Michael Foster's Islington 'doorstep challenge'

The former Labour donor once compared Jeremy Corbyn's devoted acolytes to Nazi Stormtroopers. Now he's campaigning in the Labour leader's constituency. As an independent.


It is safe to say Michael Foster is not a Jeremy Corbyn fan.

One of Labour’s largest private donors of recent years, Mr Foster was suspended from the party after penning an inflammatory article in the Mail on Sunday in which he compared supporters of Mr Corbyn to Nazi Stormtroopers.

Before that, outraged at a failure to discuss Israel or British Jewry meaningfully, Mr Foster heckled Mr Corbyn at a Labour Friends of Israel event.

And last month the Jewish donor promised to run against Mr Corbyn in the Islington North seat the Labour leader has held since 1983 if the party fared poorly in the local elections. It did and he is.

Mr Foster’s pitch to voters in this uphill battle – Mr Corbyn’s majority is more than 21,000 – is that he can get young constituents into employment with an effective back-to-work programme.

But how will he convince the electorate that this is not just another chapter in what could look like a personal vendetta against Mr Corbyn?

“Jeremy is a very kind man," Mr Foster says. "I absolutely know that from everything I have spoken to people about. Jeremy Corbyn is a very good constituency MP and I absolutely respect that.

“But under the economics practised by Jeremy and practised by his colleagues on Islington Council, Islington has fared worse than other boroughs.”

It appears, too, that Mr Foster thinks he can win. A Labour canvasser since 1974 and a former parliamentary candidate in Cornwall, he knows how to campaign.

He even plans to knock on between 18,000 and 22,000 doors by June 8.

This sometimes, however, manifests in outbursts at his employees, including one on her first day on his campaign. He has a particular thing about people looking at him when he’s giving instructions.

“Just to be clear, I have never done anything bad to anyone”, he said. “I have no excuses at all, nor do I offer any, if I step out of line. I apologise, and I hope people understand I am trying to get things done.

“I respect people. I hope I do not walk over people. Some people have said to me that I am ‘bullying’ people in order to get things done. But I believe most places in the workplace should be harmonious and of learning and people should be happy to speak up.”

So how did he fare on the doorstep as an independent? Not badly, actually. Knocking on doors in Gillespie Road, just adjacent to the monolithic Emirates Stadium, he found more than one disillusioned Labour voter who would consider giving him their vote.

“I like what Jeremy Corbyn’s saying”, said resident Martina Wall-Palmer. “But he won’t be able to make any of the changes he’s promising. I like his principles. I think he’s very principled – but it will never work. I like the way independents think.”

But for every Mrs Wall-Palmer there was an Eddie Fitzpatrick, 67, who made his admiration for Mr Corbyn clear.

“Jeremy Corbyn is my friend. He came to my house once. I think he’s even been in my bathroom. I had a problem with the council and in two-and-a-half days he got it all sorted for me – job done.

“He’s from my era. He’s a terrific bloke.”

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: "Jeremy is a popular local MP. Jeremy values meeting and listening to constituents at his regular advice sessions, and while out in the community.

“Jeremy has consistently spoken out against all forms of antisemitism, and referred Ken Livingstone to the Labour Party's ruling National  Executive Committee for his comments."

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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