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6 August 2015

No, Jeremy Corbyn’s record in Islington North does not prove he’s electable

Jeremy Corbyn does worse on this metric than all of his neighbours in London - and all but one of his rivals for the Labour leadership. 

By Stephen Bush

Jeremy Corbyn makes an eye-catching claim over at the Independent today: that his electoral record in Islington North is a counter-argument to those who say that he couldn’t possibly win a general election. He has won the seat eight times – in 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015 – and increased his vote by 5.8 per cent in 2015.

Is he right? Well, Labour have won Islington North at every election since 1937, when Leslie-Haden Guest won the seat at a by-election.  The seat has the highest proportion of social housing anywhere in the country. For Labour politicians, this is politics with the difficulty setting turned all the way down to “Casual”. Winning for Labour in Islington North is not about who the candidate is – it’s about the fact that they are the Labour candidate. 

Still, what about that 5.8 per cent bump, huh? Well, it is lower than any of his neighbours. David Lammy (Tottenham) was up by eight points, Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) by 7.9 per cent, Meg Hillier (Hackney South & Shoreditch) by 8.7 per cent, Keir Starmer (Holborn & St Pancras) by 6.8 per cent, and in Hornsey & Wood Green, Catherine West increased Labour’s vote share by 16.9 per cent.

Abbott is from Labour’s left, Starmer and West from the party’s centre, while Lammy and Hillier are from the right. It’s almost – almost! – as if your performance in a first-past-the-post election has very little to do with your politics. It’s almost – almost! – as if Labour had a good night in London, regardless of the faction of its MP.

As for his leadership rivals: he ties with Andy Burnham, who increased his share of the vote by 5.8 per cent too. Yvette Cooper is ahead of them both with 6.8 per cent, while Liz Kendall leads the field with and 8.1 per cent increase. (But don’t get excited, Kendall fans — this is no better an argument for the electoral appeal of Kendallism than it is of Corbynomics.) 

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There are plenty of good arguments for why Corbyn isn’t as unelectable as many pundits expect – not least that most of them confidently predicted he would finish fourth only weeks ago, and that parties of the radical left are doing much better, post-crash, than traditional social democratic ones. But the only thing that Corbyn’s electoral performance in Islington North proves is that he is the MP for Islington North.