Election 2024: Constituency profile – Islington North

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Islington North

Four decades ago, around the time Jeremy Corbyn became an MP for the first time, you could live an Islington life that encompassed taking drugs with social deviants, exploiting the hospitality of liberal professors in “shabby chic” Victorian houses, and sitting, bored rigid, in the upstairs rooms of pubs while three different types of revolutionary quarrelled about the most effective way to make the workers rise. Yes, I was there.

But that wasn’t the whole story of that part of London. Far from it. Although “Islington trendies” made a big mark on the north London borough’s political and cultural landscape, providing ample material for mockery in the process, it was – and is – a substantially working-class borough, with high levels of deprivation.

Most of its poorest wards are in its northern part, forming half of the eight that make up the Islington North constituency. It has plenty of prosperous residents too, though. In 2017, Corbyn’s challengers included an illustrious Jewish talent agent and, by then, ex-Labour donor, incensed by what he saw as the then Labour leader’s incompetence and indulgence of antisemitism. His door-knocking in the pleasant, £1.6 million, red brick terraced streets of Tufnell Park flushed out TV scriptwriters and a retired Guardian journalist without even trying.

Corbyn, who has represented the seat since 1983, is, as you might have heard, no longer even a Labour member let alone the party’s leader. And he is now under challenge from his successor as Labour candidate, local councillor Praful Nargund.

Can Corbyn win as an Independent? Precedent indicates that he might. Perhaps the best comparison from history is with the April 1992 general election contest in Coventry South East. There, Dave Nellist, another newcomer to the Commons following Labour’s disastrous 1983 campaign, had been expelled from the party in late 1991 because he supported the Militant Tendency. He fought the election under the banner of Independent Labour and finished third, but only 1,351 votes behind the Labour winner (and 40 behind the Tory runner-up).

Corbyn is a bigger name than Nellist was and can call on disciples from far and wide to help him out. On the other hand, 1992 was a general election at which voters decided by a narrow margin that a few more years of the Conservatives under John Major would be  preferable to putting Neil Kinnock in Number 10.

By contrast, the overwhelming story of the 2024 contest so far is that the public is sick and tired of the Tories and determined to remove them. A new opinion poll has underlined that London is very much part of this “get the Tories out” mood, with Labour a gigantic 33 points ahead.

Significantly, that poll, by Savanta for Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Institute, found that 29 per cent of Londoners who voted Liberal Democrat in 2019 intend to vote Labour this time. Lib Dems finished second in Islington North five years ago, taking 15.6 per cent of the vote. Nargund will hope to convert a good portion of those. For his part, Corbyn might persuade part of the smaller but still significant local Green vote – an eight per cent portion in 2019 – to lend him their support.

But the outcome on 4 July will mostly come down to where the dominant Labour vote goes. Corbyn’s share fell by 8.7 per cent in 2019 as Labour under his leadership fell to its heavy defeat, yet close to two-thirds of Islington North’s voters stuck with him, handing him a majority of 26,188.

Bradford-born Nargund, 33, the son of immigrants from India, has been an Islington resident since 2015 and an Islington councillor since 2022. His parents were NHS junior doctors and his mother went on to found an IVF company, which Nargund headed. They now run a firm that invests in “progressive business models”. Nargund has been stressing the value of local people having a Labour MP representing them under a Labour government, and talking about health, schools and Labour’s national vision.

The campaign of Corbyn, 75, has encompassed the right to strike, rent controls, climate change, Gaza and the 1984 Battle of Orgreave along with social care and opposing what he calls NHS “privatisation”. Corbyn has complained about Nargund’s selection excluding local Labour members and pointed out that the Labour candidate has not been attending hustings, claiming Labour’s regional body had told him not to.

Nargund has defended the selection process and said he does his talking to residents on the doorstep. Meanwhile, the chair of Islington North Labour has resigned from the party after being spotted campaigning for Corbyn. The veteran’s team’s public message is that the race is very close. Privately, Labour sources seem confident. I’ve bet a friend a fiver that Nargund will prevail. I think my money is safe, though I wasn’t going to risk a tenner.

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Categories: Analysis

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