As Labour conference gets underway, the main topic of conversation is Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – and how long it can last. Following a failed Corbynite attempt to oust Tom Watson as deputy leader, a successful attempt to give the party’s national executive committee say over any interim leader and the news that Corbyn’s top aide has quit, there’s talk that the Labour leader is on the way out. Appearing on the Andrew Marr show in Brighton this morning, Jeremy Corbyn tried his best to kibosh the idea.
Corbyn told Andrew Marr that there would be a general election campaign this year and he would be the person leading his party into it. Of the rumours that he could resign in the near future, Corbyn declared such claims as ‘wishful thinking by some people’ before suggesting Marr is ‘probably’ in that group.
AM: Can you give me a commitment that you will definitely be leader of the Labour party into and after the next general election?
JC: I’m taking the party into the general election because I’m taking the party into a general election to end austerity, to bring forward policies that bring about a better standard of living and better opportunities for people all across this country. I’m enjoying doing that. I’m campaigning all the time, I did 40 events during August alone all round the country.
AM: And if you become prime minister of this country, are you going to serve as a full term?
JC: Of course
AM: And that’s a commitment?
JC: Why wouldn’t I? I’m very surprised by this question, what are you trying to say?
In a tense exchange, a testy Corbyn said the change in rules over any interim leader was not about giving his allies a veto over who would step in should he step away. When Marr suggested the rule change was for the event Corbyn resigns, he quickly chipped in that it was for all scenarios including if ‘an untoward incident happens with a bus’. What ever series of events lead up to the point of Labour requiring an interim leader, the national executive committee now have the power to appoint the temporary replacement ahead of a leadership contest. Corbyn said that who ever was picked would be an MP and most likely a senior member of the shadow cabinet.
With Corbyn insisting that he is going nowhere, neither it seems is his deputy Tom Watson after an attempt to oust him failed. Of that Friday night vote – tabled by Momentum founder Jon Lansman – Corbyn said he had not had prior knowledge. He also found faint praise for Watson, saying he had been ‘brilliant’ at speaking out on the need for reforming the media. As for their personal relationship, he would only say that they got on ‘absolutely fine’. Corbyn had warmer words for his departing aide Andrew Fisher – who accompanied him to the interview. Although Fisher was heavily critical of colleagues in Corbyn’s office in his departure memo, Corbyn said that Fisher had promised to stay on until Christmas and advise on policy issues for longer.
He stuck to his guns on the party’s Brexit position, calling for neutrality for the time being on how the party would campaign in a second referendum ahead of a special conference once he is prime minister to decide. Corbyn could still have a fight on his hands in the coming days to prevent members from voting to soften the position to be explicitly pro-Remain.
Throughout the interview, Corbyn was keen to move the conversation to policy issues. At one point taking a lecturing tone with Marr to say: ‘this conference is actually about policy’. However, actions taken by his team and shadow cabinet mean that few now see policy as the main agenda in Brighton. Instead, it’s shaping up to be a beauty parade for those hoping to succeed Corbyn when the time comes.