Labour deputy leadership candidate Richard Burgon has promised voters will regret the day they chose Boris Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn.
In an interview with Yahoo News UK, Corbyn loyalist Burgon said Johnson will “make people’s lives worse” as prime minister and that the electorate will grow increasingly “disturbed” at how he treats UK communities.
Burgon said he is “proud” to be labelled the “continuity Corbyn” candidate – a mantra actively avoided by other leadership and deputy leadership contenders – even after Corbyn led Labour to its worst election defeat since 1935.
He declared he would have voted for Corbyn again if he had stood in the leadership election, but admitted the party needs to “learn the lessons” of why it got “smashed” in December’s poll.
Burgon is up against Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray and Angela Rayner in the deputy leadership contest, for which ballots opened last week.
Citing Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, for which he announced an “emergency” meeting last week only to be held three days later, the shadow justice secretary said: “He does come across as a part-time PM. Wanting the weekend off before it takes place is not how you normally deal with an emergency.
“Boris Johnson is going to be tested now. He’s good at bluster and good at slogans, but now he has to deliver the serious business of looking after the welfare of people in this country, and I’m not convinced he will, unfortunately.
“I think he will get less and less popular. I think many people who voted for him will regret voting for him as it becomes clearer and clearer he is a Tory. He might try and separate himself from the Tory Party in elections by running a presidential campaign trying to set up some sort of cult of personality. The reality is, he is a Tory.
“I think people will be disturbed how he treats communities up and down this country, including those who lent him their vote. They will come to regret it.”
The Leeds East MP, speaking in his Westminster office, said “wonderful” Corbyn, on the other hand, would have been “the most anti-racist PM in our country’s history, the most internationalist”.
“The wonderful thing about him was he wasn’t somebody who manoeuvred to get to that top position [as Labour leader]. That would have empowered him to become a different kind of PM. I truly believe he would have been a people’s PM.”
Like Dawn Butler, Burgon has said Labour’s 2019 manifesto policies – including nationalising rail and water services, delivering a minimum wage of £10 an hour and providing free broadband for everyone – must remain in place.
“We can’t throw the baby out of the bathwater, because it wasn’t our socialist policies that lost us the election,” he insisted.
“I’m proud of what Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Jeremy have achieved politically. If people want to describe me as the continuity Corbyn candidate, I’m proud to have that mantle as that is my politics.
“That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have done some things better and we don’t have to learn the lessons of the defeat. But we can’t ditch those socialist policies.”
Burgon criticised Labour’s Brexit position – a pledge to negotiate a new deal with the EU and present this in a second referendum – saying it forced Leave-supporting Labour voters to overlook party loyalties.
He conceded that Johnson’s “get Brexit done” mantra was “clever”.
Rival candidate Butler previously told Yahoo News UK she won’t target Tory voters as it would mean “playing to some kind of Conservative narrative”. Burgon flatly rejected this.
“The point of a political party is to persuade people to vote for you,” he said. “We need to persuade people who have voted Tory in the past, and Lib Dem and Green, and people who don’t vote at all. There should be no no-go areas when it comes to the Labour Party.”
Tony Blair, the only Labour leader to win an election since 1974, is considered the party’s least popular figurehead among members. Perhaps surprisingly, Burgon – known for his anti-war stance and firebrand speeches at left-wing rallies – didn’t dismiss Blair’s premiership.
“I joined the Labour Party in the mid-90s when Tony Blair was the leader,” he said.
“I’ve worked and campaigned for Labour under four leaders: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Jeremy. I’ve always been proud to campaign for Labour. But the shift to the left under Jeremy represents the part of the party I’m from.”
Labour has more than 500,000 members, and is the largest political party in western Europe. As deputy leader, Burgon said he would push to increase membership to one million, with 50 “community champions” in each of 100 target seats.
He went on: “In the long-run, as a goal it would be fantastic to see a Labour Party rooted enough in communities to actually have street captains: somebody that relays to the Labour Party locally which then relays to the Labour Party nationally.
“If the Labour Party is only a party in Parliament, we’re not going to win back the trust of communities.”
Richard Burgon: Quick-fire questions
Sum up the Corbyn leadership in one word.
Anti-establishment. The hyphen makes it one word.
What was your last conversation with Corbyn?
He messaged me the other day to see how I was going on and I told him what I was up to. It was nothing particularly profound, I’m afraid. He did mention Leeds United had won, so it’s good he’s watching Leeds’ fortunes as well as Arsenal’s.
Who is your favourite Labour leader of your lifetime?
What was your first thought when you saw the exit poll on election night?
Would you like Corbyn to be in the shadow cabinet?
Yes. I think the best role for him would be as shadow foreign secretary. Whatever happens, I think Jeremy has got an important contribution to make.
If you don’t become deputy leader, which of the other four candidates would you like to win?
I think that would be unfair. If I recommend any others, I’m sure they’d lose votes from their core supporters.
How many Tory MPs are you friendly with?
I don’t even have time to see my family and my own friends as much as I’d like, so you’re not going to catch me hanging around seeking the company of Tory MPs.
Out of all the Tory MPs, who do you respect the most?
Bob Neill. He’s done a lot of good work as chair of the justice select committee. As shadow justice secretary, his interventions have been objective, helpful and well-researched.