Exclusive: Labour’s deputy leader heavily criticised by Corbyn for his claims of Trotskyist entryism as Labour leader sets out policy plan to win general election
In a wide-ranging interview with the Observer, in which he launches what is being billed as a totemic National Education Service policy, the Labour leader described claims of far-left infiltration of the party by Tom Watson as “nonsense” adding, “and I think he knows it’s nonsense”.
Corbyn also claimed that McNicol, Labour’s most senior employee, has questions to answer over his conduct in “recent months”. On Friday, the court of appeal ruled in favour of McNicol, whose lawyers argued that Labour’s governing body – the national executive committee (NEC) – could bar 130,000 new members from voting in the leadership election.
Corbyn said that he believed the five new members who initially took the NEC to court over its decision to prevent them from voting “will be considering whether or not to take it to the supreme court”. He added that McNicol would now have to answer to the “new NEC” on which six new members who support Corbyn have recently been elected.
Corbyn said: “People joined the Labour party in order to take part in the party and were specifically told that they were able to vote in the leadership election and it was decided by the high court that they could. The appeal court has said they can’t and I would imagine that those who brought the case will be considering whether or not to take it to the supreme court. I have no idea what their decision will be …
“We will receive a report from Iain about the process that has gone on over the last few months. And the NEC will no doubt ask him questions and he will probably give answers on it. But let’s look at that when the new NEC takes over.”
Asked twice if he had full confidence in McNicol, Corbyn repeatedly stated: “I have been happy to work with Iain McNicol since I became leader.”
However, it is Watson – who claims to have sent a dossier of evidence to the Labour leader last week documenting infiltration by the extreme left – who is Corbyn’s main target. The Labour leader said: “I read about his letter to me in the media. And it appeared to be a rehash of a book Michael Crick wrote 20 years ago about alleged entryism into the Labour party at that stage.
“I just ask Tom to do the maths – 300,000 people have joined the Labour party. At no stage in anyone’s most vivid imagination are there 300,000 sectarian extremists at large in the country who have suddenly descended on the Labour party.
“Sorry Tom, it is nonsense – and I think he knows it’s nonsense. Let’s get on with campaigning Tom. Thanks.”
Corbyn said that while he wanted people to join the party “with good motives”, MPs and staff should be pleased that those who supported other parties were now joining Labour.
Watson hit back on Saturday night, claiming the evidence was “incontrovertible”. He said: “The overwhelming majority of new members joined the Labour party because they want to build a fairer and more equal society. But there is clear and incontrovertible evidence that a small group of Trotskyite activists have taken leading roles in the Labour party or are seeking to do so.
“They are also explicitly targeting Young Labour and Labour student clubs with the aim of recruiting new members. That is beyond dispute. We can’t deal with this problem until we acknowledge it exists.”
Last week, Peter Taaffe, the Socialist party’s leader, and founder member of Militant, told the Guardian that hehoped to be readmitted to Labour.
Corbyn said: “I want people to join for good motives. But if they have changed their political views or developed their political views, then surely that is a good thing. We can only win a general election by winning people over from either non-voting or voting for another party. If someone has developed their politics to be members of the Labour party, even though they were once members of the Lib Dems, or Greens or something, fine. Welcome aboard.”
Asked about Taaffe’s comments, he added: “I met Peter Taaffe many, many years ago. I have no idea if he has even applied to join. I have had no conversations with Peter. I look forward to a conversation with Peter at some point but, hey, let’s be happy for what we have got, this vast number of members we have got and let’s get on with campaigning.”
In his extended interview, Corbyn:
• Announced a cradle-to-grave free National Education Service under which there will be free universal childcare, the scrapping of tuition fees, the reintroduction of maintenance grants and renewed funding for adult education.
• Offered backing for the RMT strikers on Southern Rail and Eurostar.
• Predicted a reselection process for every Labour MP when constituency boundaries are redrawn in 2017, and committed to allowing local members to make their choice unimpeded.
• Pledged an active state under his premiership willing to intervene widely in the market.
The Labour leader condemned the booing at the two leadership hustings that have taken place. But he claimed that he received “more abuse than anybody else”. He said: “Unfortunately, there has always been nastiness in politics, there has always been abuse in politics. I regret it and I deplore it. And I deplore it if it has increased. It’s wrong.”
“I am not sure it has [increased in the last year]. I know I have received more abuse than I ever used to. But then maybe I’m better known these days. But I receive more abuse than anybody else. The best way of dealing with abuse is: ignore it.”
Corbyn also offered his support to Hillary Clinton in the battle to be US president. “Well I can’t be with Trump, can I?” he said. “I can’t be with Trump so obviously with Hillary.”
Meanwhile, Corbyn’s challenger for the leadership, Owen Smith, has pledged to remove charitable status for private schools. Smith writes on guardian.com/observer: “On my watch, there’ll be no cautions or caveats about whether a private school is charitable or not, this wealthfare will end. Scrapping the subsidy for privileged private schools will raise hundreds of millions of pounds.
“And, if I’m the next Labour prime minister, I’ll put every penny of that into Sure Start – one of Labour’s proudest achievements and one of the most powerful antidotes to educational injustice.”