A defiant Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that his own MPs will never force him out of the Labour leadership as he calls on voters and party supporters to respect him as the head of a powerful new movement on the left of British politics.
Ahead of his first conference as leader, which opens in Brighton on Sunday, Corbyn says those who think he could be persuaded to resign in time for a new leader to be put in place before the next election underestimate his determination and his mission to reach No 10.
In an exclusive interview with the Observer, Corbyn hits backs at New Labour critics such as Peter Mandelson, who suggested that his leadership would implode when people realised that he was unelectable.
Asked whether he might be persuaded to step down of his own accord if things went badly and Labour looked as if it might lose the 2020 election, Corbyn said he would go only if he was ousted formally in a full leadership contest – one that would be decided by the votes of the entire party membership.
“There is a democratic process in the party and that can be operated at any time. But am I going to resign? No. Of course not,” he says. “No. No. I will carry on.”
The Labour leader admits he sometimes worries about the responsibility resting on his shoulders and concedes that the past few months have been very difficult for his family. But he says he wants to use the conference to persuade people “including those who are not Labour voters” he is offering “something very different”, including an alternative to austerity, which focuses on investment and expansion of the economy.
“I hope they will give me a fair hearing,” he says. “And I hope they will understand that I am the representative and the product of a growing democratic movement.”
Asked if he can see himself as prime minister he says: “That is five years down the line, but yes I could, and I think about the issues, the opportunities and the responsibilities that go with that of course.”
Corbyn’s speech on Tuesday will be considerably shorter than recent ones made by his predecessors: it will probably run for no longer than 30 or 40 minutes. His team have also decided to abandon the preceding musical fanfare, in favour of a more sober introduction for the new leader.
Corbyn says that his wife, Laura Alvarez, who may be in the audience, will not come on stage afterwards. The conference slogan will be “Straight talking, honest politics” – an echo of the Corbyn leadership campaign in which he shunned razzmatazz in favour of hundreds of unrehearsed and often unscripted speeches.
In a clear sign that the party is failing to unite around Corbyn, however, the Observer understands that none of the four former Labour leaders alive today will be at the conference this week, or at Corbyn’s first speech as leader.
Neil Kinnock and his wife Glenys decided some time ago not to attend, while Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are both in the United States. Ed Miliband says he is staying away because he does not want to distract from Corbyn’s big moment.
The conference will decide on Sunday whether to hold a vote on the renewal of Trident – one of the most divisive issues in the party. With some of the unions in favour of renewal, the issue could cause a split between Corbyn – who is strongly against – and some of his union backers.
In the interview Corbyn said that whatever decision is reached on Trident this week, he will continue to make the case for scrapping it.
In an attempt to persuade unions, including the GMB, to come round to his view, Corbyn says: “The point I would make to those who work on manufacturing the missiles, the submarines, and all the things with it, is that I would not save the money and spend it on something else. I would invest it in high-quality manufacturing industries.”
Corbyn says the party can unite on Trident, but suggests that this may take some time. “I think we can come together on Trident in the end, but let’s cross that hurdle when we reach it.”
Pro-EU Labour MPs are also worried at an attempt by the GMB union to pass a motion that could reopen arguments over Europe.
The GMB wants to commit Labour to holding a special conference after David Cameron concludes his renegotiation of British membership, to judge what approach the party should take during the in/out referendum.
The unions fear that Cameron will water down EU rules on workers’ rights and will want to leave open the possibility of campaigning for a No vote.
But last night, firing a warning shot that the issue cannot be reopened without sparking a walkout from the shadow cabinet, the party’s spokesman on Europe, Pat McFadden, insisted that whatever position Cameron adopts, Labour must campaign to remain inside.
“If the Tories try to water down these rights as part of their renegotiation, we will oppose that every step of the way,” McFadden said.
“But if they are foolish enough to do that, the answer is not to leave the EU, because if we do that we can’t opt back in to these rights in the future. The answer would be to fight the next election on a clear commitment to restoring these rights – and we can’t do that if we are outside the EU.”
This article was written by Toby Helm and Daniel Boffey, for theguardian.com on Saturday 26th September 2015 21.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010