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From Blair to Corbyn: the changing face of Islington, Labour’s London heartland

From Blair to Corbyn: the changing face of Islington, Labour’s London heartland

Once the home of ‘champagne socialism’, much has changed in Islington since New Labour’s 1997 victory. With the borough now set to spawn a very different kind of Labour leader, we visited the streets where extreme poverty exists alongside the capital’s ‘super-gentry’

There can’t be many people left in the country who’ve never heard ofJeremy Corbyn. He’s up there with Calais migrants and Cecil the lion as the story of the summer of 2015. But at dusk in Richmond Crescent, Islington, the time of day when Ocado vans are drawing near and there’s a distant sound of corks being gently eased from bottles, I stop two residents in the street and they look blankly at me when I mention his name. For the past 32 years, Corbyn has been the MP for Islington North, but there’s not even a flicker of recognition. “We’re Canadian,” the man explains. “It doesn’t mean anything to us.”

I’m here because Islington, the borough that nurtured Tony Blair and the New Labour dream, that became synonymous with the new middle class, aspirational Labour party, the party of sundried tomatoes and polenta and holidays to Tuscany, is back in the spotlight. With Corbyn’s emergence as the leadership frontrunner, Islington has found itself, once again, on the frontline of Labour politics. And I’m trying to figure out what has changed in the space of time between Blair and Corbyn. In Richmond Crescent, I have my first clue.

Because if anywhere can be said to have been the heart of the New Labour project, then it’s Richmond Crescent, a street of handsome four-storey, flat-fronted early Victorian houses. This wasn’t just Islington. It was Islington – the mythical media invention, the signifier of how the Labour party had changed; how it had evolved beyond its factionalist past, its years of unelectability.

Even the Canadian couple, off for dinner in one of the many restaurants of nearby Upper Street, know something of the street’s history. “Tony Blair lived right there, didn’t he?” says the man, pointing a few doors down. He did, I say. But then they look blank again when I point out the house of Emily Thornberry, their MP in Islington South (and shadow attorney general until she resigned after tweeting a photo of a white van covered in England flags during the Rochester byelection). A couple of doors past hers is an identical one belonging to Margaret Hodge, the former leader of Islington council and now MP for Barking and Dagenham. “We knew that actually,” says the woman, “because our landlady is her sister.”

Back in 1997 it was a place of middle-class gentrifiers. The Blairs bought their house for £375,000 in 1993, and Emily Thornberry, a barrister like Cherie, tells me she and her family moved into the street on the same day. (“Ours cost £300,000 and didn’t have much of a roof.”) But now, as Loretta Lees, a professor of geography who lives in the north of the borough, tells me, the gentrifiers have been replaced by “super-gentrifiers”. And when I describe the Canadian couple I meet – he works in the City though declines to say as what – she says, “That’s them!” The deregulation of the banks that began under Thatcher with the big bang then picked up pace after 1997 with Gordon Brown’s raft of changes, has brought forth a new demographic in Islington: the global elite.

These new residents, whether British or foreign, says Lees, share certain characteristics: “The UK super-gentrifiers tend to have gone to the same elite private schools and then to Oxford and Cambridge, and move in the same circles. And the Americans and Canadians and so on tend to be the same. They’ve gone to the same elite universities, and often move between London and New York and Hong Kong, so their networks are global.”

 

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/09/blair-corbyn-islington-north-london-labour

 

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