Corbyn declines to say if he would quit if Labour fails to win election
Jeremy Corbyn has declined to say whether he would step aside if Labour fails to win the 12 December election, insisting: “It’s not about me.”
Asked at his party’s campaign launch what he would do if his party failed to get in to government, he replied: “It’s not about me, it’s not about any of the people on this platform, it’s not a presidential election, it’s about each and every one of us.”
By contrast, during the 2017 general election campaign, Corbyn made clear that he intended to stay on as Labour leader, regardless of the outcome.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, recently told former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell in GQ magazine that he “can’t see”, either himself or Corbyn staying on if Labour doesn’t win.
“What we’d do is, as the tradition, which is have an election for a new leader,” McDonnell said.
Corbyn was speaking at Battersea Arts Centre in south London, where he was launching his party’s “people-powered” general election campaign, on the day the prime minister missed his “do or die” Brexit deadline.
Labour is entering the campaign significantly behind the Conservatives in national polling, and with Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats hoping to capitalise on the frustration of remain voters over what she claims is Labour’s willingness to enable Brexit.
Many Labour MPs also have significant concerns about fighting a campaign in the cold weather and dark nights of November and December. But Corbyn insisted the party’s army of members were up for the fight – even if “the rivers freeze over”.
In a rousing speech, he said Boris Johnson was to blame for the failure to take Britain out of the European Union on time, and promised to get Brexit “sorted out”.
Johnson has sought to blame the Labour leader for the fact that the government’s Brexit deal was not passed in parliament. But Corbyn insisted Johnson “has failed, and that failure is his alone”.
“After three long years of Brexit divisions and failure from the Tories, we have to get this issue sorted out. We need to take it out of the hands of politicians and trust the people to have the final say,” Corbyn said.
Unlike Johnson, who is promising to “get Brexit done” if he is handed a Tory majority, Labour’s plan is to negotiate a new Brexit deal within three months – and put it to a referendum within six.
Corbyn said voters would be asked to choose between a “sensible” Brexit deal, and staying in the EU, a policy Corbyn said “really isn’t that complicated”.
With his shadow cabinet sitting on stage behind him, and to noisy cheers and whistles from the packed hall, Corbyn told his audience: “The choice could not be clearer” for a general election he called a once-in-a-generation chance to reshape Britain.
He said Johnson’s party would “only ever look after the privileged few”, and highlighted Labour policies, including free prescription charges and personal care for the elderly, an end to university tuition fees, and 30 hours free childcare for 2- to 4-year-olds.
Corbyn repeatedly asked his audience: “Is that too much to ask?” They shouted: “No,” in reply.
And when he promised Labour would not open up the NHS to US corporations as part of a free-trade deal with Donald Trump’s White House, his audience repeatedly chanted: “Not for sale! Not for sale!”
Afterwards, in response to questions, Corbyn declined to say whether all members of the current shadow cabinet would retain the corresponding job in government. “It really would not be appropriate, here on this platform,” he insisted.
The shadow cabinet has been riven by tensions over a number of issues in recent months, most clearly over Brexit.
In his speech, the Labour leader styled himself as the enemy of an “establishment elite”, afraid of paying their taxes. “We know whose side we, the Labour party, are on,” he said, in a bid to neutralise Johnson’s claim to support the “people” against parliament.
The 12 December general election was triggered on Tuesday, after Labour dropped its objections to Johnson’s plan for an early poll.
The Labour-supporting campaign group Momentum is launching a toolkit for supporters, urging them to host “phone-bank parties”, encouraging them to create video content that can be shared online, and asking supporters to volunteer two full days of their time between now and 12 December to help the cause of putting Corbyn in Downing Street.
Labour came under scrutiny on Wednesday over its links with the SNP, after Corbyn’s spokesman confirmed the party’s policy would not allow a fresh independence referendum in the “formative years” of a Labour government but would not block one after that.
Corbyn was introduced by Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova, who described herself as a remainer, and said only a Labour government would “sort out this Tory Brexit mess”.