Jeremy Corbyn: Arrest for protesting apartheid shows why I am ready to lead Britain

Ben Riley-Smith

Jeremy Corbyn cited his arrest when protesting apartheid as proof of his prime ministerial credentials yesterday as he launched an unashamed defence of his leadership style. 

In a deliberate attempt to counter Tory attacks over his suitability for office, the Labour leader attempted to make a merit of his protesting past. 

He said his “core values” had not changed during the 34 years as an MP and cited his campaigning against discrimination in South Africa and fighting “unfairness”. 

Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at a Camden Trades Council march in the 1980s Credit: REX/Lee Jones

Mr Cobryn went on the attack as he labelled Theresa May “presidential” for the way she tightly controls power and framed Tony Blair, the former Labour leader, as a Tory. 

He also claimed credit for a string of Conservative about-turns since he became leader in September 2015, despite Tory rebellions being often cited for securing the changes. 

The speech - made in the Labour stronghold of Bethnal Green & Bow, a London seat the party won by 24,000 votes in 2015 - was dubbed a leadership relaunch by some. 

It comes after approval polls suggest Mr Corbyn is the least popular Labour leader since Michael Foot while Mrs May outperforms even Margaret Thatcher in her prime. 

Graphic - Preferred Prime Minister

Tory election strategists are putting leadership at the heart of their election campaign as they contrast Mrs May’s “strong and stable” credentials against Mr Corbyn. 

In a direct attempt to address that criticism, Mr Corbyn used a 20 minute speech to argue why Britain is ready for a different type of leader. 

“Now for a sentence I’ve yet to utter in my political life: Enough about you, what about me,” the Labour leader joked at the campaign event. 

“I’ve just laid down the gauntlet and asked you to step up [by signing up to vote]. Each and every one of us must step up for Britain, including me.”

Mr Corbyn said “in the 34-years since I became a MP, I have been attacked for what I believe in” but added that he had “not changed my core values”. 

He went on to reference his campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s. 

“The Conservative Government refused to impose sanctions, entertained the leaders of the regime and banned protests outside the South African embassy in London,” Mr Corbyn said. 

“Being an MP helped bring attention to that ban and the wider cause of South Africa’s liberation - and got a group of us arrested.”

It is the job of leadership to hold open the space for dissent, new thinking and fit-for-purpose policy

Jeremy Corbyn

“But the space for people in Britain to organise in support of freedom in South Africa was defended and strengthened.

“And I realised then that political leaders can, if they want to, create and preserve the space for others to organise and transform countries.”

“My role is different now but there is a common thread: we should act together, to overturn unfairness and create a better society.”

General Election 2017 | Ipsos MORI Poll - April 26

The defence of his protesting past - a photograph from 1984 shows Mr Corbyn with an anti-apartheid sign being led away by two police officers - is an attempt to counter Tory attacks. 

The Labour leader also hit out at Tony Blair, who this week said Mrs May would be prime minister after the election, for his leadership of the country. 

Mr Corbyn said Labour “brought into Conservative ideas about markets, finance and the economy” in the 1990s which “ultimately left us with no defence against a global financial crisis” which his in 2008. 

On Mrs May, the Labour leader attempted to jump on criticisms that she holds power too tightly and keeps cabinet ministers out of the loop while governing. 

“Barely nine months into Theresa May’s premiership, there are clear warning signs that she and her closest advisers are slipping into [a] presidential bunker mentality,” he said. 

“Whereas it is the job of leadership to hold open the space for dissent, new thinking and fit-for-purpose policy.”

Jeremy Corbyn reads a children's story, in pictures

 

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