Jeremy Corbyn interview: Labour Party leader visits Stevenage
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Jeremy Corbyn was in Stevenage today – and in a one-on-one interview with the Comet, he gave his views on a range of issues affecting our area.
The Labour leader was at Springfield House in Stevenage Old Town to congratulate the constituency party on winning a prize for its fundraising, as well as to salute former parliamentary candidate Sharon Taylor and her replacement Jill Borcherds.
Mrs Taylor, who leads Stevenage Borough Council, was defeated by Conservative Stephen McPartland in three bids to become MP – and asked how Mrs Borcherds might change things, Mr Corbyn stressed her local links as a maths teacher at The Barclay School.
“We just had a members’ meeting where she gave a really good talk about education and opportunities for young people,” Mr Corbyn told the Comet.
“Young people are stressed out at home because of inadequate housing, because of poverty, because of debt. They don’t achieve in school. So we want our young people to get on in life. It’s also about housing them properly and ensuring their health is properly dealt with as well.
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“I think she gave a really good, passionate example of what she will do as an MP. She will speak up for Stevenage, and she wouldn’t be obstructing the necessary improvements to the town centre.”
Mr McPartland has said he cannot support £350 million plans to redevelop the town centre because he thinks regeneration should start with the Queensway shops rather than housing and “fancy Labour council offices”.
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Asked about housing and the future of North Hertfordshire’s Green Belt, Mr Corbyn said there was a housing crisis and that a Labour government would create 500,000 new council houses “by a combination of investment nationally and giving local authorities the opportunities to invest themselves”. New housing, he said, must be on brownfield or existing sites if possible and on Green Belt “as the last resort”.
Regarding our railways, Mr Corbyn called for a transport system “run for public need rather than the very substantial profits made by some of the train operating companies”, integrating “bus as well as rail”, and giving power to local government.
He said fares on the nationalised railway he envisioned would be “more sustainable, more predictable and lower – but I can’t put figures on it”.
The Comet then asked Mr Corbyn’s views on defence firms like Airbus, which are important to Stevenage’s economy. The Labour leader said products “of strategic need” should always be built in this country.
He added that there “had to be” British access to the Galileo sat-nav project – in which Airbus is involved, and from which the UK faces being shut out by the EU amid Brexit.
“Actually, Airbus also told me pretty clearly that unless they could have ease of movement for their staff and workers between different Airbus plants, and tariff-free trade between the different plants in parts of Europe and this country, then clearly their future would be under a question mark,” he said. “It’s pretty real, the threat to jobs – the dangers of the Tory style of Brexit.”
He reiterated Labour’s policy of forming a customs union with the EU – something Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out.
When the Comet told Mr Corbyn of comments made by the Stevenage Liberal Synagogue’s Terry Wolfe – who said that amid cases of alleged antisemitism surrounding Labour nationally, he would “not even consider” voting for the party – Mr Corbyn’s previously relaxed tone hardened.
He said, firmly: “I have spent my life opposing racism in any form. I’ve spent my life opposing antisemitism in any form. It has no place whatsoever in any aspect of our society.”
Asked what he wanted to tell the people of Stevenage and North Herts, Mr Corbyn said: “We cannot go on in the unequal society that we are.
“Today we’re mourning a year on from Grenfell – but Grenfell surely should be a warning to all of us. That’s what happens when you forget about the needs of often very desperate people.”
Speaking to the Comet afterwards, Mrs Borcherds said she was thrilled by Mr Corbyn’s visit – and had come to meet the party leader for the first time after taking class as usual in the morning.
Asked what she would be doing differently from Mrs Taylor, she said: “What we did last year was absolutely brilliant but we need more of it, and it needs to be more long-term.
“What a Labour council does in Stevenage in spite of Tory austerity is phenomenal and I don’t think Stevenage people realise how much better it could be if we had a Labour government as well.”
She said Labour membership in Stevenage had tripled since 2015, something she attributed to the party’s manifesto.
Mrs Borcherds expressed support for the Stevenage regeneration plans, adding that there was a widely believed “myth” that the borough council owned the town centre shops.
Her vision for Stevenage’s regeneration, she said, was one of a “vibrant town centre where people live, work and can use the local facilities”.