British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted on Thursday that he could still win a snap June election despite dire poll ratings, pitching himself as an anti-establishment candidate fighting for change.
A new poll put the centre-left party 24 points behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, a seemingly insurmountable challenge ahead of election day on June 8.
But addressing a hall in London packed with supporters, Corbyn denied a Conservative victory was a “foregone conclusion”, pointing to his own unlikely election as Labour leader in 2015.
May called the surprise vote on Tuesday to bolster her position going into negotiations on pulling Britain out of the European Union (EU), which are due to begin shortly after the election.
But Corbyn said the debate should not be about Brexit but about the battle between “the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour party, the party that is standing up for working people”.
Corbyn’s left-wing stance has boosted Labour’s membership but is unpopular with many of his MPs, who believe he can never secure the broad support needed to win power.
In a passionate speech targeting a “cosy cartel” of multinational corporations and rich individuals who dodged their taxes, he said he would not play by the rules “set by failed political and corporate elites”.
“It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors. But things can, and they will, change,” he said.
No second referendum
May, who took office after the Brexit vote last June, is seeking to capitalise on public support to increase her slim majority of 17 in the 650-seat House of Commons.
She has promised “strong and stable leadership” as Britain begins talks on ending its 43-year-old membership of the EU, which are likely to be tough.
Brexit has divided both of Britain’s main political parties, but Labour is also struggling under Corbyn’s leadership, with 172 of his 229 MPs last year trying unsuccessfully to oust him.
The Conservatives were quick to condemn the party as in “chaos” on Thursday after Corbyn dodged a question about whether Labour might back a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.
He stressed only that he wanted continued economic ties with the EU, while May has said she will pull Britain out of Europe’s single market.
Conservative party chairpersonn Patrick McLoughlin said Labour was seeking to “disrupt” the Brexit negotiations, adding: “this can only mean more uncertainty for Britain”.
A spokesperson later said Corbyn would not back a second referendum.
Tackling Tory europhiles
The Conservatives are set to include in their election manifesto May’s promises to take Britain out of the single market and cut EU migration after Brexit, according to the Daily Mail.
The intention is to tie the hands of europhile Conservative MPs who might challenge her in the months ahead, the tabloid said.
“Every Conservative vote will strengthen the UK’s negotiating position in Europe and every vote for another party will weaken it,” McLoughlin said.
The Conservatives have had a commanding lead over Labour for months, but a new YouGov poll for The Times on Thursday put them on 48%, double Labour’s showing of 24%.
Meanwhile one of the Tories’ most controversial characters, Douglas Carswell, who defected to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) in 2014, announced he would not run again.
Carswell’s defection gave UKIP its first MP, in the southern English coastal town of Clacton, and helped persuade former prime minister David Cameron into calling the EU vote.
Carswell had already announced last month that he was quitting UKIP to become an independent, and he said Thursday he would stand down and support the local Conservative candidate. – Agence France-Presse