Corbyn: ‘My duty to Islington will not waver if I become Labour leader’
- Credit: Vickie Flores
The Islington North MP vows to fight for greater powers for local authorities, if elected
Fresh off a train from Bristol where he had participated in hustings the previous night, Jeremy Corbyn braved last Friday’s torrential downpour to attend a celebration of volunteers at Finsbury Park’s Manor Gardens Welfare Trust – and received a roomful of applause and unrelenting requests for selfies.
The veteran MP, who has represented Islington North since 1983, couldn’t have made his message more clear: the Labour leadership race will not change his relationship with his constituents.
Mr Corbyn, who lives off Seven Sisters Road, said: “I’ve spent the last three decades and more representing the people of this area and that is not going to change. “People have been incredibly supportive. I thought initially when we decided that we were going to give it a go, that people wouldn’t be very happy about it.
“On the contrary, there has been nothing but overwhelming friendship and them saying: ‘good luck’ and we’ll support you whatever the result.”
If successful, Mr Corbyn intends to take some of the key issues he has seen in his 30 years’ of constituency work to the national table, chiefly “the inequality and the goodness in a lot of people to put a lot into the community.”
The left-leaning MP, who is running against fellow candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, was particularly critical of the government’s housing strategy, which has left its mark in Islington, with 19,000 people on the waiting list for social housing.
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He added: “Unfortunately, the government’s strategy is to let the private rented market rip in Central London and force councils to sell off valuable property and so there’s going to be less social housing available and more division which actually damages the workforce for the future because those that do many essential jobs – firefighters, nurses, Royal Mail delivery people, street sweepers, cleaners, refuse collectors – can’t afford to live in central London.”
Mr Corbyn warned that he would seek greater legal clout for local authorities in order to “rebalance” Islington and stop it, along with the rest of London, “looking like Manhattan.”
He said: “I feel very angry about this and I will continue to take it up. The Mayor deliberately rebalancing communities in favour of higher incomes actually destroys the character of London and the artistic and community endeavour we see in boroughs like Islington.”
Closely wedded to his desire to tackle London’s housing crisis is Mr Corbyn’s compassion for the more vulnerable members of society; forming the context for his controversial opposition to Labour’s recent Welfare Bill – the only candidate to do so.
Typically direct, Mr Corbyn defended his actions, saying: “If we as a party go down the road of saying: ‘Well, somehow or other, the most desperate, poor and disabled people have got to pay the price of austerity by cuts in their living standards’, what kind of society are we living in?”
In addition, the anti-war campaigner advocated a need for an overhaul of the benefits cap.
“I’m not in favour of spending vast amounts of money unnecessarily, I’m in favour of a benefits system that stops people falling into destitution,” he said.
“At the moment we have a benefits system that doesn’t achieve any of those things. It actually subsidises high rents and low pay, it’s a no brainer, we’ve got to change it.”
Perhaps understandably, Mr Corbyn is less definite about the result of the most recent YouGov polls conducted, which found him to be 17 points ahead of his rivals.
A private Labour poll conducted on Tuesday also gave him a 22 point lead.
He admitted: “We’re not commenting on polls, because I’m not quite sure how that poll was done, because unless YouGov were given access to all Labour party members’ and supporters’ phone numbers or emails, which I would be surprised if they had been, it’s unclear how that poll was conducted.
“What is clear is that in the hustings debates and the public meetings we’ve done there are a lot of people very interested in alternatives in parliament and politics.”
Mr Corbyn’s vision is to present a tangible economic alternative to Conservative cuts, explaining: “We want to present an economic strategy which is about redistribution, growing the economy, creating manufacturing and high skilled jobs and a highly skilled economy. We cannot just be a financial services economy. We’ve got to be something better.”
Despite vitriol from within and outside his party as to how his leadership could influence the future of Labour, Mr Corbyn is stoic about the future.
He said: “I’ve taken up a lot of causes which initially were very controversial and made me very unpopular, but you have to take the rough with the smooth, if you believe in a cause then you have to take it up.”