Corbyn has 'work to do' to show voters he can be PM, says Welsh Labour leader

Steven Morris in Swansea
Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones (right) campaigns alongside UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Whitchurch. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Labour’s first minister in Wales has warned that Jeremy Corbyn has “work to do” if he is to win over voters and ensure the party retains the dominance it has enjoyed there for almost a century.

Carwyn Jones added that the party has “a mountain to climb” at a time when the Conservatives are buoyed by polling suggesting they could gain 10 parliamentary seats.

In an interview with the Guardian, Jones said: “It is clear Jeremy has work to do to convince people he is a leader. He knows that and over the next few weeks he has to show people he is a good candidate for prime minister.”

Asked if he thought Corbyn was a good candidate, Jones said: “From the public’s perspective they haven’t seen his best side yet. I’ve gone round with Jeremy on the doorstep; I’ve gone round town centres with him.

“He’s not someone that puts people off when they meet him. Far from it. It’s the exact opposite. I think he just needs to do more of that, going around, meeting people, listening and I think people will be impressed by what they hear.”

A poll on Monday suggested the party faced losing a general election in Wales for the first time since 1918.

The YouGov poll suggested the Tories could win a majority of Welsh seats at a general election for the first time since the 1850s – before the era of mass democracy. The apparent shift seems to be in part the result of Ukip voters switching to the Tories.

At last year’s assembly elections Welsh Labour managed to distance itself from the UK-wide party and held on to power in Cardiff, but party sources worry that at a general election it is much harder to repeat that trick.

On Labour’s prospects in Wales, Jones said: “I’m not going to pretend things are easy. We’ve a mountain to climb but mountains are there to be climbed.

“When the going is tough you get down to it and work hard. That mountain will have to be climbed – otherwise it’s austerity for ever and a day, more and more cuts, less money for the NHS, less money for education.

“It’s hugely important that we don’t allow the Tories to walk all over us. If they think they are in a strong position they will try to run all over the Celtic nations and impose their own brand of nationalism on the rest of us.”

Corbyn has faced criticism over defence, particularly whether he would use the Trident nuclear deterrent if he was prime minister. Jones said: “One of the things you have to do in leadership is give a straight answer. Otherwise people will interpret your answer in many different ways. My answer is quite simply, yes, we do replace Trident.

“It’s hugely important as a party that you are able to convince people you are going to keep them secure. Trident is a deterrent. It doesn’t keep us secure against terrorism. That’s why it’s so important that we need to bolster our armed forces to meet the immediate threat that exists in Europe at the moment.”

The YouGov poll, carried out for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, asked people how they would vote at the general election: 40% said the Conservatives, an increase of 12 percentage points; 30% Labour, down three points; and 13% Plaid Cymru, unchanged from 2015. That would give the Conservatives 21 seats against Labour’s 15 – a 10-seat swing.

Roger Scully, professor of political science at the Wales Governance Centre, said: “Something extraordinary could be about to happen. Wales is on the brink of an electoral earthquake.”

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