Jeremy Corbyn has described the challenge to his leadership of the Labour party as a “massive opportunity to reach out to people all across the country”, speaking to a crowd of about 5,000 people at a campaign rally in Liverpool.
Police had to close roads surrounding St George’s Plateau in the centre of the city when the event, which was organised with only two days notice, attracted large crowds. Carrying banners reading “Scousers for Corbyn” and “We chose Jez”, the Labour leader’s supporters clambered on statues and railings to catch a glimpse of him as he spoke.
“I don’t see this leadership contest as a distraction,” said Corbyn. “I see it as a massive opportunity to reach out to people all across this country and have the strength and confidence [to stand up to] those who tell us that nothing we’re trying to do is possible, that what we have to do is compromise with the Tory philosophy and free market ideas and all will be well.”
Corbyn told the audience that it was the biggest crowd he had had yet at one of his campaign rallies. “This is a campaign about, on one level, the leadership of the Labour party, but it’s also a campaign about how we do politics in our society. Is it to be a politics of an elite […] or is it to be a politics of people expressing their views, their hopes, their aspirations for this generation and the next generation?”
In a wide-ranging speech, touching on mental health services, workers’ rights and homelessness, the Labour leader paid tribute to all those who supported the Hillsborough families and “braved the abuse, the nastiness, the horror of what the Murdoch press can do”.
“A year ago, I’m sad to say, our party abstained on the welfare reform bill,” said Corbyn. “No more are we going to go down that road, no more is that going to be the politics of our party. Our party wants a society that works for all, that reduces inequality, that provides opportunity and hope for the next generation. That is what we’re about.”
The rally came on the same day that the Communication Workers Union (CWU) formally endorsed Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, his third union endorsement after Aslef and Ucatt. Welcoming the announcement, Corbyn said he was committed to reaching out beyond the party and rejected the idea that he existed in a “remote bubble of adulation”.
Taking questions after a speech in which he was introduced as “the next Labour party leader and the next prime minister of this country”, Corbyn emphasised the importance of interacting with people who did not automatically think like him.
“I make sure that I spend usually three days a week travelling around the country campaigning, supporting local parties, meeting people in factories, other workplaces, universities, schools, hospitals, all those places,” Corbyn said.
“If you’re going to be effective in politics you’ve got to listen to people, some of whom may not agree with you, some of whom may have criticisms, some of whom may have constructive suggestions for you. The idea that I live in some kind of remote bubble of adulation is nonsense.”
Corbyn’s speech came as Owen Smith launched his manifesto for fairness at work, which he said would give working people “a voice, strengthening collective bargaining, tackling exploitation and delivering greater equality”. “These measures are part of my plan to take Britain from the shameful position of having some of the worst workplace protections in Europe, to having workers’ rights that are the envy of the world,” he said.
Smith pledged to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 immediately upon taking office and to outlaw exclusively foreign recruitment. The plans also include a commitment to restore full collective bargaining powers and end pay freezes in the public sector, as well as the modernisation of union balloting, such as permitting e-balloting in order to increase participation.
“At the core of my radical vision for Labour’s future is a commitment to making tackling inequality the focus of everything our party does,” said Smith. “This simply can’t be achieved without fairness in the workplace and to make this a reality we need nothing short of a revolution in workers’ rights. Delivering that requires more than just rhetoric, it needs a credible plan.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin North of England reporter, for theguardian.com on Monday 1st August 2016 23.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010