Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday promised to defeat a “cosy cartel” at the heart of British politics, casting himself as the anti-establishment challenger in a snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May.
The pledge, to be delivered via higher taxes on the wealthy and a crackdown on over-powerful corporations, set the tone for a campaign in which the veteran left-winger will try to defy opinion polls that point to a heavy defeat.
Battling to assert control over his own divided Labour Party as well as to convince the country at large, he sought to tap into voters’ frustration with the political elite.
“It is the establishment versus the people and it is our historic duty to make sure that the people prevail,” Corbyn told party supporters in central London.
“We don’t accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers.”
Conservative leader May sprang a major surprise on Tuesday by calling a June 8 election, three years ahead of schedule, to capitalise on a dramatic collapse in support for Labour and win a stronger mandate to boost her in complex divorce talks with the European Union.
While she tries to focus the debate on Brexit, Corbyn is looking to harness the powerful anti-establishment mood revealed by last year’s EU referendum and echoed in the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump during last year’s US election campaign.
“How dare they crash the economy with their recklessness and greed, and then punish those who had nothing to do with it?” he said, referring to the 2007-09 financial crisis.
“The British people know that they are the true wealth creators, held back by a system rigged for the wealth extractors.”
He made only a passing reference to Brexit, widely described as Britain’s biggest challenge since World War II, saying he wanted to focus on life after leaving the EU.
“(May) will try to downplay the issues that affect people’s lives every day and instead turn the election into an ego trip about her own failing leadership and the machinations of the coming negotiations in Brussels,” he said.
Playing to simmering public anger about stagnant wages and businesses that pay low taxes, Corbyn said he would scrap planned cuts to corporation tax and reverse tax breaks for wealthy individuals.
“We will no longer allow those at the top to leech off those who bust their guts on zero-hours contracts, or those forced to make sacrifices to pay their mortgage or pay their rent,” he said.
“Instead of the country’s wealth being hidden in tax havens, we will put it in the hand of the people.”
The political system was biased in favour of large companies, he said. “It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations.”
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