Inside Corbyn’s defeat of Labour, and how he could be a thorn in Starmer’s side

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A campaign celebration spilling out from a pub into the streets of Islington – once one of the deepest red corners of the country – sounded what could be an ominous warning for Downing Street, as Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to supporters who had helped him battle the Labour party machine.

Just hours later, the former Labour leader was declared re-elected in Islington North, as an independent MP, with a majority of more than 7,000. Sir Keir Starmer’s attempt to bring an end to his 40-year spell in Parliament had failed.

On his own, Corbyn in the Commons might not be completely bad news for a Labour leadership still anxious to demonstrate its break from the recent past. But he is not on his own in the Commons – and could end up acting as a torchbearer for the left who feel abandoned by the party.

He will return to Westminster as one of five independent candidates who won their seats after challenging Labour, primarily over the issue of Gaza. And asked whether he would be prepared to work together in Parliament in a coalition with these independents and with the Green Party’s four newly MPs, Corbyn suggested he would do.

“I enjoy working with other people and always have happily worked with anyone who wants a more peaceful and sustainable world,” he told i on Friday.

“Make no mistake, the energy we have unleashed in our campaign will not go to waste. We are a movement made up of all ages, backgrounds and faiths. A movement which can win with – and for – people all over the country.”

Disgruntled ex-Labour activists helped Corbyn win

His team – many former Labour activists unhappy with the party’s direction – poured into the constituency in their hundreds, to help him see off Labour challenger Praful Nargund, a local councillor and businessman who runs a chain of IVF clinics.

Starmer is unlikely to be regretting his decision to distance himself from his predecessor and the allegations of antisemitism that dogged Labour during the Corbyn years. He has made huge play of his work to transform the party since those times.

The incoming Prime Minister made no fewer than 11 separate references to “changed Labour” in his victory speech to supporters early on Friday morning. And during the election campaign, the part he played in Corbyn’s own attempt to become PM was seen by his opponents and interrogators as a key vulnerability.

Barring his predecessor from standing as a Labour MP over the antisemitism row helped Starmer draw a line under the previous era at a national level. The leadership can point to the 411 Labour seats won last week, compared to the disastrous 202 under Corbyn in 2019 – albeit with a similar vote share.

Locally, however, the calculation that a wave of enthusiasm for a Labour government would trump loyalty for Islington North’s long-serving MP has turned out to be misjudged.

It was believed that the party’s canvassing data and campaign infrastructure would give it a crucial advantage in the contest. But polling that projected Corbyn was 14 points behind Nargund appears to have galvanised the incumbent’s supporters, who descended en masse from across the UK for a final push, with a concerted blitz of doorknocking and leafleting. It coincided with local criticism of Nargund for failing to attend hustings alongside other candidates.

In the end, though, it appears to have been Corbyn’s high profile and work ethic in the seat that returned him to Parliament, alongside some prominent local support.

Less than a week before polling day, three senior members of Islington North’s Constituency Labour Party resigned to back his campaign.

Around 70 CLP members also signed an open letter backing him amid rumours that he was receiving covert help from his former comrades to defeat the official Labour campaign.

His local standing in Islington North, after the decades of support he has given to constituents in need, is also likely to have helped. When i visited him last autumn to discuss his hopes for social policy under the next Labour government, it was almost impossible to progress down any street without running into people who wanted to talk to him.

He asked a woman how her long-term health condition was. Another man who he had helped with “something important” wanted to catch up. A group of people entering a community centre inquired after their MP’s wellbeing.

“Lots of people won’t hear a word against Jeremy,” Nicola Baird, founder of the Islington Faces blog, told i. “He goes to everything in the constituency and many people have stories of how he helped them.

“In the past couple of weeks the constituency has been flooded with supporters of Jeremy, it’s been an amazing organisation considering he is an independent. There have been young people, older people, every sort of person campaigning for him.”

‘It felt like a resurrection of 2019’

After the polls closed on Thursday night, Corbyn and his team gathered with hundreds of volunteers at the Bedford Tavern in Seven Sisters Road.

In scenes that recalled his appearance on the Glastonbury stage seven years ago, the crowd spilled out into the street, clapping, whooping and chanting: “Whoaaa, Jeremy Corbyn.”

James Schneider, Corbyn’s campaign co-ordinator said that around 1,400 people signed up to help out and added: “Many, many more who didn’t pre-register turned out for us.”

Another volunteer said: “It felt like a resurrection of 2019…it felt like there was a focus on the fight for proper left-wing politics again.”

Standing outside the pub in the constituency he has represented since 1983, Corbyn thanked his supporters for travelling such large distances to campaign for him, and said he would be at the national march for Palestine on Saturday “no matter what”.

Then, shortly after 3am, he was declared re-elected as Member of Parliament for Islington North, having piled up 24,120 votes compared to the 16,873 secured by Labour’s candidate.

Who are the independents who won seats off Labour?

Jeremy Corbyn is not the only successful independent candidate who was explicitly pro-ceasefire and pro-Palestine.

Several other former strongholds to candidates running on similar platforms.

One of the biggest shocks was the loss of former shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester South.

He previously had a majority of more than 22,000 but was defeated by Shockat Adam. Adam said: “This is for the people of Gaza,” after the result was announced.

In Dewsbury and Batley, independent candidate Iqbal Mohamed, whose key policies included a ceasefire and peace agreement in Gaza, beat Labour candidate Heather Iqbal.

In Blackburn, Labour’s Kate Hollern lost to Adnan Hussain, who said in his online statement to voters: “I promise to make your concerns against the injustice being inflicted against the people of Gaza be heard in the places where our so-called representatives failed.”

And in Birmingham Perry Barr, Labour’s Khalid Mahmood lost the seat to independent Ayoub Khan by 507 votes.

New Health Secretary Wes Streeting nearly went the same way, as his majority in Ilford North was slashed from more than 5,198. He managed a victory of just 528 over independent candidate Leanne Mohamad, who has critcised his position on Gaza.

Starmer’s own majority in Holborn and St Pancras was cut from 27,763 to 11,572 partly due to the 7,312 votes won by independent candidate Andrew Feinsten, who had accused the Labour leader of being  “terrible on Gaza”.

IN seats where more than 10 per cent of the population identify as Muslim, support for the Labour party was down by 11 points on average.

Corbyn campaigners believe it was not Gaza that was decisive in Islington North, the but the man himself. One told i that Gaza did come up regularly on the doorstep but “nowhere near as much as how Jeremy had helped people over the years. That was the main thing people wanted to talk about.

“I wouldn’t say people were ideologically obsessed with Gaza. It was more just like… I know Jeremy. He’s a good bloke. There were so many personal stories of him helping people with their housing… someone told me he helped their mum get a visa to visit from Yemen. That’s what people remember.”

They revealed that the Corbyn campaign did face a difficulty in “explaining to people that Jeremy was running as an independent and not a Labour candidate”.

The campaigner said: “I don’t think everyone realised. And I think Labour actively encouraged this confusion… why else did Nargund not turn up to hustings?”

Corbyn’s return to the House of Commons will allow him to challenge and scrutinise the new Labour government. He could prove to be a thorn in Starmer’s side as his predecessor attracts media attention no matter what he does. But that could also prove to an asset for Labour if it continues to highlight to middle-ground voters how much the party has changed.

Corbyn: Labour ‘won’t deliver’

For his part, Corbyn doubts that a Starmer government will produce the “real change” he says the country needs. “Fourteen years of Tory rule have made most people’s lives more difficult,” he told i.

“Living standards are lower, our schools and hospitals are on their knees and our infrastructure is crumbling. People are fed up with this economic system.

“They are right to expect real change. But this Government is saying it won’t deliver it. My role is to speak up for my community and hold the government to account on all the issues like child poverty, climate breakdown, arming Israel, and on the treatment of refugees.”

He also commented on the rise of Reform UK, blaming it on “so-called moderate parties [moving] ever close to the Right”.

He added: “You will never find me scapegoating migrants and refugees for the inequalities in our society. And an incoming government should think carefully about the role it wishes to play in stoking fear and xenophobia.

“Governments who embrace anti-migrant rhetoric do not neutralise the far-right – they embolden them. We need to give people who are disillusioned with the existing political system a reason to believe in something more hopeful, and a programme that helps us unite people against the root causes of their grievances: inequality and corporate greed.

“But I want to give a word of caution to the media. Don’t give disproportionate airtime to Reform.

“Remember Greens and progressive independents won more seats than Reform and we speak for millions in our country.”

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