Suspended? Corbyn is still one of main voices at Labour launch

Former party leader hails eco-themed manifesto ahead of local elections

Friday, 1st April — By Anna Lamche

04-Local council manifesto launch With Corbyn

Former leader Jeremy Corbyn received a warm welcome from his party colleagues as Islington Labour group launched its pledges ahead of the May 5 elections

HE may still be getting a cold shoulder from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and told to sit as an independent in the House of Commons, but it’s a different story in Islington, where long-standing MP Jeremy Corbyn was invited to help launch the party’s council elections campaign.

He was among the speakers on Saturday at the Goodinge Community Centre, near Caledonian Park, as Labour unveiled its list of pledges ahead of the borough-wide elections on May 5 – the polls which hand residents the chance to decide who will run the Town Hall for next four years.

Holding all but three seats in the council chamber, the party remains hot favourite to continue its dominance over local politics. Mr Corbyn said: “I can remember every manifesto since 1982.

“This one ranks alongside the best ones because of the consultation that went into it, the detail that went into it.”

The document features the tagline “fairer, safer, greener” and some have compared the promises to the ideas put forward by Mr Corbyn during his time as the national leader of the party – including making sure everybody has access to fast broadband.

That policy had been dismissed by BT’s chief network architect Neil McRae as “broadband communism” back in 2019, but more people are now coming around to the idea that access to online services is another strand of debates on equality.

Mr Corbyn did not mention his independent status during his speech at the manifesto launch, although he has made clear many times that he believes the whip should be restored. The internal debate over this has led to sharp debates, not least in the letters page of the Tribune.

Mr Corbyn with Cllr Dave Poyser

Mr Corbyn said Islington Labour’s manifesto would help “create that world and that society that’s fit for the next generation”, adding: “Let’s make this election – this manifesto – one about exciting and enthusing young people to come on that journey with us to create a better world.” He added that here was a “thread of environmental consciousness” running through Labour policy, and urged councillors to resist the idea that green politics was a form of “virtue signalling”.

Mr Corbyn said: “It’s actually about enabling employment as well, which is everything we put in the 2019 manifesto, about the green industrial revolution, good quality, high-paying, unionised jobs [and] making a sustainable world.”

While some Labour members side with Mr Starmer, the speech was met with loud applause. Islington Council leader Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz promised to tackle the “digital divide” in her speech – another priority identified by Labour in 2019.

“We will ensure that every child, as they move into secondary school, has access to a laptop or tablet,” she said. “We will also make sure that every estate in our borough has access to fibre-optic broadband. Broadband is essential to today’s world, and while some people may call it ‘broadband communism’, we know it’s about making Islington a more equal place.”

Islington will also build 750 “brand new” council homes, the election pamphlet says, and promises to invest £10million in improving estates over the next four years.

The Labour group show solidarity with Ukraine

The Labour group hopes to woo Islington’s environmentalists with a plan to invest £10m a year in making social housing stock more energy efficient, with better insulation, double glazing and gas boilers.

The manifesto also pledges to continue rolling out the controversial “people-friendly streets” or low-traffic neighbourhood schemes and improve green spaces with plans to deliver a “net gain” of 600 trees a year. For those driving electric cars, the Labour group has promised to install a further 400 electric vehicle charging points by 2026.

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry, another of the speakers at the launch, said the pandemic had “helped to reinforce the importance of a sense of place.” She said that while Islington was “famous for having many rich people”, the borough also has “the very poorest people”.

She celebrated the council as having created “a greater sense of unity than many of the places that you visit around London”, warning that community spirit “is something which doesn’t just come overnight and can’t be taken for granted”.

Mr Corbyn was suspended in October 2020 following his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into how complaints of anti-Semitism were handled in the party.

“One anti-Semite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media,” he had said. “That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated. My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome.”

At one stage during the controversy, former leader of Islington Council, Dame Margaret Hodge, had made comparisons with the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

Mr Starmer responded to Mr Corbyn’s comments by withdrawing the whip and demanding an apology. The current leader has since signalled it will not be possible for Mr Corbyn to stand as a Labour MP in Islington North at the next general election under the current situation.

Will traffic be election issue?

A protest against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

KEEP, modify or kill?

This is the queston facing election candidates in relation to the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes.

Labour has pledged to continue “to deliver co-designed people-friendly streets” across the borough in its 2022 manifesto, while the Greens have said they will keep LTNs in place.

Green councillor Caroline Russell said: “I support the council’s objectives to clean up Islington’s air and make our streets safer for children, older and disabled people.

“I know many residents have longstanding concerns about cut through traffic, congestion and pollution. These are being dealt with through a process of consultation, evaluation and changes to local traffic flows.”

Meanwhile, Islington Liberal Democrats have said that they support “the principle of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods,” but accuse Labour of implementing them “without proper consultation” and of “causing unnecessary division.”

Candidate Kate Pothalingham said her party is seeking to modify the schemes and would establish “Citizen’s Assemblies” to judge each project.

The party also said it would introduce “immediate exemptions from LTNs across the borough for vulnerable groups and carers and other essential vehicle users”.

Islington Conservatives are seeking to kill off LTNs altogether.

Candidate Will Woodruffe said: “We’re the only party running to reverse the road closures (LTNs) across the borough.”

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