Once blamed for splitting Labour beyond salvation, its leader now heads a united party that has a firm grip on its own destiny.
What a turnaround.
Jeremy Corbyn has survived the brickbats, the plots and character assassinations – and that’s only from within his own party.
Today, resolutely confident that he can lead Labour to the promised land of government, he’s planning his own “Grand Tour” to persuade doubters that Labour can truly unite Britain.
“We must do more to broaden our appeal,” says the 68-year-old, who’s earned a credibility some critics even in his own ranks once dismissed as impossible.Read More
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Now he strives for power. “I do wish we’d won more seats in the election, got over the line and were now in government,” he says.
“Winning 13 million votes was a great achievement, but there’s more convincing to be done.”
Whereas Ed Miliband and his team faffed about how far Labour might go along the rocky road of social revolution, Mr Corbyn holds no such fears.
However, rather than talking in radical tones that might cause palpitations among the great and the good, this most mild mannered of men seeks a fairer society by persuasion rather than outright attack.
He explains: “I do say to the middle classes and the well-off, one day you will be ill. You’ll need the NHS.
“And your kids may not be able to buy a house. They’re not going to get a council place because they’re not in desperate need.
“Think about it. Are we a society that houses everybody? Or are we going to be a society that is the lowest-paid, worst housed, most indebted country in Europe? Because that’s where we’re heading at the moment.”
And yes, while Mr Corbyn and his team – notably John McDonnell – talk of higher taxes, with the banking world taking a £5billion hit, there’s no language of the like attributed to former Labour big hitter Denis Healey: “Squeeze the rich until the pips squeak.”
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“We must all pay our fair share,” says Mr Corbyn, adding: “There’s a moral imperative.
“We will raise tax at the top end in order to invest for the rest of society. I want to lead a Labour government that will do that.” He has his sights set on global corporates which reportedly avoided paying billions last year in what Mr Corbyn calls “systematic abuses of the system”.
He continues: “There are very large amounts that don’t appear on the books and are in tax havens or in evasion strategies. It is incredibly reprehensible to make vast sums then shift the profits elsewhere. If we don’t deal with evasion on this industrial scale then we all lose out.
“The blunt point I would make to the very wealthy who think it is clever to avoid taxation is what happens if your house catches fire and who pays for the fire engine?
“Or you might suffer a heart attack and be waiting for an ambulance because there aren’t enough resources.”Read More
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While Labour’s election manifesto scared the living daylights out of those favouring the status quo, with its broad sweep of radical nationalisation, it was purely a “message of hope” according to the MP for Islington North since 1983.
“It was the highlight of the year,” he says. “It’s the first time in any election I’ve had people stop me in the street to talk about a manifesto. It was all about practical policies to end austerity, to fight injustice and create a country for the many, not the few.”
Getting the message out there that Labour can heal divisions rather than create new ones is Britain’s most famous allotment owner’s mission. And he’ll be wearing out the shoe leather this year to drive home the point.
“It’s not all about me,” he says, by way of deflecting the enormous responsibility on his now much better-coiffured head.
But it is, largely.
Much more self-assured than in his early leadership, Mr Corbyn – unlike PM Theresa May , who he refuses to personally criticise – says he has much to learn.
“I’m always learning,” he admits. “That’s why I spend so much time travelling around the country talking to people. Every conversation is an opportunity to learn. You can learn from everyone.
“That’s our whole approach. Everybody has ideas. Everybody has talent. Everybody has something to offer. We are determined to build a society where everyone has a voice so we can all benefit from each other’s skills and creativity.”
To anyone other than this once rank outsider, the words he speaks with such sincerity might be discounted as mere platitudes. But this is no act. His simple desire is the betterment of society.
“I know how tough people’s lives are,” he says. “Wages for most are lower than 10 years ago and still going down. The cost of living is going up, bills are higher.
“None of this is inevitable. We must make the case for how our economy can work so people have more money in their pockets.”Read More
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For those at the sharp end, he promises real change. “I’ll put it right,” he adds. “All those working in insecure jobs, often on zero-hours contracts. They are grotesquely exploited, deeply uncertain of what’s coming.”
There is much on the Labour leader’s agenda. And he longs for the chance to put it into action. He observes: “The Government is hanging on by a thread.
“We’re ready to have an election at any point. And you know, I’m relishing the opportunity to campaign across the country with our message of hope.”
Over the festive period Mr Corbyn has taken time to catch up with his favourite TV soap. “There’s some shocking stuff going on in EastEnders,” he concedes.
He’s also been finishing The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. “It’s a very powerful book that graphically describes the sheer brutality of the lack of humanity of the slave traders and owners,” he says – before picking up once again on how some schools in his London patch have 85 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals.
“I’m back on politics,” he says by way of apology.
In truth, he’s never off it.