Local elections will be a test for us all, says Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Andrew Milligan/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Jeremy Corbyn did not give the impression of being a man under pressure.

Amid torrid poll ratings and open mutiny over Ken Livingstone's continued membership of the party, the Labour leader still had time to express concern that his wife's Mexican coffee was not being served with our cake at a small gathering of regional journalists in his office.

His mood had lifted.

The tetchy leader, who the previous day had reacted angrily to suggestions he should stand aside as leader with an accusation he was not being treated fairly by the media, had gone.

Mr Corbyn had much to discuss.

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Criticism of local government austerity, his work with socialist leaders across Europe on Brexit and bus regulation were just some of the topics he covered.

He turned his fire on the government over figures which show the number of designated Sure Start children's centres has been slashed by a third since the Conservatives came to power.

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'The levels of homelessness, malnutrition and poverty at one end of the scale are appalling. Underachievement by young people is serious because of the lack of good quality jobs and the cost of going into higher education are very great indeed,' he said.

Mr Corbyn said Labour was a party of 'justice, equality and opportunity' and he thinks his party's policy to create a £500bn national investment bank will help win people over.

His plan for 'an investment-based economy which is regionally based rather than nationally based' demonstrates how serious he is about the inequalities that exist within society, and in the regions of the country, he says,

But will it win over those telling pollsters that they are not going to vote Labour?

Asked if he needed to make county council gains in the areas where there are marginal seats in Norfolk and Suffolk to prove his project was working, and if he would stand aside if gains were not made, Mr Corbyn said: 'It is a test for all of us, I will be out there doing the campaigning work and I am very proud to lead this party and very proud of the support I received to become the leader of this party and I will do all that campaigning work'.

'We want to make gains and we will be campaigning in marginal areas even in county councils which are not particularly favourable towards us,' he said, pointing out that he would be visiting Kent during the campaign and has already been to Cambridgeshire where mayoral elections are being held.

Mr Corbyn claimed he was 'buoyed by the enthusiasm of our candidates' and that at the local election campaign launch in Newark this week 'the enthusiasm to do things is huge'.

He received huge backing when he visited Norwich during his first leadership campaign in the summer of 2015, packing out the Open venue.

Questioned about the departure from the shadow cabinet of one his key allies, the Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, over Labour's stance on allowing the Article 50 legislation through parliament unamended, he steadfastly defended his position.

'I had a lot of discussions with Clive about this. He feels very passionately there should have been a remain vote in the European Union referendum, there wasn't. But there was in his constituency. There was in mine for that matter. The point where we differed in our analysis was that it was a national vote and therefore parliament has to reflect the national decision and that is what parliament did in the end.

'I thought Labour had to reflect that. His view was he had a responsibility to his constituency because the majority of them had voted to remain.

'We didn't agree on that and I am very sorry that he resigned. We remain good friends and we talk frequently. I am looking forward to working with him in Norwich.'

Like shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Mr Corbyn is keen to see the Norwich MP return to the front bench. 'He is a lovely guy, he is a very talented imaginative individual. I don't get involved in personal rows with people and it is my big failing,' he added.

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