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30 March 2023

How to run as an independent: an advice letter to Jeremy Corbyn

You might even get a few Tories voting for you to embarrass the Labour Party, just like the 2015 Labour leadership contest.

By David Gauke

Dear Jeremy

I hope you do not mind me contacting you but I understand that, having lost your party’s whip, you are thinking about standing as an independent at the next general election. You may recall that I went through a similar process back in 2019, so I thought I would share a few thoughts, from one independent to another.

It is possible that this might not be welcome for at least two reasons. First, as with every other candidate who had been elected for a major party and then fought as an independent in 2019, I lost. Perhaps you will conclude that you could do without any advice from me. 

Second, you have never been very comfortable with those who do not share your world view, and I am not exactly a Corbynista. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should let you know that, given your record of equivocation on terrorism, anti-Semitism and (most recently) Russian culpability for the war in Ukraine, I am not an enthusiast for you staying in parliament, even if you “broaden the debate”. If you do decide to stand as an independent in Islington North, I might even be tempted to campaign for the Labour candidate for the first time in my life.

Having said all that, I think I might understand a little about how you feel. You have stood as a Labour candidate in your constituency ten times and were even your party’s leader the last two of those times. Your successor used to enthuse about the prospect of you being prime minister. And it is not as if you have not changed your views. You never do. But now Keir Starmer does not think you are fit to be a parliamentary candidate.

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[See also: Keir Starmer shows his strength by banning Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy]

Of course, Labour and Starmer should have come to that view years ago. But, from your perspective, it must feel a little rough. I was a bit put out about having the whip removed, too. I would argue that I was in the mainstream of my party, at least until my party went a bit mad, whereas you were generally on the fringes, but I can empathise with your situation.

The good news for you is that you have a much better chance than I did of holding on to your seat. For a start, you have at least a year to prepare whereas I only had a handful of days between deciding to stand and nominations closing. You also have a ready-made organisation in place. (You have got Momentum on side, haven’t you?) You will have no shortage of enthusiastic volunteers. In my case, we got lots of delightful centrists out campaigning. By the way, we did not feel the need to check if any of them had, say, called for the annihilation of the state of Israel. You will probably need to be more careful with your activists.

Independents do not get as much coverage on television during the election campaign as you are used to. But in this day and age, social media can cut through. I enlisted my father, who briefly became an internet sensation, at least in South West Hertfordshire. If you are going to make use of family members, however, best steer clear of brother Piers.

One big advantage you will have is that it is obvious that you are the main challenger to the party that traditionally wins the seat. This was not the case for me, at least at the beginning of the campaign. Not that it would have made a difference to the result, but a few voters thought Labour or the Liberal Democrats had a better chance of beating the Tories and voted for them, and a few Tories backed the Conservative candidate for fear of letting in Labour or the Liberal Democrats. In 2024 in Islington North, none of this will be an issue. You might even get a few Tories voting for you to embarrass the Labour Party, just like the 2015 Labour leadership contest.

There is a challenge that independents face, which is that many voters view a general election as a choice of who they want to be prime minister between the leaders of the two main parties. This was a real problem for me in 2019 when wavering Conservatives generally decided to stick with Boris Johnson because they were petrified of the alternative. Nobody, however, believes you are going to be prime minister after the next election, so maybe people will think it is safe to support you. Just like the 2017 general election.

But now a warning. At the moment, you are very angry about how you have been treated and many of your constituents will agree. Lots of them will tell you this, which will be heartening. But when it comes to a general election, you will have to come up with a more compelling reason for them to vote for you. Mine was that Boris Johnson would deliver a disastrous Brexit, which turned out to be an accurate prediction but an insufficiently successful argument among my former constituents. What will it be for you?  Being sulkily self-righteous – which appears to be your default mode – will not be enough this time.

And one final piece of advice. If you run, enjoy it. I did. At least until they counted the votes.

Yours ever


Read more:

Could Jeremy Corbyn win as an independent?

Keir Starmer shouldn’t aim to be a cult leader like Jeremy Corbyn

Why a new left party led by Jeremy Corbyn is a bad idea

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