Social justice pledges overshadowed by comments on mandatory reselection
Jeremy Corbyn launched his leadership campaign at an event in central London this morning, pledging to confront the five ills of modern Britain: inequality, neglect, insecurity prejudice and discrimination.
The speech focused heavily on what could be expected from a Labour government under Corbyn, in clear response to his critics’ claims that he is unelectable.
He opened his comments by recounting the Labour’s electoral achievements in local elections, by-elections and mayoral elections, and said his campaign would not only set out how Labour can confront social ills in opposition, but also spell out ‘some of the measures the next Labour government will take to overcome them.’
The most significant element of the speech was a discussion of discrimination, particularly the continuing problem of unequal pay for women.
Corbyn invoked his own early experience working for the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, paying tribute to women workers who fought for equal pay over decades but criticising the slow pace of change.
“Today, we are more than 45 years on from the Equal Pay Act, 40 years on from when I was chasing down lost pay for women workers and still, still, women are paid 20 per cent less than men.”
In the speech’s only major policy proposal, Corbyn pledged that the next Labour government would require all companies with more than 21 employees to publish a full equal pay audit.
While a version of this policy was proposed in last year’s Labour manifesto, and later promised by David Cameron, both limited the requirement to large companies, in contrast to Corbyn’s more ambitious approach.
The Corbyn team’s decision to focus on gender equality reflects the frustration among many Labour members, particularly women, that the leadership will once again be held by a man.
Although Corbyn made no mention of Owen Smith in his prepared comments, he is likely trying to win over women members who are frustrated with Smith’s decision to challenge Angela Eagle as the PLP’s unity candidate.
While the speech itself reflected Corbyn’s confidence that he will win the contest and remain as Labour leader, he struggled to respond to questions on how he would repair relations with his MPs, and whether he supported mandatory reselection.
Asked about re-selection, Corbyn said that if the parliament runs to its full term and there is a total boundary review, ‘there would be a full selection process in any constituency, but the sitting MP . . . would have the opportunity to put their name forward.’
However, a clarification from his office suggests that while the phrasing was unclear, Corbyn was describing the party’s current rules.
The leader also said he would offer ‘the hand of friendship’ to Labour MPs if he wins the leadership election.
“Because, come September, when this election is done and dusted, there will still be a Tory government in office, there will still be grotesque levels of inequality in our society, there will still be whole parts of this country that are left behind Britain.
“It’s the job, it’s the duty, it’s the responsibility of every Labour MP to get behind the party at that point and put it there against the Tories about the different, fairer, kinder Britain that we can build together. And I appeal to them to work together to put that case forward.”
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.