In the last hustings before the ballot closes on 10 September, the leftwinger questioned if the UK could maintain a “global reach” as he suggested that any armed intervention by British forces should be approved by the UN.
Corbyn also marked himself out from his more mainstream rivals by launching a strong attack on the EU for “increasingly operating like a free market across Europe”.
The final hustings on the Sky News TV channel, broadcast from Gateshead, ended with a lively exchange between Corbyn and rival Yvette Cooper as the shadow home secretary said his plans to introduce “people’s quantitative easing” would provide false hope to voters.
Cooper, who tore into his economic policies in a Channel 4 News hustings earlier in the week, said Corbyn’s proposal was “like private finance on steroids” because it would stoke inflation and would have to be paid back.
Corbyn won strong cheers from the live audience and was the overwhelming winner in a Sky Pulse survey of 8,000 people. Sky acknowledged that the survey – in which Corbyn scored 80.6% of the vote ahead of Liz Kendall on 9.1%, Cooper on 5.7% and Andy Burnham on 4.6% – was not scientific.
In one of the most detailed discussions of foreign policy during the contest, Corbyn indicated that he would struggle to see the circumstances in which he would agree to deploy British forces. His comments came in a section of the debate in which all the candidates rejected the idea of deploying soldiers on the ground to tackle Islamic State forces.
Asked by Kendall whether there were any circumstances in which he would deploy military forces, Corbyn said: “Any? I am sure there are some. But I can’t think of them at the moment.”
In a Guardian interview last month, Corbyn suggested that the threshold for sanctioning armed intervention by Britain would have to involve a conflict on the scale of the second world war. Asked if he was a pacifist, Corbyn said: “It is hard to define. I am person that has a very high threshold of saying I would not wish to be involved in armed conflict. The question always comes back to the second world war.”
In the Sky News hustings, Corbyn suggested the UN should approve any British military deployment as he explained how he had opposed the Nato campaign in Kosovo on the grounds that it lacked UN approval.
He said: “We should have stuck with the UN and given far more support to the UN. Surely we want to live in a world that is based on the rule of international law. The UN is quintessentially part of international law.”
Russia and China, which have permanent seats on the UN security council alongside Britain, the US and France, are able to veto all UN votes authorising military force.
Corbyn made clear that he would seek to end Britain’s role as the joint largest military power in Europe, with France, when he was questioned by presenter Adam Boulton about a 2013 video in which he questioned whether Britain could have “global reach”.
He told viewers: “We have to think about the level of armed expenditure we have in this country – £35bn a year. We are in the top five of military spending across the whole world.
“We have to seriously look at those issues and look at the issues of nuclear weapons as well and what our foreign policy objectives actually are. Can we afford to have global reach as a country of 65 million people on the north-west coast of Europe? Should we not be more interested in supporting international law, working with the UN rather than deciding that we, as quite a small country, can afford this global role.”
In Corbyn’s attack on the EU, he said: “I am concerned about the way the EU is increasingly operating like a free market across Europe, tearing up the social chapter, damaging the working class and workers’ interests across Europe, hiding tax evasion in Luxembourg and other places and secretly negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
“We as a party need to be making strong demands of defending and expanding the social chapter, defending and expanding workers’ rights across Europe and chasing down these approved tax havens allowed to exist by the EU all across Europe and asking some serious questions about the way they have treated the people of Greece and other countries by their imposition of austerity measures on them.”
The debate ended with an impassioned attack by Cooper on Corbyn over his plan to fund a large programme of housebuilding and other infrastructure developments.
She said: “What you are offering people is false hope. For a start, quantitative easing has stopped because the economy is now growing. Japan was able to keep going and doing it for many years because they went into serious slump for a long time.
“It is absolutely right to support the economy when it is in crisis and in serious recession. But once the economy is growing, if you simply keep printing money at that time that pushes up inflation.
“When the Bank of England prints that money, even through QE, it still has to be paid back. My fear is you are offering people false hope … we cannot promise to print money we haven’t got. It is dishonest.”
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