Jeremy Corbyn has promised a “day of reckoning” for tax dodgers, greedy bankers and asset strippers as the Labour leader steps up his rhetoric ahead of the general election.
Mr Corbyn promised to change Britain from a country “run for the rich” to one where “everyone can lead richer lives” as he tries to narrow a seemingly unassailable Tory lead in the opinion polls ahead of June 8.
Mr Corbyn was speaking in Trafford in Greater Manchester, where Labour’s Andy Burnham was elected mayor last Friday – in one of the few bright spots of an otherwise disappointing set of local elections for the party.
Formally launching Labour’s election campaign, he said that the Brexit issue has been “settled” as he sought to shift the election debate on to other issues such as fairness, tax avoidance and the economy.
Labour has struggled in the polls since the EU referendum, in part because it has been forced to adopt a nuanced position on Brexit to avoid alienating its deeply divided supporters.
The Labour leader said he could deliver a “jobs-first Brexit, a Brexit that safeguards the future of Britain’s vital industries, a Brexit that paves the way to a genuinely fairer society.”
But he quickly tried to turn the focus away from the EU and on to the safer ground of “fairness” and tackling vested interests and “standing up to corporate interests”.
Mr Corbyn criticised those who were “ripping off workers and consumers” and said that the people celebrating a Tory election victory would be press barons, greedy bankers, Philip Green and directors at Southern Rail.
He said he would “ruin” the Conservative party, which – he claimed – was “owned” by “crooked financiers”. Only Labour could turn Britain into a country “for the many, not the few”, he continued: “We have four weeks to take our wealth back.”
There had been an “epidemic” of low pay and poor working conditions under the Conservative government, he said.
A Labour government would turn back the clock on decades of privatisations – ranging from health to social care – that had enriched some companies at the expense of the general public, he argued. The NHS had been “feasted on by profiteers”, he claimed.
The rhetoric echoes the approach taken by Ed Miliband, who led Labour to defeat in the last general election in 2015 – despite being neck and neck in the polls in the weeks before that vote.
“Labour is offering a real choice, a real alternative to the rigged system holding us back and to the Conservatives who are running our country down,” Mr Corbyn said. “The economy is rigged in favour of the rich and powerful.”
His party would provide billions of pounds of new infrastructure – including a million new homes – and would put extra investment into training and skills.
“When did the Conservatives – David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Boris Johnson – ever stand up to their financial backers and demand our money back?” he said.
“Instead, they make others foot the bill – they make our nurses, our carers, our soldiers, our disabled, our young people trying to get a home of their own, our elderly looking for dignity in retirement and those working hard to get on, foot the bill.”
Mr Corbyn said yesterday that he would not resign even if Labour lost the general election, raising the prospect of a bitter fight over the party’s future direction this summer.
Opinion polls are pointing towards the biggest Tory majority in the House of Commons since the 1980s. But Mr Corbyn told BuzzFeed News: “I was elected leader of this party and I’ll stay leader of this party.”
Asked about Labour’s poll ratings, which are the worst since 1983, he said, “Monsieur Zen is fine.”
That would be the first time in 30 years that a leader of the opposition has survived electoral defeat: in 1987, Neil Kinnock stayed on as Labour leader despite being defeated by Margaret Thatcher.
Mr Kinnock’s Labour party gained 26 seats in that election, whereas analysts forecast that Labour will not only lose this election but take fewer seats.
The comments are likely to deepen the despair among Labour moderates, who had seen their leader’s exit as the silver lining of this year’s expected defeat.
It remains possible that Mr Corbyn could reverse course: David Cameron famously promised not to quit if he lost the EU referendum, and exited regardless. However, the Labour leader is supported by a core of loyalists who are determined not to cede control of the party.
Last July John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said it would be “inevitable” that he and Mr Corbyn would resign if Labour lost the next election. When asked this weekend if he stood by those comments, he simply said: “I think we’re going to win this election. Full stop.”
The FT’s poll tracker puts Labour on 28 per cent, behind the Conservatives on 47 per cent. The Liberal Democrats are third with 10 per cent.