THERE was a bit of an all stand-down moment, locally, when Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership contest last summer. For those north London Labour figures who hold a keen admiration for his rock solid parliamentary majority in Islington North, there had, until then, been an almost audible wondering aloud about whether Corbyn, who will be over 70 at the next timetabled general election, was thinking this would be his last term in the Commons. If there had been plans to follow fellow long-servers Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson in a step towards retirement – and nothing but idle tittle-tattle in Islington suggests it was on the cards – it’s all scratched by his insistence that he will lead Labour when the nation next goes to the polls.
In recent days, however, the same purveyors of north London’s most outlandish speculation whisper questions about whether the picture changes if Owen Smith is successful in his leadership challenge next month. Would Corbyn want to go on and on and on, having seen inside the top office and been quickly gunned out of it by his own colleagues? In pub talk, you can hear the usual stories of a queue around the block forming if a situation becomes vacant in Islington North. A boisterous discussion for another day no doubt, but long-term planners chatter about whether a Corbyn-loyal councillor from Islington will emerge, or whether hopefuls openly panning his performance as leader right now may need not apply to be his successor. We’ve seen just how frenetic these contests can become in Camden recently, as the size of the first past the post majorities mean members effectively choose the next MP rather than just a candidate.
What has triggered a fresh whimsy of speculation this week, when Corbyn looks a world away from retiring? Firstly, some of Owen Smith’s supporters feels there is a complacency in the Corbyn campaign which could have the sting in the tail they so desperately want to see next month. And secondly, for the mischievous, the sight of James Murray, the former Islington councillor hired by Sadiq Khan to be London’s housing guy, looking chuffed with his new role on a profile-raising double page spread in last night’s Evening Standard. He was briefly linked with a run at Holborn and St Pancras in late 2014, before it became obvious that Keir Starmer would walk the selection contest there. It would be naughty to join those asking whether, one day, he’d be interested in being the prodigal son returning to Islington to be the area’s next MP.
Still, there’s intrigue there: He comes from Corbyn country but now works for the Mayor that Smith’s supporters will tell you every Corbynista loves to boo. Now a very busy man at City Hall, ask him if you see him who he supported last summer, and where he stands on the Labour leadership contest this time around. Such information didn’t appear in the glowing 1,000 words or so in the Standard interview, and it’ds be fascinating to know.