Islington’s Liberal opportunity

Islington is one of the most liberal places in the country. Cosmopolitan and confident, Islington was a natural home for the Liberal Democrats, but when voters moved on from Iraq, Labour moved back in. Labour hold 47 of 48 borough council seats (the other is a Green) and have held both parliamentary seats for longer than I’ve been alive.

I am relatively new to front line politics, but then so too are most of our members. Islington’s membership soared past 700 last week and from these newcomers, a majority of our executive have been elected into a Lib Dem role for the first time.

Our first action day of the year last Saturday was a spectacular success. 60 local members came out in the rain to help deliver four different wards across our two constituencies and for many, it was the first political thing they had ever done. An Islington veteran told me afterwards over a drink that she’d never seen anything like that level of enthusiasm, not even on general election day.

Our local residents are enthused as well and it was the first Lib Dem leaflet they had received for at least a year.  Since we delivered our bundles, dozens of residents have emailed through our contact address asking how they can join the party, asking how they can help locally, and of course there are always, always pot holes to fix!

Brexit is driving members to us, which is unsurprising considering our borough voted overwhelmingly to remain. But we are also blessed with sitting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry as our local MPs. We can track their recent performances on Marr and Peston to spikes in our website numbers and then eventual membership signups.

I recorded a video on Saturday, highlighting that Islington has many thousands of EU nationals who were until recently, residing very happily in our corner of North London, but who feel utterly betrayed by Labour.

A new member who joined the day before our action day told me:

 When Emily Thornberry said she wouldn’t ‘die in a ditch’ for freedom of movement’, I knew I had to do something.

We have a great opportunity in Islington to use the enthusiasm, and the anger, and put together a local election team in 2018 that returns many Lib Dem councillors. But more fundamentally, we have an incredible opportunity to show the rest of the country that voters are deserting the Labour project in a Labour heartland, in favour of the Lib Dems.

I want to spread the word that the Lib Dems are alive and kicking in Islington and ready for the fight. If you can lend us your expertise, if you can tell someone about us, or if you just want to come and help us beat team Corbyn and Thornberry, please get in touch.

We’re going to make Islington, Liberal again.

* Alain Desmier is Chairman of the Islington Lib Dems. You can contact him at [email protected]

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Feb '17 - 2:30pm

    If we could get away from the silly response above , to this excellent positive article from Alan, it must be said that Islington is not the uk , many of us would not even fight in a field for freedom of movement , as is now !

    The fact is the hegemony of one party rule in fifedoms up ad down the land must not be confused with another one size fits all alternative , a Liberalism that is all about what either people from half a centuries activism tells us it is, or new members keen on one issue.

    Alan is a terrific young Liberal Democrat. I am a young middle aged one . I am very keen to see the very many areas such as his and where I am in Nottingham, become multi party . But the way not to do it is to obsess on the policies that were never all one thing and cannot be even more than ever.

    Freedom, is not the freedom to settle in Islington automatically by virtue of birth in a vast continent. Not when married couples straight and gay and bi, are separated by monetary thresholds imposed from on high, and not when locals , cannot get homes, or services or schools, locals of very many ethnic origins whose forebears settled , like my father , when we were not running at a quarter of a million immigrants a year.

  • MPs who voted in contradiction to their referendum voters are not the major problem. The real failures are MPs who voted against their own convictions.

  • I have deleted the comments which did not comply with our comments policy. Please do not make ad hominem attacks on the author or each other.

  • Peter Watson 9th Feb '17 - 8:02pm

    Sorry for my involvement in that.
    However, I do think that Caractacus’ original comment was OK, making the point (perhaps with a tongue in his/her cheek) that the criticism of Emily Thornberry sounds a bit over-the-top since nobody is really volunteering to die in a ditch. In fact the new member’s quote that he/she was highlighting made me smile and I could imagine Miles Jupp reading it on The News Quiz and making “do something” sound quite sinister!

  • Sorry for my stupid comments….. They deserved to be deleted….But the serial cynics and the destructive commenters do frustrate me 🙂

  • There were Lib Dem successes in Islington that well pre-dated the Iraq war. And in fact lost control in 2006 when the Iraq war was still very salient (in an election when the Lib Dems were making progress in other bits of London.

    Doesn’t detract from the author’s sentiments but is important to understand the past if you are to tackle the present.

  • Wasn’t the demise of the party there due to some clumsy handling of a Parking issue that triggered its loss to NOC in 2006, including the loss of the council leader to Labour? And then Labour capitalised with a strong Labour team comprising of the new MP Emily Thornberry and group leader Catherine West, who became well versed enough to fighting in LibDem areas to
    (a) In 2010 Labour take control of Islington comfortably
    (b) See off all council by-election challenges to wipe the party out of Islington in 2014, (c) Catherine West pulling off a hat trick to push Lynne Featherstone out of Hornsey & Wood Green in 2015.
    It suggests that Labour worked out a formula on how to beat the LibDem appeal before the Coalition years.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Feb '17 - 12:16pm

    Tim Shipman’s book about the EU referendum of 2016 ‘All Out War’ makes the point that there was extremely heavy rain on polling day in some parts of London that were voting Remain which he said can be seen from the data. This is not enough, by itself, to overturn the UK overall outcome. There is a lot of material about the digital campaigns by both sides, including an admission by David Cameron about micro-targeting voters that the general election tactic of claiming that there could be a Labour-SNP coalition at Westminster in 2015 as nonsense, but useful to the Tories.
    The late Charles Kennedy MP had said on BBC1 Question Time that “Speaking as a Scot, they hate each other”, which was accepted with a smile by the Labour MP on the panel.

  • “It suggests that Labour worked out a formula on how to beat the LibDem appeal before the Coalition years.”

    They did – starting with the Hodge Hill and Hartlepool by-elections.

  • paul holmes 13th Feb '17 - 6:14pm

    Not quite that straightforward Hywel. Hodge Hill and Hartlepool were both only narrowly held in the by elections by Labour after big swings to the LD’s -and Hodge Hill was on the same day as Leicester South which we took from Labour.

    But yes, having helped in L South, Hartlepool and the Islington Council elections in 2006 I agree that Labour fought well organised hard campaigns against us and exploited any mistakes we made, such as our candidates injudicious Blog Post in Hartlepool.

  • Islington took control in 2000, on a policy pitch that was largely based on getting the disfunctional council working again. This resonated particularly in those areas that had most dealings with the council, the estates in wards like Bunhill, Hillrise and Holloway.

    As the Lib Dem administration sorted out the council’s housing repair services, finances and schools they made some tough decisions that were not universally popular (e.g. Arthur Simpson Library) and over time voters poor experiences of the previous Labour council ceased to be sufficient to overcome Labour’s attacks exploiting these issues.

    I can see that the 2017 version of the Lib Dems have an offer to the residents of Thornhill Square, but what are they offering to the good people of the Bemerton?

  • Paul – that’s why I said started. Certainly Hartlepool should have been won (there was the time to get things in place which there wasn’t so much with Hodge Hill).

    Certainly at the point Labour started to identify a tactic that could beat the Lib Dems which then developed through 2006 and beyond. IMO the party made a huge mistake by believing its own propaganda that the 2006 elections were a huge success and didn’t develop and adapt its campaign techniques till well after 2010 (when those changes were largely masked by the coalition effect)

  • It seems unfortunate that the OP has taken this film on Richmond Grove. As a former activist in Islington who lived just a few streets away, I’d have to say that it is a location – just off “trendy Upper Street” – that could be a symbol of everything that triggered Brexit in the first place.

    According to Zoopla, the average price of a terraced house in Richmond Grove is currently £1,535,083. The average price of a flat is £630,559. Yet just a few minutes walk away you will be in The Bemerton Estate (which I know well as I used to deliver it!) which according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation is in the bottom 6% of income in the whole of England.

    I am sure it is not the intention of the OP to reinforce the reputation of the Lib Dems as the party of the metropolitan liberal elite, but I am afraid that this is distinctly the message I take from this piece.

  • Mark Smulian 14th Feb '17 - 12:38pm

    I live just outside Islington and helped in many of its campaigns. I think its problems go back to the 2006 elections when it made a baffling strategic blunder. Having won 38-10 in 2002 the local party might have been well advised to defend. Instead, wards judged ‘safe’ in Islington South saw resources diverted into safe Labour wards to minimal effect.
    Many wards in the south were lost by small numbers of votes, which meant the post-2006 administration had a majority of one instead of 28 and most councillors came from what had been considered more marginal wards in Islington North – which consequently had been fought properly. I recall it was clear at the 2006 count that Labour could barely believe their good fortune.
    By the 2010 general election although Islington South was the target constituency it no longer had the councillors on the ground to lead the campaign, although a great deal of energy went into it.

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