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Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Suppression of Democracy Is a Dangerous Thing’

Jeremy Corbyn

At his campaign launch, Jeremy Corbyn explains to Tribune that his run against Keir Starmer's Labour is more than about social justice — it’s about defending the fundamental principles of democracy and honesty in politics.

Jeremy Corbyn is running as an independent candidate in Islington North. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Interview by
Owen Dowling

‘The multiculturalism of our area is just one of the amazing things about it, as well as Arsenal, our lovely parks, and all the Turkish restaurants on Holloway Road. But the best thing by far about our area is our MP.’

Junior doctor and Palestine activist Rohi Malik addressed the crowd at Crouch Hill’s Brickworks community centre, a fitting venue for Wednesday night’s launch of Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign as the independent candidate for Islington North. Also backing their longtime incumbent MP on a panel of community activists were Colin Adams, manager of Brickworks, NHS campaigner Jan Pollock, chair of Finsbury Park Mosque Mohammed Kozbar, Sawsan Salim, director of the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation, and chair Julia Bard of the Jewish Socialists’ Group. 

The platform greeted a room bustling with the massed community faithful, of all ages and backgrounds, almost all plainly former (and most likely some discrete continued) members of the local Labour Party who, like the ex-Labour leader, now find themselves evicted from their once party-political home by Keir Starmer’s supersonic Great Moving Right Show. 

Indeed, Corbyn’s expulsion from the Labour Party seven days ago upon the announcement of his standing as ‘An Independent Voice For All Of Us’ in Islington North, on the back of his long-running exclusion from the Labour whip and NEC-mandated prohibition from running for his constituency party’s nomination, imbued the evening with an explicitly defiant, dissident atmosphere. This was a mood heightened amid audible clamour over the Starmer leadership’s evidently calculated public cruelty towards Diane Abbott — for whom a mass rally was also convened that evening outside Hackney Town Hall — and, as since-confirmed rumours percolated during the event, Faiza Shaheen.

For the most part, however, the platform overtly avoided mentioning ‘the L word’. Rather, each speaker focused on waxing lyrical about their own experiences with their socialist MP in the seat to which Corbyn has been returned nine times since 1983, foregrounding the positive case for his re-election. From his helping salve potential community tensions after the 2017 terrorist murder of Makram Ali to cycling onto the scene to chase off police menacing local pensioners leafleting against ticket-office closures, every speaker had a surfeit of stories about ‘an MP who always knows what side he’s on.’ The loudest burst of applause came for Pollock, who spoke for the platform and the audience in her concluding exclamation to the room: ‘Talk to everybody locally, and let’s get our wonderful MP elected again!’

In one of the more hilarious press interventions during the Labour Party’s brief rediscovery of principles after 2015, the Telegraph’s Charles Moore observed: ‘A tie is a mark of ambition. Jeremy Corbyn alarmed me by wearing one as it showed he craved power’. Thankfully for Baron Moore, had he been among the smallfolk in Brickworks that evening, he’d have had no cause for fear: tieless and relaxed, Corbyn was clearly comfortably in his element back among the constituents in whose midst as local MP he’s lived and worked for forty-one years.

Beginning his address following the panel with birthday wishes for campaign agents Sarah Doyle and Gill Lawton (complete with whole-room singing and birthday candles), his second ‘important announcement’ — ‘My name is Jeremy Corbyn, and I’m standing to be the independent MP for Islington North!’ — although coming as no surprise to those in the room, raised the roof.

Earnest and idealistic, combative and jocular, incensed and buoyant, Corbyn’s speech was reminiscent of those punctuating the early stages of his leadership, like that delivered to 10,000 Liverpudlians on St George’s Plateau during the leadership election of summer 2016, at which this author was inspired as a teenager.

Of course, political circumstances have changed, and the field of transformative ambition for the parliamentary left radically circumscribed since then, with Corbyn now mobilising to resist an institutional effort to exclude his politics from public life entirely. But while the focus of this campaign is to be on local issues, and what he as a socialist MP has done and can do for Islington North, the far-reaching national and international scale of Corbyn’s political diagnosis and prescription remains undiminished.

Across thirty minutes, the candidate Keir Starmer once dubbed ‘a colleague and a friend’ dealt in turn with issues of democracy and its denial to Islington North CLP, dissenting isolation in Parliament (recalling his and Tony Benn’s lonely opposition to the Gulf War), the two child benefit cap, the water industry, Royal Mail and the postal workers’ disputes, the housing crisis and urgency of rent caps, NHS privatisation, and the urgency of a Green Industrial Revolution, of nationalisation and restored public services, of peace and international diplomacy amidst war and genocide, and of anti-racism and social solidarity at home. 

Recounting varied local grassroots campaigns in whose successes he has shared as MP with many of those in the room, Corbyn called on those who will join him in his tenth re-election campaign — this time outside and against the Labour Party — to harness the spirit of their past achievements as a community into this mobilisation and beyond. ‘Above all I want it to be a campaign of hope.’

Tribune’s Owen Dowling spoke to Jeremy Corbyn after the campaign launch.


What has it meant to you, and what does it mean to be the MP for Islington North?


It’s been my life for the past forty-one years, and I’m very proud to represent the people of Islington North. Obviously I have huge affection and connections with this community; for example, this community centre, I was there at the building of it, and I feel that involvement. But I also feel a humbleness towards those who have campaigned and those in this community during and before my time. During my speech, I mentioned some of our history: Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Paine, the suffragettes, and so many others were all active here. In that room tonight you had people who represent all kinds of communities in the borough: you heard speakers from the Kurdish community, from Finsbury Park Mosque, the Jewish Socialists’ Group, and so on all there together. I’m very proud to represent this community. I tried to set out tonight my view on social justice and fairness within our society — that debate is sadly missing from the election campaign.


You are contesting this election as an independent candidate, ‘An Independent Voice For All Of Us’. What is your message to the constituents who have returned you as their Labour MP nine times since your first being elected back in 1983? How do you explain the situation to them?


To them, I first of all say, thank you for your support in past elections. I’d also say that democracy isn’t just about elections, it’s also about what we do between them; the Islington North Labour Party has been denied any voice, denied any vote, denied even the chance to make a proposal of a candidate. The person who’s been inserted as the Labour candidate for Islington North has not been nominated by any member of Islington North Labour Party at all, the CLP has been completely sidelined in this. This suppression of democracy is a very dangerous thing.


You’ve been a constant presence at the national demonstrations for Palestine since the beginning of this latest Israeli assault on Gaza, calling for a ceasefire through a time when the majority at the top of national politics was backing Israel’s campaign and slandering the mass peace marches. Now as the genocide in Gaza continues with the unbearable horror we’ve seen out of Rafah in the last days, how important will the cause of a free Palestine — and international solidarity in general — be for your political profile as an independent MP for the area if elected?


 Very important. Many people in this community have been on those demonstrations and will continue to be, including the local ones. We could have peace, we could have an end to the war, we could have a ceasefire, we could have an end to the supplying of arms to Israel, but it would require some strong political will to make those things happen. Instead what we’ve got is an arms industry in the USA, Britain, France, and Germany pumping more and more weapons in, and more and more children are being killed. Thirty-four thousand people are already dead in Gaza. None of that was necessary.


A prominent part of your activity as a local MP has been supporting constituents from a migrant background or those who’ve sought asylum here who’ve been threatened with the prospect of deportation. It’s likely that under the next Parliament, no matter which government is formed, we’re going to see a bolstering of the border regime and a heightening of the moral panic around refugees and ‘the small boats’. How important will supporting migrants’ rights and championing migrant communities within the constituency be to your platform as an independent MP?


It’s going to be very important. As I was saying, I’ve been to Calais many times, and I’ve met many people in our community who’ve come to this country out of desperation, who’ve suffered war, famine, human rights abuse, many things, and have come to Britain to make it their home and who’ve made our society what it is. We actually need migrants, and we need people to make their home here; we don’t need to call them enemies. If we’re worried about why people seek asylum, then perhaps we should think: the West has spent billions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan, then after twenty-one years left and left behind desperate poverty, an inhumane regime, and we now leave those people to have to walk thousands of miles to try and get to a place of safety — what does that say about our sense of duty or our sense of morality? It’s shocking. 


You’ve spoken tonight primarily addressing your constituents, community activists, and more widely, those who supported you and perhaps, like myself, were politicised by your time as Labour leader, and now feel frozen out of the national political process as you yourself have been. Turning your attention to a rather different audience, if you could speak to him, what would be your one message to Keir Starmer ahead of the upcoming election?


It’s a great honour to be leader of the Labour Party, and you should remember the history of the Labour Party, the importance of diversity within it, and the central purpose of the party which is supposed to be about the fundamental redistribution of power and wealth in favour of working people. An economic strategy which goes in that direction excites and motivates people; an economic strategy which is simply about protecting business interests is not something which’ll get people dancing in the streets.


So would you say that you, as the independent candidate for Islington North, not the Labour candidate, are standing in the tradition of the labour movement?


My campaign is absolutely standing in the tradition of the labour movement. That tradition has been my whole life. I joined the Labour Party when I was sixteen; I even joined before the England men’s team had won the World Cup.