The story of Jeremy Corbyn’s first Islington North election win
- Credit: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES
Jeremy Corbyn is the most talked-about politician in the country. And he’s divided opinion ever since he first stood for Islington North in 1983. James Morris digs into the archives to tell the story of his campaign.
Jeremy Corbyn could be Prime Minister on Friday. But it could have been so different.
In 1982, he only just scraped over the line to become Labour’s candidate for Islington North.
Then a Haringey councillor with a “reputation for left-wing militancy”, Mr Corbyn narrowly defeated Paul Boateng at a four-hour selection meeting.
It meant Mr Corbyn was fighting to win Michael O’Halloran’s seat in the 1983 general election. He was elected Labour MP in 1969, but had defected as an independent.
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Mr Corbyn, of course, won the poll and has represented Islington North for 34 years.
Over that period, he became famous for doing things his own way. And the Gazette got a taste of that when Margaret Thatcher announced the poll on May 9.
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It would be unthinkable for a new candidate not to speak to the local paper during their first election campaign.
But Mr Corbyn did just that in blanking the Gazette. It went back to an industrial dispute within the company in 1982, when our sister title the Camden Journal was closed down.
Though it was settled more than a year before the election, Mr Corbyn still held it against Islington’s oldest paper.
Asked why he would not break his silence, Mr Corbyn said it was because of “the dispute”. When pointed out it had been settled to the “satisfaction of all parties”, he responded: “It depends who you talk to.”
It meant the Gazette was forced to feed off scraps for coverage of his campaign – mainly election flyers.
Known as a man of stubborn principle, his soundbites were unerringly similar to those in his 2017 campaign to become Prime Minister.
“I am determined to see that a Labour government works for the worst off in our society,” he said in one 1983 leaflet.
“Only the Labour Party has a plan that puts people first. A plan that offers real hope for the future.”
And at one rally in North London College, Holloway, Mr Corbyn said he would always vote for unilateral disarmament: “The only way to bring peace is by renouncing nuclear weapons which are a target for other nuclear weapons.”
Tony Allcock, the former Gazette editor of 36 years whose reporters (eventually) had a good working relationship with Mr Corbyn, observes: “In 1983, Corbyn stood as a left-wing firebrand, with strong views on pretty much everything.
“He’s renowned for rebelling and following his own views. He’s always been a man of principle. And whether you agree with his politics or not, he’s a very nice man.”
There were gaffes during the campaign. Canvassing in Furlong Road, Holloway, Mr Corbyn’s team unknowingly called at the Conservatives’ campaign headquarters.
Tory president Ken Graham told them they could be assured of his solid support.
At the time, Mr Corbyn was a founder member of “Labour Against the Witch Hunt”, a movement to stop hardline left-wingers like himself being expelled from the party.
And Mr O’Halloran, who was still billing himself as a “Labour candidate”, was busy distancing himself from those same left-wingers at Islington Town Hall.
Labour-run Islington Council had become unpopular with moderate voters under Margaret Hodge’s leadership, with policies such as giving up council homes to squatters and cutting rebates to war widows (the decision was reversed after public uproar). It meant a win for Mr Corbyn wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
And the tension between Team Corbyn and Team O’Halloran came to a head on polling day.
Both sets of supporters turned up at the Holly Park Estate polling station with identical banners reading: “Vote for your Labour Party candidate.”
And after a month of exchanging verbal blows, their physical urges got the better of them. The ensuing bout of fisticuffs had to be broken up by security.
In the event, Mr O’Halloran came nowhere near retaining his seat.
Mr Corbyn won with 14,951 votes: a majority of 5,607 over Conservative David Coleman. Mr O’Halloran was fourth with just 4,091 votes.
Thirty-four years later, Labour leader Mr Corbyn is likely to win Islington North for the ninth time – and possibly become Prime Minister. And no one is more surprised than Mr Allcock.
“I’m just amazed he has got to where he is. He was always such an outsider, the eternal maverick. I could never have imagined him as a possible Prime Minister.”