefty member for Islington North is the frontrunner in the internal contest to succeed Ed Miliband. Although Corbyn’s desire to turn Labour into a “social movement” has gained traction among many party followers, not everyone in the party’s enjoying it.
Indeed, the tizzy into which a veggie teetotaller from Finsbury Park has sent a supposedly left-leaning political force has revealed much about the Labour Party’s receptiveness to ‘outsider’ ideas as it redefines itself after an electoral disaster.
“Disaster” is also the word fellow leadership contender Liz Kendall used to describe an outcome in which Corbyn assumes the Labour reins come September. Tony Blair has proclaimed that all those who believe Corbyn represents the ‘heart’ of the Labour Party need to get a heart transplant. John Prescott, Alan Milburn and others got involved too, with Prezza speaking out against his old boss.
Fortunately, a teacher was on hand: it fell to Rushanara Ali, the Bethnal Green MP, to call for an end to “the immature playground name-calling”. From the rank and file up to grandee level, Labour had managed to out-Tory the Tories for the first time in 2015 — in internal brawling.
A vision for London?
Former trade union man Corbyn has the full weight of the Socialist and Communist Parties behind him, which were the only endorsements ecstatic Conservatives needed to hear to declare him unelectable. Many are said to be buying up phony £3 memberships to attempt to vote him in.
However legitimate his backers, what’s unquestionable is Corbyn’s mandate as a London MP. He was returned to Westminster in 2015 with a majority of 20,000; his vote share increased to over 60%. He has clearly done something right in Islington North since he was first elected there in 1983.
And while Ed “two kitchens” Miliband was accused of being a Hampstead socialist, Corbyn, a Wiltshire-born grammar school alumnus, is yet to have his north London HQ turned against him. There is no questioning his dedication to his cause; actually, it is Corbyn’s beardy fervency which attracts more mockery.
Despite being the prickliest thorn in New Labour’s side by virtue of his voting record, Corbyn has struck a chord with many colleagues in a southern city in which a relatively centrist-to-right outlook might have been expected to thrive. No fewer than 15 other London MPs signed his nomination paper, while around 20 local parties in the city have already endorsed him.
But should we be surprised? Far from proving the Tory claim that he is unelectable, Corbyn tables ideas which polls indicate to be highly resonant with the public mood. So is he benefiting from a populist ‘Farage factor’ — and will that dissipate? Until we know who’s backing him, it’s hard to say. But, speaking to Andrew Marr on Sunday, Corbyn alluded to attracting disenchanted youngsters who would only engage with politics if they felt a real ‘alternative’ was on offer.
Of course, in London, young people proliferate. Corbyn’s supporters of any age in the capital could be forgiven for thinking that their socialist shaman designed his campaign just for them. For the metropolitan lefties not already scooped up by his policies on nuclear disarmament, climate change and animal welfare, Corbyn promises railway renationalisation to fix commuter frustrations, and rent controls for those suffering at the hands of merciless landlords.
Above all, in a city in which cost of living is critical, he offers anti-austerity rhetoric of the Syriza school. Corbyn’s maverick credentials and unlikely air of danger have won him the backing of the city’s keenest amateur activists in Russell Brand and Charlotte Church.
That Labour’s panic has come at a time of minimal public confidence in opinion polls says more about the party’s post-election anxiety than it does about the real likelihood of this ideologue finishing top of the pile. Significantly, Andy Burnham remains the bookies’ favourite, with Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall vying with Corbyn for all-important second-place votes.
For Corbyn to flop in London would truly be a surprise given his apparent backing here. But with a leadership contest as drawn out as this one has been, and little else to entertain political hacks over the summer, anything might yet happen.