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Lib Dems: ‘We’ll shock Labour in general election’

Party put surprise candidate forward and claim rival's Brexit stance means they can cause a ‘massive upset’

21 April, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Alain Desmier is set stand for the Lib Dems in the June 8 general election as they attempt to win the Islington South seat from Labour’s Emily Thornberry 

THE Liberal Democrats believe they can cause a “massive upset” in June’s snap general election due to Labour’s stance on Brexit, as the party selected Alain Desmier as their surprise last-minute candidate to take on Emily Thornberry in Islington South.

Mr Desmier, 33, stepped in at a shock meeting on Wednesday to replace former Town Hall chief Terry Stacy, who pulled out citing work and family commitments.

Labour majorities in the borough’s two constituencies look unassailable – Jeremy Corbyn has a majority of 21,194 in Islington North, and Ms Thornberry has a majority of 12,708 in Islington South and Finsbury – but both the Lib Dems and the Greens say Labour’s position on Brexit could seriously hurt the party in the June 8 poll.

“Any MP anywhere in the country who’s not represented the views of their residents should be very worried,” said Mr Desmier, chairman of the Islington Lib Dems. “There’s huge strength of feeling that Emily Thornberry has not represented the views of ordinary people in Islington on Brexit.”

More than 75 per cent of voters in Islington backed Remain in last year’s referendum. The borough ranked as the seventh most enthusiastically pro-EU constituency in the country.

Labour have been criticised by Remainers for whipping MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50, which began the formal process of Britain exiting the European Union.

The party has also been struggling in the polls under Mr Corbyn’s leadership. Mr Corbyn this week launched Labour’s campaign by vowing to “overturn the rigged system” and put power and wealth back in the hands of ordinary people.

Mr Desmier was chosen by local party chiefs after Mr Stacy – who contested the seat in 2015 and was selected to do so again in 2020, pulled out of the race.

The fact that Mr Stacy did not quit his job as head of office for the Liberal Democrats at the Local Government Association, could be interpreted as evidence that he did not believe he could have won the seat.

But the Lib Dems have said that Brexit fears have seen their membership in Islington swell to more than a thousand in recent months.

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry 

Highbury Fields School governor Keith Angus, the Lib Dem candidate in Islington North, said: “Our polling states there’s a significant support that’s come our way. It’s been phenomenal, in the last 48 hours we’ve had 200 new members in Islington. We’ve got the chance to cause a massive upset.”

However, with the Greens running on a similar ticket, the pro-Europe parties could split the vote in Labour’s favour.

Green councillor and London Assembly member Caroline Russell, who has not yet been selected but aims to contest Islington North, where she came third with 5,043 votes in 2015, said: “People have literally been stopping me in the street, saying they’re in despair at the way Labour have just rolled over with the [referendum] result despite the fact that there was no clarity about what leaving [the EU] meant. Yet Jeremy whipped his MPs to vote to trigger Article 50. For the first time in their life they will not be voting Labour.”

Cllr Russell added that the Green campaign will also be focusing on housing, clean air and workers’ rights.

But Ms Thornberry declared: “Bring it on.”

She added: “Labour’s position [on Brexit] is simply that we campaigned to remain in Europe and we are internationalists, but we lost the referendum. And you can’t have a referendum and then say that we didn’t like the decision people made.”

“It’s now about the continuing relationship with Europe. We have to have full access to the single market, safeguard people’s rights and co-operate on things like security because the EU are our closest allies.

“Labour has to be the party bringing both sides (Leave and Remain) together. We’ve been an effective opposition to the extent that Theresa May wants to get rid of us [in the election]. But we can’t give her a blank cheque and the only way to do that is by voting Labour. We need a party that takes on vested interests and stands up for ordinary people.”

Ms Thornberry added: “If you vote Lib Dem you get Tory. Two weeks ago they were going to do anything to stop us leaving the EU and now they’re saying they want to stop a hard Brexit. They’re trying to climb into our boat because they realise they’ve shot their bolt.”

Meanwhile, the Tories, who will be announcing their candidates next week, are expected to struggle in Islington because of Prime Minister Ms May’s plan to take Britain out of the single market, customs union and end free movement from the EU. Last time around, the party came second in both constituencies.

Evan Williams, chairman of the Islington Conservatives, said the Tory campaign would focus on housing, schools, mental health and social services.

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