When Jeremy Corbyn was first elected as the MP for Islington North in 1983 he spent much of his time defending Islington Council – then under hard left leadership – against criticism from the Conservative Government regarding its overspending.
But to what extent is Islington still a bastion of Corbynism?
Emily Thornberry, Corbyn’s fellow Islington Labour MP nominated him but she is voting for Yvette Cooper – Emily is part of the “moron” faction.
Then there is Margaret Hodge, now the Labour MP for Barking. She was Leader of Islington Council from 1982 to 1992.
David Hyams, an SDP councillor, said of her:
“You felt she was a lady seeking power. She never had to do a day’s work in her life. She was a leftwinger with an Islington town house and cottage in Norfolk. And while she was leading the revolution, she was advertising for a nanny in The Lady”.
Labour were taught a lesson in 1999 when they lost control of the borough to the Lib Dems. No longer was a bust of Lenin (a former Holford Square resident) on display in the Town Hall foyer.
Labour had presided over the highest Council Tax in London.
The schools were probably the worst. Ofsted’s verdict was pretty emphatic:
“In 1999, during the last days of Islington Local Education Authority’s direct control, Ofsted described the LEA as being “in disarray”. Ofsted summarised its 1999 inspection report as follows: “The report identified failures of vision, strategy, planning and management in many areas. Overall, the LEA had lost the confidence of the schools and the parents. The Secretary of State issued a direction contracting out most of the LEA’s statutory functions.”
The streets were filthy. Concern was expressed for the homeless – while a huge number of council homes were left empty.
Worst of all, the response to revelations in the Evening Standard of abuse at children’s home was appalling – the evidence was disregarded.
It was a dysfunctional, self indulgent council. There were endless gimmicks – free gym mats for lesbians, edicts prohibiting the singing of baa baa black sheep, endless equalities units and committees.
I’m not aware that Mr Corbyn uttered a word of criticism. Lady Hodge has been on rather a journey and is voting for Liz Kendall – rather ungrateful after the unswerving support she received from Mr Corbyn during the “loony left” era.
What of more recent times?
In 2010 Labour swept back into power in Islington – but the red flag and the bust of Lenin have not returned. Cllr Richard Watts, the Leader of Islington Council is voting for Andy Burnham. The council leader used to be Catherine West, who is now the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. She nominated Mr Corbyn but hasn’t gone so far as to say she will vote for him.
I have plenty of criticisms of Islington Council which I have detailed on this site from time to time. This year the Council Tax has been increased by 1.99 per cent – just low enough to dodge the requirement for a referendum.
But it would be untrue to suggest it is still a Marxist bastion. The Council Tax had earlier been frozen for several years and even with the hike will still be slightly below the national average.
Generally I would say the council have managed to find savings while maintaining services. Payments on consultants have been cut. The bill for debt interest has been reduced through the sale of surplus buildings. Reductions in staffing levels have been absorbed by greater efficiencies.
On balance the council seems well run. I wonder if Mr Corbyn thinks so too.