Jeremy Corbyn: "In the UK we already have more food banks than McDonald's"

7 min
Jeremy Corbyn in Barcelona

Jeremy Corbyn (Chippenham 1949) does not bite his lip when he talks about social inequalities or injustices in the UK and around the world. And now even less, when he no longer has the responsibility of being the Labour leader. Yesterday he arrived in Barcelona to participate in the World Peace Congress, organised by the International Peace Bureau, under the title (Re)imagine the world. Action for peace and justice, which brings together, virtually and in person, over 3,000 participants from 116 countries. His visit coincided with the assassination of Conservative MP David Amess.

Five years after the murder of Joe Cox, another blow to British politics

— The murder of David Amess is an attack on democracy. It is totally appalling and totally shocking. He was elected to Parliament in 1983, the same year I was. Obviously in politics we had little in common, but personally we got on very well and I am very very sad.

Has the recent Labour conference put an end to your legacy, after the left wing of the Party and Momentum were pushed aside?

—  Well, the recent Labour conference showed a number of things. One is that those in the Party that support the manifestos on which we fought the 2017 and 2019 elections are very strong and very active. They were passing motions on trade union rights, on workers’ rights, on Social Security, and internationally on Palestine. The fringe conference shows that is an enormous thirst for all the radical ideas we have in our manifestos. And there is obviously a big debate in the Labour Party, but the only way forward is to have an economic strategy, which is about redistribution of wealth and power, which is about a Green Industrial Revolution, which is about an international strategy of peace and justice. I'm here in Barcelona and delighted to be here, at the International Peace Bureau conference. Barcelona has an amazing history of the culture of peace, and of course of being the place that stood out longest against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. And to me, it's a wonderful pleasure to be here as part of this conference, because people around the world that want peace, environmental sustainability and social justice have to come together. Free markets are not going to improve our environment. Free markets are not going to stop wars. It's only democracy and public intervention.

Polls still show a 40-seat lead for the conservatives. Does the Labour Party believe the new election will be very difficult?

— Well, the next election is some way off. My guess is it will probably be in 2023. And I hope that elections focus on health inequality and poverty in Britain, where we now have more food banks than branches of McDonald's. We now have more children living in poverty, we have a housing crisis. At the same time we have a government spending more on weapons of mass destruction, and tax giveaways. Very rich billionaires have been created during Covid, while poverty is the experience of the majority. And so unless Labour Party as the main opposition party doesn't confront the government on this, then obviously the chance of winning is low.

 As leader of the Labour Party, don't you think you were a victim of a right-wing press campaign, even at the BBC? They accused you of antisemitism, a campaign fuelled by the party's Blairite camp. 

— I have spent my life fighting racism in every conceivable way. I was brought up an anti-racist. Anti-semitism is an evil. Anti-semitism was the vehicle that Nazis used to gain power in Germany. It was the vehicle Oswald Mosley used to try to gain power in Britain in the 1930s. And it has led to the most grotesque crimes against humanity, against the Jewish people in Germany through the Holocaust, which was also a holocaust against the Gypsies, communists and the gay community. Racism is an evil on our planet. Black Lives Matter has shown the need for us to understand history better, to decolonise our curriculum and bring up our children understanding what our history has done. The brutality of the slave trade, the brutality of colonialism, and the brutality of Nazism and the brutality of war. I have spent my life fighting racism and I will die an anti-racist.

 What lessons can be learnt from the chaotic scenes from the last days of Western military presence in Afganistan?

— The end of the war in Afghanistan is a seminal moment, it has cost billions of dollars. It has taken tens of thousands of lives of Afghan people. It's driven millions into exile and into refugee status. And it has taken the lives of American soldiers, many European soldiers, and 457 British soldiers, and eventually, they had to withdraw. It shows the folly of the intervention in the first place. What happened on 9/11 was appalling. It has to be condemned. But the response of invading Afghanistan was neither sensible nor logic. And we founded the Stop the War movement to oppose the war in Afghanistan, but Blair and Bush still went to war. Two decades later, we then went to war in Libya, we then have the Syrian war, which all parties are involved in, and the result, millions of refugees around the world. So the issue has to be peace.

 What is happening right now in the UK after Brexit maybe shows that a country simply can't work without migrants.

— The referendum on membership of the European Union took place in 2016. It produced a majority of people in favour of leaving the European Union. And I recognise that result, I recognise the different messages that were there amongst the No voters. And I wanted us as a country to have an effective working relationship with Europe and I fought the 2019 election on the basis that we would try to come to a trade arrangement with Europe, which would give us the equivalent of a customs union with the European Union, and obviously, allow European nationals to maintain their homes in Britain and vice versa, because there has to be that connection of people. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson was able to put forward a very simplistic message, which, sadly, was also decisive. He claimed that he could get Brexit done. And he now discovers that the trade deal that he wanted with the United States hasn't happened, except American healthcare companies have come in to take over our National Health Service. He then discovers that trade with Europe is not simple unless you have a proper agreement. Hence the amount of trade is reducing. And there's now a shortage of European workers who were doing wonderful and essential job in Britain. And so the realisation that you have to work with your neighbours is beginning to dawn even on Boris Johnson, but sadly, an awful lot people are suffering along the way.

 But anti-migrant speech is very loud all over Europe.

— The racism of the anti-immigration rhetoric of Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, his Home Secretary, is truly frightening. 70 million people around the world are refugees. They're all human beings, they all want to live, and they all want to contribute to the world. What are they doing? Threatening them with sinking in the Mediterranean, sinking in the English Channel, and sinking in the Indian Ocean anywhere else where refugees appear? Are the politicians of the early part of the 21st century to be historically judged as the ones who are most brutal towards the victims of war and humanity? The rhetoric against migrants and refugees and the growth of the far right in Europe is a serious ever-present danger. We have to confront it. We have to confront it, through education, through understanding and through demonstrations of the cultural joy of our diversity as a planet and as a people.

 Do you see any viable way out to the political stalemate in Catalonia?

— It's not for me to decide what the future of Catalonia is. It's a wonderful country. It's a wonderful place. And I have the greatest admiration for Barcelona as a city of culture, of learning, of understanding. My mom and dad always told me "Barcelona stood to the very end", as they were very active in supporting Spanish Republic and also Barcelona hosted the most amazing Olympic Games. It is an issue of the right of people to express themselves, to speak their own language. And this is not just in Catalonia. It is in Turkey, it is in many parts of the world, including in my own country. I hope there can be some settlement; I hope there can be some agreement where the pride of Catalonia can stand alongside the pride of other places around the world.

 Pandora's papers have once again shown the massive amount of tax evasion and fraud.

— Tax evasion and tax avoidance around the world are a huge phenomenon. And I was accused in the general election campaign of saying there was a magic money tree. That money just grew on trees, and I was inventing money in order to invest in the economy of the future. I found this magic money tree and it's thriving in the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean. We have tax avoidance and tax havens on industrial scales around the world. And there's been a bit of an improvement with the 15% minimum corporation tax on corporations around the world. That is a small, very small step in the right direction. But the tax avoidance means healthcare is underfunded, education is underfunded. And huge wealth is amassed in property fortunes in London, in Madrid, in Paris, in Berlin, and all the capitals of Europe and of course in the Middle East, in Dubai. We stand up against it, tax avoidance. Unless we stand up against the grotesque levels of inequality in our world, where are the chances for the next generation?

So my last question is linked to this: Glasgow will host the Climate Conference next month, do you have any hope that they will really help to curb Global Warming?

— I will be in Glasgow for the COP 26. The headline I would like to see is that COP 26 agrees to net zero by 2030. It's possible, it's achievable. I suspect we're going to get a lot of greenwash. But unless we confront climate change, unusual weather patterns, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, and the growing numbers of environmental refugees around the world, then, as a humankind, as a planet, we put ourselves in danger. We have to give nature, a legal status. In a sense, it's there when they look at environmental impact on planning decisions. If we carry on destroying the natural world, and biodiversity, we are polluting our rivers, with plastic and our seas with sewage, and all the rest of it and our air, through incineration and plastics with poisons, then, obviously, our living standards and all of us are going to be affected ultimately. At the moment it is the poorest people in the poorest places that are worst affected. But ultimately everybody, I'll be there in Glasgow trying to give voice to those who have suffered the most: working class communities, the poorest countries in the global south.

But are you hopeful?

—  Yes, ultimately, because I do think there's a growing international understanding. I was in Paris for the previous COP. And that made some progress, but not enough: unless we go for net zero by 2030, the things is we're reaching a tipping point on temperature change and it then becomes very, very dangerous for all remote coastal communities.