With a new poll out today giving the Conservatives a 24 point lead over Labour, the June election already looks like a done deal to many. But today Jeremy Corbyn tried to put his party’s woes to one side as he launched Labour’s campaign with his first speech of the election.
As hacks were heckled for asking about those pesky polls, Corbyn used the main thrust of his speech to set himself out as the anti-establishment leader. He said that while the Tories want to make the election about Brexit, Labour will focus on domestic issues that effect voters on a daily basis — ‘it is only Labour that will focus on what kind of country we want to have after Brexit’.
What was most striking about the speech was Corbyn’s full-on populism. Finding his inner Trump, the Labour leader spoke of the ‘rigged system’ on three occasions. But he also borrowed a phrase from the Blair playbook, saying that only Labour would govern ‘for the many not the few’. He hit out at the mainstream media and said that they do not want Labour to win because that would mean the people, not the powerful, had won. It’s a line that will play well with the membership.
He singled out Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley and Philip Green as figures that show the extent of corruption and greed in Britain today — warning that only Labour could crack down on those who ‘are monopolising the wealth’:
‘If I were Southern Rail or Philip Green, I’d be worried about a Labour Government. If I were Mike Ashley or the CEO of a tax avoiding multinational corporation, I’d want to see a Tory victory.
Why? Because those are the people who are monopolising the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us in this country.’
It was a shrewd move to name these widely reviled figures. It will mean that the Conservatives will be asked to address the issue of a fair society and corporate greed in the weeks that follow. But given that May herself has said that she wants to have a corporate crackdown (albeit one that is watered down a bit more each time she talks about it), it doesn’t put the Conservatives on that uncomfortable ground.
On Europe, Corbyn refused — in the Q&A — to rule out Labour holding a second Brexit referendum, on the final deal. This reinforces Emily Thornberry’s comment this week that her party has not taken a position on Brexit. By voting for Article 50 but refusing to rule out a second referendum, the party risks upsetting voters on both sides of the Brexit divide.