Corbyn says he has ‘huge support’ from voters after nine MPs quit
Jeremy Corbyn is to mount a robust defence of his leadership after nine of his MPs quit in protest at the direction he is taking the Labour Party.
Amid intense speculation of further resignations, the Labour leader will use a speech to supporters to say his programme for change won “huge support” at the 2017 general election.
He will take a sideswipe at those MPs who are now sitting alongside former Tories who said they had “no problem” with Conservative austerity measures.
Mr Corbyn is staging a rally in the Broxtowe constituency of Anna Soubry – one of three MPs to resign from the Conservative Party to join the new Independent Group in the Commons.
He will be joined by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon in the constituency which Ms Soubry held with a majority of just 863 at the last election.
Mr Corbyn will say he is “disappointed” by the resignations from Labour by a “small number” of MPs who had found it “difficult” to accept the new direction the party had taken since he became leader in 2015.
“Over the last few years, Labour’s membership has grown dramatically and set our party on a new course. I understand why that has been difficult for some,” he is expected to say.
“As leader of the party it’s necessary of course to listen to the concerns of our MPs as well as our members and affiliates.
“I’m disappointed that a small number of Labour MPs have decided to leave our party and join forces with disaffected Tories, who say they have no problem with austerity that has plunged thousands into desperate poverty and insecurity.
“Our programme for change won huge support in the general election because we offered hope, instead of the same old establishment demand for cuts, privatisation and austerity.”
“That’s why we now back public ownership of the utilities and railways, why we now oppose tuition fees and corporate giveaways, and why we’re no longer afraid to ask the rich to pay their fair share of tax.”
On Friday, Ian Austin became the ninth MP to quit the party since the start of the week, condemning Mr Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism in Labour, saying he was unfit to be prime minister.
His departure followed the first wave of resignations on Monday which included the Jewish MP Luciana Berger who has been subjected to intense anti-Semitic abuse and who needed police protection at last year’s party conference.
Unlike the others, he will not sit as part of the new Independent Group which, in contrast to Mr Austin, backs a second EU referendum.
Following this latest resignation, Mr Corbyn flatly denied there was “wide scale” problem with bullying in the party had said any “bad behaviour” was dealt with.
“There is no place for harshness, bullying or anything else in the party. I don’t believe that it exists on a wide scale,” he told Sky News.
“Where there is bad behaviour we deal with it. Where there is a problem we deal with it.”
With Westminster rife with rumours of further resignations, Mr Corbyn held out an olive branch to his critics with a hint the party is edging closer to backing a second EU referendum.
He said they were considering whether any deal he was able to negotiate with Brussels could be put to a public vote.
“We would consider putting that to the public. That is the point we are discussing now in the party,” he said.