Corbyn makes virtue of necessity with appeal to ‘the people’
UK Labour leader launches election campaign with attack on media and the powerful
The oak-panelled assembly hall at Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England, was an unlikely venue for a frontal assault on the Establishment. But from the moment Jeremy Corbyn stepped out to a standing ovation from party activists for his first major event of the British election campaign, his message was defiant and confrontational.
“The dividing lines in this election could not be clearer from the outset. It is the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all. It is the Establishment versus the people and it is our historic duty to make sure that the people prevail,” he said.
The mood was established before Corbyn appeared, with a soundtrack of soul classics, including Odyssey’s Back to my Roots, and an old-school stem-winder from Labour frontbencher Ian Lavery. YouGov’s first poll since the election was called puts the Conservatives on 48 per cent, twice Labour’s figure of 24 per cent. But Corbyn was contemptuous of “the media and the Establishment” who believe the outcome of June 8th’s election is already a foregone conclusion.
“They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow by doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting that things can’t really change, then you can’t win. But of course, they do not want us to win. Because when we win it is the people, not the powerful, who win,” he said.
Reviled by most of the media and all but a handful of Labour MPs, Corbyn has chosen to make a virtue out of necessity by portraying himself as an outsider, shunned by a self-serving elite. Judged a failure according to the conventional rules of politics, he promised that a Labour government would tear up the rule book.
“They are yesterday’s rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past. It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations,” he said.
British prime minister Theresa May wants to define the election as a choice about Brexit, presenting herself to the country as the best choice to negotiate with the EU on behalf of Britain. Corbyn wants to change the direction of the campaign, focusing instead on the unfairness of a system he condemns as rigged in favour of the wealthiest.
“So many people in modern Britain do what seems like the right thing to do. They get jobs, they spend all day working hard, they save to buy their own home, they raise children, they look after elderly or sick relatives. And yet, at the end of it, they get almost nothing left over as a reward,” he said.
“Compare their lives with the multinational corporations and the gilded elite who hide their money in the Cayman Islands because the Conservatives are too morally bankrupt to take them on.”
At the end of his speech, which echoed Tony Blair with a promise to govern “for the many, not the few” the activists rewarded their leader with another standing ovation. But when reporters put questions to Corbyn, the mood turned darker, and an ITV journalist was booed when she mentioned his poor poll ratings and asked if he represented an Islington elite.
Corbyn remained polite, although he dodged a question about whether he would support a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who was in the audience, also refused to rule out the option later, when a Telegraph reporter put the question to him 10 times.
The Labour leader was better prepared for questions about the polls, referring to the moment of his greatest glory, when he first won the Labour leadership.
“In 2015 I was given 200 to one as an outside chance,” he said.