Jeremy Corbyn says he faced ‘great deal of hostility’ from own party as Labour leader
The former Labour leader said he often felt like the ‘only person’ defending Labour’s Brexit position. (PA)
Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at the “great deal of hostility” he faced from people in the Labour Party who “don’t want change” during his time as leader.
The former Labour chief said he had lacked “close political friends” on the Commons benches when he swept to victory in the 2015 leadership election.
And he said he had been left feeling like “the last person defending the party position” on Brexit during the UK’s tortured debates over leaving the European Union.
Mr Corbyn was succeeded by Sir Keir Starmer in April after leading the party to a second successive election defeat, and has since spoken out against the new leader’s decision to apologise to former Labour staff who took part in a BBC Panorama documentary on anti-semitism.
A bitter internal row has meanwhile broken out in the Labour ranks over a leaked report into the party's handling of anti-Jewish abuse, with an independent inquiry underway amid claims from the left of the party that staff actively worked to undermine Mr Corbyn's leadership.
Speaking to Tribune magazine’s ‘A World to Win’ podcast about his early days as leader, Mr Corbyn said: “I looked around and there weren’t too many people that I’d call close political friends. In fact there were about 15 of them out of the 650 MPs there. It was difficult — there’s no denying that."
And he said: "There are people in the Labour Party that don’t want change, that didn’t want that change. I was faced by a great deal of hostility from the very beginning.”
The Labour leader also spoke out about his frustrations at the Brexit process, attacking “the amount of time and energy that was taken up with almost endless repetitive debates" about the issue.
He said: “I campaigned for a yes vote, I felt we should remain and reform the European Union. We didn’t win that referendum.
“After that the party went into a long and serious debate, there was pressure for a second referendum…
"I tried to navigate all of this and it was extremely difficult because the majority of party members – probably 70% – voted remain, and of Labour MPs it’s probably even higher, although to their credit many MPs that represented leave constituencies did try to articulate the Leave thing… I tried to bring people together.”
But he added: “Almost as soon as we agreed that compromise motion, people particularly on the remain side said we’re going to continue to Remain, and quite a lot on the Leave side that we’re going to campaign to Leave. Sometimes I felt like almost the last person defending the party position.”
Mr Corbyn meanwhile told the podcast that the coronavirus crisis had “exposed and writ large” the “inequalities in our society” he had tried to highlight as leader — and said his first act as prime minister if he had won the 2019 election would have been to vow and end to rough sleeping.
He said his proudest moments as Labour leader included an apology he gave on behalf of the party for the “wrong and illegal Iraq war”, Labour’s 2019 manifesto being rated the greenest by Friends of the Earth, and working to develop an “economic agenda that is radically different”.