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UK early election: Under-fire Corbyn goes on the front foot

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces the ultimate test within weeks in Theresa May’s poll called the “Brexit election”. A failure to win or a result in which the party ends up at less than its current strength will most likely cost him his position.

world Updated: Apr 20, 2017 19:10 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Jeremy Corbyn,Brexit election,UK election
Britain's Leader of the Opposition, and leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a political event in central London, on Thursday.(AP)

“June will be the end of May,” remarked Labour MP Dawn Butler to much applause on Thursday, as party leader Jeremy Corbyn struck an aggressive posture in his first election speech, insisting that a Conservative party win was not a foregone conclusion.

The June 8 election has been dubbed a “Brexit election” but as the speech indicated, Corbyn is keen to convert it into a mandate on the policies of the Theresa May government on issues such as health, funding cuts, education and employment rights.

Constantly questioned about his competence and ability to win since his election as party president in 2015, Corbyn faces the ultimate test within weeks, instead of in 2020. A failure to win or a result in which the party ends up at less than its current strength will mostlikely cost him his position.

Reiterating his the-people-versus-the-establishmentvision, considered “hard Left”, Corbyn insisted that Labour was never stronger or more determined to win the election. Brexit was mentioned only twice in the speech punctuated by much applause.

“It is the establishment that complains I don’t play the rules: by which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game. We don’t fit in their cosy club. We are not obsessed with the tittle-tattle of Westminster or Brussels.”

“We don’t accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers, and we don’t accept that the British people just have to take what they’re given, that they don’t deserve better.”

If a Labour government were elected on June 8, Corbyn remarked that it “won’t play by their rules either.They are yesterday’s rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past.”

Asking corporates, tax dodgers and bankers to be afraid, “be very afraid”, if Labour formed the next government, Corbyn said, “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”.

“It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors. But things can, and they will, change.”

The mid-term election was announced due to uncertainties perceived by Mayin Westminster over Brexit, but Corbyn’s focus on wider issues left him open to criticism that Labour continued to be vague on whether it supports Britain leaving the EU or not.

Corbyn was criticised during last year’s referendum for not campaigning strongly enough for Britain to remain in the EU. His personal reservations about EU were known, but the party’s continuing vagueness is likely to leadvoters toother parties that have aclearer stand.

Hisability to reach out and win new supporters alsoremained in question, while the Liberal Democrats are expected to register a bounce in the election due to their openly pro-EU stand and the promise to hold another referendum on the final Brexit deal with Brussels.

First Published: Apr 20, 2017 17:40 IST