Britain's Labour makes radical election pitch

Opposition party promises to hold second Brexit referendum, tax the rich to fund infrastructure upgrades

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he expects hostility from business groups, political rivals and a predominantly right-wing media towards his party's election manifesto because ''the system is working just fine for them''. ''It's rigged in their favour - but it's not working for you,'' he has said. PHOTO: DPA

BIRMINGHAM (United Kingdom) • Britain's main opposition Labour Party yesterday unveiled its general election manifesto, promising a radical agenda for social change, including nationalising key industries and a controversial second referendum on Brexit.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called it "the most radical and ambitious plan to transform our country in decades" and a "once-in-a-generation chance of real change". The party, he said, will fund a pay rise for workers and upgrades to national infrastructure by taxing the rich.

"I accept the opposition of the billionaires because we will make those at the top pay their fair share of tax to help fund world-class public services for you - that's real change," Mr Corbyn said.

Labour has also promised a "green industrial revolution" to tackle what Mr Corbyn called "the climate emergency", by focusing new jobs and industries on efforts to tackle global warming.

But the most immediate problem is Brexit, with Britain due to leave the European Union on Jan 31 - just weeks after the Dec 12 poll.

Labour said that within six months of taking office, it will strike a new exit deal with the EU and hold a second referendum on Britain's membership. Opinion polls show Labour trailing Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives, and many activists admit that perceived ambiguity on Brexit is harming the party.

But Mr Corbyn is hoping to galvanise voters like he did in the last election in 2017 by focusing on tackling inequality after nine years of Conservative austerity measures.

The programme, he said, was "full of popular policies that the political establishment has blocked for a generation".

He repeated the attacks on the rich and powerful that have been a feature of Labour's campaign so far, saying: "It's time for real change."

The manifesto includes promises such as a 5 per cent pay rise for public-sector workers and the abolition of university tuition fees.

Mr Corbyn said Labour would bring back into public ownership the "obvious monopolies", which includes taking over parts of telecoms giant BT to provide free broadband.

The party has promised tax rises for the top 5 per cent of earners, a rise in corporation tax, and levies on oil companies and multinationals.

Mr Johnson's Conservatives were quick to condemn the plans for being "a reckless spending spree which would take a sledgehammer to the British economy".

Mr Corbyn said he expected hostility from business groups, political rivals and a predominantly right-wing media because "the system is working just fine for them".

"It's rigged in their favour - but it's not working for you," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2019, with the headline Britain's Labour makes radical election pitch. Subscribe