MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Jeremy Corbyn vowed to carry on leading Britain’s opposition Labour Party if he loses a national election on June 8, defying polls showing he is on course for defeat and concerns from within his party that his leadership threatens its future.
Corbyn, who officially launched his party’s election campaign on Tuesday, told BuzzFeed News he would carry on whatever the outcome.
“I was elected leader of this party and I’ll stay leader of this party,” he said.
Corbyn has pledged higher taxes on the wealthy and a crackdown on powerful corporations since he took control of the center-left Labour Party in 2015 thanks to a surprise surge in support amongst grass roots member for his socialist agenda.
But he has struggled to unite Labour’s elected ranks behind his political vision or convince the wider public of his leadership credentials, diminishing the party’s ability to exert pressure on issues like Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Some recent opinion polls have put Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives ahead of Labour by more than 20 percentage points and on course for a landslide victory.
May says an election win will strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, but opponents of her negotiating strategy fear it will drown out Labour’s voice in the debate over what kind of deal Britain should seek from Brussels.
Having faced criticism for being unclear of his position on Britain’s divorce from the European Union, Corbyn said the issue of whether Brexit should happen had been settled, and went on to set out his negotiating objectives.
“Labour wants a jobs-first Brexit, a Brexit that safeguards the future of Britain’s vital industries, a Brexit that paves the way to a genuinely fairer society and an upgraded economy,” he said at the campaign launch in the northern city of Manchester.
Pollster ICM said on Monday that the Conservative lead was the biggest on record for any British election survey it had conducted.
Corbyn fought off a challenge to his leadership last year thanks to overwhelming grassroots support, but his critics, including some senior Labour figures, have remained vocal.
But Corbyn launched his campaign with an aggressive speech aimed at the party’s core voters, criticizing the Conservatives for being part of a system which he said was skewed toward the wealthy.
“Labour is under attack because we are standing up to the elites who are determined to hijack Brexit and pay even less tax and take even more of the wealth that we all create,” Corbyn told the Manchester rally.
“When Labour wins there will be a reckoning for those who thought they could get away with asset-stripping our industry, crashing our economy through their greed, and ripping off workers and consumers.”
Reporting by Michael Holden and William James; editing by Stephen Addison