Jeremy Corbyn makes election pledge to bust 'cosy cartel' of politics

Heather Stewart Political editor
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Croydon. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Jeremy Corbyn will insist the result of June’s general election is not a foregone conclusion on Thursday, as he launches Labour’s campaign by pledging to bust the “cosy cartel” of British politics.

Speaking in Westminster, Corbyn will shrug off his party’s double-digit deficit in the polls and insist Labour is poised to form the next government.

“Much of the media and establishment are saying this election is a foregone conclusion,” he will say.

“They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow by doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting that things can’t really change, then you can’t win.

“They say I don’t play by the rules – their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game. They’re quite right I don’t. And a Labour government elected on 8 June won’t play by their rules.”

He will say that fatcat bosses and corporations should be afraid of a Labour victory.

“If I were Southern Rail or Philip Green [chairman of Arcadia Group], I’d be worried about a Labour government.”

“If I were Mike Ashley [chairman of Sports Direct] or the CEO of a tax-avoiding multinational corporation, I’d want to see a Tory victory. Labour is the party that will put the interests of the majority first.”

Corbyn’s team hope to channel some of the gutsy style of his two Labour leadership battles into the general election campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech to Labour activists in Croydon. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

They will also take inspiration from Bernie Sanders’ bid to win the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

He will tell his audience in Westminster: “When we win, it’s the people – not the powerful – who win. The nurse, the teacher, the small trader, the carer, the builder, the office worker win. We all win.”

The Labour leader made a symbolic visit to Croydon Central, the seat of housing minister Gavin Barwell, on Wednesday, to underline his ambition to “prove the establishment experts wrong,” and snatch seats from the Conservatives.

Labour hopes to steer the debate to the state of the economy, living standards, schools and the NHS – while prime minister Theresa May has repeatedly presented it as a test of her leadership against Corbyn’s.

May flew to Bolton North East on Wednesday night by helicopter, to speak to an audience of activists.

Downing Street said she plans to meet as many voters as she can once the campaign kicks off, rather than sticking to the carefully stage-managed events that characterised the failed remain campaign in last year’s EU referendum.

“It’s going to be all about meeting people, knocking on doors, having those personal conversations,” said a No 10 source, adding that the campaign would have “its own unique feel”.

Labour categorically ruled out entering a coalition with the Scottish National party on Wednesday, after SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said she was willing to consider a “progressive alliance” to take on the Tories.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband was relentlessly pilloried by the Conservatives as the puppet of the SNP during the 2015 election campaign, and Corbyn is keen to avoid constant speculation about the makeup of potential coalitions.

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Corbyn said, “There will be no coalition deal with the SNP and a Labour government.”

He added that he did not consider Nicola Sturgeon’s party to be progressive, because it had passed on Tory spending cuts in Scotland.

“The SNP may talk left at Westminster, but in government in Scotland it acts right,” he said.

May has already begun using the idea of a coalition as an attack line. She used her speech in Bolton – a seat Labour holds with a majority of more than 4,000 – to warn against what she called a “coalition of chaos”, with the SNP joining forces with Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

While Corbyn kicks off his campaign in London, Labour will be scrambling to hold emergency selections for hundreds of constituencies across Britain, with allies of the leader eyeing up key seats vacated by retiring MPs.

About 10 Labour MPs are planning to stand down, creating a battle over their winnable seats between those loyal and opposed to the leadership.

Those vacating their seats include Tom Blenkinsop for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Andy Burnham in Leigh, Pat Glass in North West Durham, Alan Johnson in West Hull, Andrew Smith in Oxford East, Gisela Stuart in Birmingham Edgbaston and Iain Wright in Hartlepool.

The makeup of the parliamentary party after 8 June will be hugely significant as any potential leftwing candidate to succeed Corbyn in future will need 15% of support of MPs and MEPs.

If enough leftwingers make it into parliament, allies of Corbyn may no longer need to pass a proposed rule change, dubbed the McDonnell amendment, at conference which would reduce the threshold to 5% and guarantee the chance of a left-leaning successor candidate on a future leadership ballot.

It has emerged that Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) will take control of the selection process along with regional boards, as the short timeframe for the election means allowing party members a say as usual is impractical.

Under emergency measures, all Labour MPs in England who wish to carry on will be readopted and unsuccessful candidates from the 2015 election will be asked to seek selection again.

One party source said a third of MPs and former candidates had agreed, a third were considering it and a third had refused.

The Scottish and Welsh Labour parties will run their own selection procedures.

Candidates for other vacancies will be chosen by the party’s ruling bodies on the national executive and regional boards to make sure there are enough people to contest every seat by the first week of May.

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