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Leaders’ debate? Greens urge Corbyn to appear at election hustings in his own backyard

Labour members are directed to help out in marginal seat outside London as Christmas general election battle begins

08 November, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Green parliamentary candidates Caroline Russell and Talia Hussain

THE Green Party has sent a challenge to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to appear in hustings in his own constituency, warning that it would be “absolutely disgraceful” if there was no public debate for the Christmas general election.

Caroline Russell, who was the only opposition councillor elected at last year’s Town Hall election, is standing in Islington North and said Mr Corbyn’s popularity should not mean voters here do not get a chance to scrutinise all the candidates.

“It’s a real shame if he doesn’t have time to turn up to local hustings so that people in Islington North can raise questions in the context of hearing from people of other parties,” she said.

Ms Russell said the Labour leader did not take part in any local hustings – a public meeting where candidates explain their policy goals and usually take questions from an audience – during the last general election in 2017.

“He got away with it somehow because everyone was very, very forgiving. Even Theresa May when she was Prime Minister attended a local hustings,” she said.

Ms May, however, faced heckles during her hustings in Maidenhead.

Islington North has traditionally been regarded as a Labour fortress with Mr Corbyn enjoying the cushion of a majority of more than 30,000 votes.

Labour members from Islington in Stevenage

With the overall election likely decided in more marginal seats, the leader is expected to be touring the country in his role as leader over the next five weeks.

“Obviously, we’re not going to get him to every hustings like he did in 2015, but doing at least one is the bottom line,” said Ms Russell. “I think I would be very surprised if Jeremy did not turn up for at least one hustings. I think people would be angry.”

Labour’s Emily Thornberry, who currently represents Islington South and Finsbury and is part of the shadow cabinet, made an appearance at a high number of local hustings during the last general election.

She is being challenged by Liberal Democrat Kate Pothalingham, whose ­party drove campaign vehicles through the constituency last week, and Talia Hussain, the Greens’ candidate.

The Tories have yet to announce who will be on the ballot paper for them.

Both Green Party candidates back electoral reform and a move away from the “first past the post” system in general elections which critics say penalises political parties which are not the two most popular and can make voters in “safe seats” feel as if they have no real say.

Ms Russell said: “Whatever the outcome of this general election I really hope electoral reform ends up further up the agenda but we have to fight every election. We are a serious party. And there’s an awful lot of people that believe in our values.”

She added that it was “never disheartening” to be campaigning for Mr Corbyn’s seat, despite the scale of his lead, but added: “The electoral system is what’s annoying. It’s really hard.”

Jeremy Corbyn at campaign launch

A spokesman for the Labour Party said: “Jeremy Corbyn has not ruled out taking part in local hustings events. He obviously has a packed schedule but places huge value on MPs engaging with their local communities throughout an election campaign, which is why he will be personally launching his campaign for re-election in Islington.”

Labour activists in Islington North, however, have already been sent further afield where they have been encouraged to help out in the target seat in Stevenage.

Party members have been going to the Hertfordshire town for the past four months, catching a train out of Finsbury Park during the weekends.
Labour has started twinning constituencies where there is a strong Labour vote with marginal seats.

Stephen Morby, secretary of the Islington North Labour Party, helps organise the visits to Stevenage where maths teacher Jill Borche is hoping to unseat the Tories.

“She’s 100 per cent behind Jeremy and he’s been up there repeatedly. The local members meet us in cars and take us to where they are canvassing and door-knocking. Last Saturday, there were 30 people from Islington North there,” said Mr Morby.

Stevenage voted to leave during the EU referendum in 2016 with just 40.8 per cent of the vote going to remain.

Mr Morby said that the main issues he heard from residents while door-knocking were on “local issues around schools and regeneration of the town centre”.

On the issue of leaving the EU, he said that people were “divided” in Stevenage, compared to remain-heavy Islington.

Mr Morby said: “The country is deeply divided but we are very, very confident – this will be a big fight for us.” But he added: “It’s looking good for us – polls are beginning to shift but it’s unpredictable.”

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