Labour leader confirms party’s stance on student fees and gives his views on the ugliest issues in our society.
Interview: Natalie Carragher
Since changing the face of British politics last summer, Jeremy Corbyn remains a contender for the most scrutinised UK politician there has ever been. It seems like barely a week goes by without the press or members of his own party dragging him into a media storm.
Despite this, Corbyn’s popularity with the public, and younger voters in particular, appears to be as strong as ever. Many regarded the close run 2017 election result as significant victory, sending a strong message of defiance against Conservative austerity policies and rattling Teresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ vision.
With the local election campaign now providing a backdrop to Labour’s latest assault on Tory policy, the Labour leader sits down with Humanity Hallows to discuss the core issues surrounding this latest campaign and why students should take the local election seriously and turn out to vote.
Sporting his now customary red tie and leafing through our latest issue over a coffee, he outlines his core priorities: “Voting on the 3rd of May is important to elect good councils who are serious about dealing with housing issues, serious about tackling homelessness and also voting Labour who are very serious about abolishing the tuition fees so that students don’t go through university and end up deeply in debt. We made that very clear in the General Election campaign.”
Indeed, Labour’s 2017 manifesto racked up plenty of student support, with the promise of abolishing fees and bringing back maintenance grants, something Corbyn remains “absolutely” committed to.
“We will set up a National Education Service which transfers the idea of education being a commodity to education being a right. It will be as dramatic in our social history as the establishment of the National Health Service was in the 1940s. Other countries do it, why can’t we?” says Corbyn.
It’s an attractive pledge to many students, and one that is in tune with Corbyn’s radical agenda for ending the programme of austerity that has gripped British politics for almost a decade. Describing austerity as a “political choice”, the Labour leader is adamant that a future Labour government will reverse the “damaging cuts” implemented by the Conservatives.
He is fresh from speaking at the launch of Labour’s local election campaign in Trafford, which holds Greater Manchester’s only Tory majority and, unfortunately for Corbyn (a lifelong Arsenal fan), is right next to Old Trafford.
“It’s a bit weird here being so close to Manchester United,” he confides to us jokingly.
In a passionate speech he encouraged voters to send a message that “enough is enough”, accusing the Conservatives of “reckless gambling with people’s lives”.
He says, “Labour councils are clearing up the Tories’ mess time and time again, and acting as a human shield against damaging Conservative cuts.”
As Corbyn proposes that Labour councils will “rebuild our communities and transform our country”, we ask what he believes to be the ‘ugliest’ issues currently facing society.
“Division and poverty. The ugliness of great wealth and shiny buildings alongside homeless people begging to try and survive, I just find that an ugly issue in our society.”
“Ugliness is where children need somewhere to play and the youth centre is closed and boarded up because the council can’t afford to keep it open; that’s ugly.”
Not alone among his Labour colleagues in hoping to tackle the social injustice of homelessness, does Corbyn believe Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s pledge to eradicate homelessness in the city by the year 2020 is a realistic one?
“I was just talking to him now, briefly after the rally. He’s doing his best on it [and] has set up the charity. Essentially, the problem is he doesn’t have enough powers as metro mayor.
“What I want to see is the re-empowerment of local authorities and metro mayors to deal strategically with housing on a regional basis as well as on an individual local authority area basis because we have to deal with housing and we will build half a million council homes in the first parliament of the labour government.”
On the recent abhorrent instances of racial incidents on UK university campuses, Corbyn condemns the incidents as “disgraceful”. But how is Labour working towards greater community cohesion and tackling these issues?
“The [incident] that happened in London recently was effectively challenged by the individual, who had suffered greatly, but also by the Students’ Union, other students and by the University.”
“I think that university authorities have got to be totally aware that they will have zero tolerances of racism in any form on campus or in lectures or anywhere else and if necessary students will be removed if they commit racist acts.”
“As a society, we do have racists; we do have too much racism. Any racism is too much racism. We were the party that first introduced the Race Relations Act in the 1960s – that was very weak compared to what came much later which was the Human Rights Act and the Equalities Act.”
“Racism is vile and ugly in the way [that] it isolates the individual victim – sometimes silent victims. In my own community, which I’m proud to represent in Parliament, I’ve had interesting and deeply troubling conversations with a lot of Muslim women about the day-to-day abuse that they receive and how they feel powerless to do anything about it. In those cases I’ve arranged to meet them with the police and we have managed to find some perpetrators by use of technology and following up – but it’s about giving people confidence. You cannot go around abusing people. End of.”
As our time in Trafford with Corbyn draws to a close, the conversation turns, perhaps inevitably, back to football and we sneak in one final question: Wenger in or out?
“I’m Wenger in! 68-year-old men in red ties can surprise you.”
They certainly can.