Jeremy Corbyn wins over audience in Labour leader debate

Labour leadership contenders (left to right) Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Mary Creagh

Labour leadership contenders (left to right) Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Mary Creagh and Liz Kendall, at the annual conference of the GMB union in Dublin. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Islington MP impressed last night’s audience with his passion for change in Labour’s vision on housing and employment

Veteran MP Jeremy Corbyn last night shortened his odds on his chances of becoming Labour leader and a future Prime Minister following a strong performance in the BBC’s hustings.

In a debate hosted live from Nuneaton, the left leaning MP for Islington North answered questions alongside his fellow candidates, Andy Burnham, Yevtte Cooper and Liz Kendall after securing 36 nominations just minutes before

In a strong opening statement, Mr Corbyn, 66, said: “I want a Labour party at the heart of the community that is demanding those things and demanding jobs, homes and hopes for everybody so that they can live in a society that is more equal. We are moving in the wrong direction at the present time, let’s turn it around and move it the other way.”

Yvette Cooper, 46, and MP for Normanton, Pontefrant and Castleford, and Liz Kendall, MP for Leicester West, spoke with similar messages, citing the importance of equal opportunity and a united Britain.

Meanwhile Andy Burnham, 45, and MP for Leigh took a swipe at what he called the divisive election campaigning by Conservative PM David Cameron, whilst promising to move the Labour party outside the Westminster bubble.

Following their opening statements, the candidates answered questions from the audience including how they would move Labour away from its Blairite legacy.

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Mr Corbyn referred back to his well known opposition to the Iraq war, and said “...there were some serious problems with the way that Tony Blair and New labour approached things...and this is the elephant in the room: why did Blair have to get so close to Bush that we ended up in an illegal war in Iraq and we’re still paying the price for that.”

Mr Corbyn was passionate about what could be done to move the Labour party away from its troubled past and towards solving the issues of the day.

“The party has an opportunity now to rediscover its principled roots, rediscover the issues of equality, public service and the promotion of council housing to solve the housing crisis...People are looking for some fundamental change in our society that gives them security.”

As a tireless advocate of migrant rights and the intervention of governments in the Mediterranean boat crises, Mr Corbyn tackled the issue of border controls and immigration with characteristic gusto.

He said: “If there hadn’t been immigration in this country, what kind of National Health Service would we have, what kind of transport system would we have, what kind of education system would we have? We would be in a much more difficult place than we are now...We should also recognise that migrants who come here contribute NET to the economy, claim less, pay more in taxes, and work. If there is a shortage of houses, that is our failure to plan for need in the future.”

The candidates were further questioned about the impact of government cuts and the provision of welfare benefits.

Basing his decision to run in the Labour contest on an anti-austerity platform, Mr Corbyn took a strong stance against what he described as a “benefits street mentality”

He said:“We live in a welfare state, therefore, we all pay in and we are all entitled to claim. That is something that is fair and reasonable and should be accepted. I find this benefits street mentality something deeply unpleasant about it. I tell you why: I have people in front of me in my advice bureau every week who’ve been to the availaboility for work tests. People will mental health conditions often fail the tests, some have committed suicide...Why have we got the cruelty of that kind of system?

Presenter Laura Kuessenberg made the point that some Conservatives are campaigning to get Jeremy Corbyn elected as Labour leader because they think he might be the easiest one to beat in the 2020 election.

Mr Corbyn shrugged off the claims, and maintained a positive Labour campaign was vital.

“Those nominations were not borrowed or lent. I got the ones I needed and I am putting forward a point of view that I think is shared by a number of people about the agenda and direction that the Labour party should move in. We should not be about personalities and individuals, we should surely be about the strength of a movement.

Peter Spencer, from betting giant Betfred, ran a livebetting system during the debate last night, confirming that odds on Mr Corbyn becoming Labour leader had shortened from 16-1 to 12-1, signalling the Islington MP becoming “a serious contender.”

“Jeremy Corbyn got more applause than anyone else, he got four rounds of it in total, showing he had made a good impression on the audience. Mr Corbyn has seen the biggest change in his odds and this has had a big impact upon Andy Burnham’s position as well.”

Mr Spencer continued, explaining that Liz Kendall had also proved popular alongside Mr Corbyn, for her precise, straightforward responses to questions.

The current odds calculated by Betfred reflect the audience reception to the candidates during the debate, with Andy Burnham’s lead being reduced to 11-10 from 5-6 following a disappointing performance. Both Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper stabilised their positions moving to odds of 3-1 and 5-2 respectively.

In just over two months, one of the four candidates will become the next Labour party leader, ahead of the 2018 election.