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article imageCorbyn makes pitch for power despite Brexit divisions

By James PHEBY (AFP)     Sep 25, 2018 in Politics

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday presented himself as the man to steer Britain through perilous Brexit negotiations as he pushed his case for a general election.

Wrapping up the party's annual conference in Liverpool, Corbyn sought to play down his own party's divisions over Brexit and presented a "radical plan" for government.

Corbyn said Labour would support any "sensible deal" for Brexit that Prime Minister Theresa May's government brings back from Brussels but warned that "if you can't negotiate that deal then you need to make a way for a party that can".

He said that an election should be called if parliament fails to approve May's Brexit deal, hours after she told reporters in New York that an election before Britain leaves the EU would "not be in the national interest".

If an election is not called, Corbyn said, "all our options are on the table" -- a reference to the possibility of advocating a second Brexit referendum.

Labour has held back from full-throated backing for a second referendum because many of its supporters voted for Brexit, although younger members and many of the conference delegates have been speaking out in favour of another vote.

- Draw a line under anti-Semitism row -

But the 69-year-old leftist devoted much of his speech to what he called "a radical plan to rebuild and transform our country" with social justice and environmental sustainability, and criticism of the government's austerity programme.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges applause after his keynote ...
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges applause after his keynote speech on the final day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool

After being criticised for months for his handling of cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and his own past associations with Palestinian militants, Corbyn also pledged to fight discrimination "with every breath I possess".

"The row over anti-Semitism has caused immense hurt and anxiety in the Jewish community and great dismay in the Labour Party. But I hope we can work together to draw a line under it," he told delegates at the meeting in north-west England.

Corbyn used his speech to promise 400,000 jobs in the green-energy sector to meet low-carbon targets. He also announced an expansion of free childcare for poor households.

"Ten years ago this month, the whole edifice of greed-is-good, deregulated financial capitalism... came crashing to earth, with devastating consequences," he said.

"The old way of running things isn't working any more."

Brexit has loomed large over the four-day party event, causing ructions that the leader was keen to avoid on Wednesday and delegates responded positively to his anti-austerity message.

"Too many people are suffering very, very badly in this country," said Tony Loftus, 70, a former prison officer.

Carole Grady, a retiree from Lancashire, said: "Brexit has dominated totally. While this has been going on in the last two years, everything has just been left to rot.

"I think we need a general election," she said.

- Labour respects referendum -

Opposition Labour party delegates voted Tuesday to leave all Brexit options on the table  including ...
Opposition Labour party delegates voted Tuesday to leave all Brexit options on the table, including a second referendum on EU membership

Party delegates voted on Tuesday to support the possibility of a second referendum if May is unable to get a final deal through parliament.

But veteran leftist John McDonnell, Labour's main finance spokesman, went off message on Monday, saying the option of staying in the European Union should not be on any ballot paper.

The party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer hit back, receiving rapturous applause from members when he also veered off script to insist that remaining in the bloc was still on the table, exposing the power struggle behind the veneer of party unity.

Corbyn, a long-time eurosceptic, has kept Britain guessing over his own views, remaining ambiguous.

"Labour respects the decision of the British people in the referendum," he told the conference, adding: "But no one can respect the conduct of the government since that vote took place".

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