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Jeremy Corbyn can win in Islington North

If the former Labour leader has the manpower behind him, he cannot be written off in a constituency he has held since 1983.

By Ben Walker

Jeremy Corbyn will be standing as an independent candidate in his Islington North constituency – for which he has now been expelled from the Labour Party. He can win.

But this is contingent on one big unknown: how many voters will abandon Labour and follow him? Similar historical examples suggest this varies from seat to seat. The margins tend to be wide. Excluding the extreme ends of the list below, the proportion of support won by an independent candidate from a former party can range from 22 per cent to 70 per cent.

That makes an average of 50 per cent. If Corbyn performs as well as the average MP running as an independent, he may end up with 30-something per cent of the vote, with a possible range of 14 per cent to 45 per cent. If most of that comes from Labour, and a chunk of the not-insubstantial Green vote goes his way, then he’ll get in.

But it doesn’t always work like that. Bob Spink defected to Ukip from the Tories in 2008. In 2010 he ran for his own seat, Castle Point in Essex, as an independent candidate. He lost it, with 27 per cent of the vote, to the Conservatives’ 44 per cent. But he managed to hold on to 56 per cent of the votes he got as a Conservative candidate in 2005. Most of this came from former Labour voters, not his former Conservative ones. The absence of a Ukip candidate also pushed people his way.

The reason the Tory total was higher than Spink’s was because in seats like these, when it’s the incumbent vs the party, votes polarise. Other parties end up sidelined, and so their support drops. For example, in Castle Point former Labour voters – who did not vote Labour in 2010 – were split between Spink and the Conservative candidate, rather than all being siphoned to Spink.

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When a defector runs against their former party the media tends to view it as a two-horse race – the incumbent taking on their old party machine. But in Islington North there is no guarantee this will be the case. There isn’t even any guarantee that Corbyn will come first or second. That means, though, he may finish with 30 per cent of the vote, more or less; that doesn’t necessarily mean a 30-point fall in support for Labour.

Corbyn will face practical issues too – namely, he has lost the institutional support of a well-oiled Labour campaign. To what extent does Corbyn, and the team he’s taking with him, have the data to reach the voters he needs? Data is everything on the campaign trail. In the 2024 North East mayoral contest, Jamie Driscoll ran against his former party, Labour. Despite his high-profile campaign – and despite polls having him ahead – he lost by 13 points. His team’s door-knocking efforts couldn’t compete with Labour’s. Without the right data it is extremely difficult to target potential voters. If you can’t talk to the right people, it is extremely difficult to convert campaigning efforts into ballots. Ukip learned this in 2015 – sending activists to shuffle around town squares, handing out leaflets, instead of targeted doorstep conversations.

History suggests a high-profile independent can pull in around 30-something per cent of the vote, with a range of 14 per cent to 45 per cent. That's not the most helpful range, but evidence enough that Corbyn can’t be written off in a constituency he has represented since 1983.

[See also: The Clarksonification of the countryside]

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