Jeremy Corbyn will urge the public to join him in taking on the political establishment in 2017, in a new year video message aimed at cementing his reputation as a combative outsider.
In the video shot at Westminster, Corbyn describes 2016 as “a year that will live long in all of our memories” and says he understands some of the concerns that led to the Brexit vote.
“People didn’t trust politicians and they didn’t trust the European Union,” he says. “I understand that. I’ve spent over 40 years in politics campaigning for a better way of doing things, standing up for people, taking on the establishment and opposing decisions that would make us worse off.”
He promises to fight against a Brexit deal that would safeguard the interests of City banks or continue “corporate handouts” to big businesses, saying: “Labour was founded to stand up for people, and we founded the institutions that do that day in and day out, like our NHS. We are the party that listens to you and makes Britain better. Let’s do that, together, in 2017.”
Labour strategists have taken a deliberate decision to play to Corbyn’s strength as an unpolished political maverick who has notoriously refused to toe the party line throughout several decades as an MP.
The Labour leader has appeared more assured since he convincingly saw off Owen Smith’s leadership challenge in September, with his opponent admitting that Corbyn’s performance at the dispatch box has improved.
Corbyn also knows Labour will be under intense scrutiny in the months ahead. Close allies, including the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, have acknowledged that the party needs to try to close the gap with the Conservatives in the polls.
In the video, in which he appears in a tailored navy jacket against the south bank skyline of County Hall and the London Eye, Corbyn reflects on the past year, saying: “Every day I see the political system letting down the people of this country; how decisions made in Westminster are making people’s lives harder.”
He cites rising homelessness, the crisis in social care funding and the increasing prevalence of low pay and insecure jobs. “Millions of people can’t plan their lives because, whether on temporary or zero hours contracts, they don’t know what job or what hours they’ll have from day to day, week to week or month to month. And for many, pay is so low that it doesn’t make ends meet.”
Labour is attempting to gear up for a potential snap general election in early 2017, although no candidates have yet been selected for key seats. MPs with marginal seats in former industrial areas far from Corbyn’s Islington constituency doubt his appeal extends beyond the metropolis.
The party may have a battle on its hands to maintain the Copeland constituency that will shortly be vacated by Jamie Reed, the Corbyn critic who is leaving parliament to work for the nuclear site Sellafield.
Corbyn was blamed by many of his pro-EU MPs for failing to fight hard enough to win the referendum, but his allies believe that his cautious tone, in which he encouraged voters to stick with the EU “warts and all” better reflected the public mood.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, sparked outrage among some in his own party recently by citing the “enormous opportunities” Brexit could bring. Corbyn’s new year message reiterates his stance that Labour “accepts and respects the result of the referendum”.
After the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, pushed the government to promise to produce a plan before legislating to invoke article 50 in the new year, Corbyn hinted that Labour might do more to try to influence the process. “We won’t be blocking our leaving the European Union, but we won’t stand by,” he said.
Corbyn’s more combative tone was evident in a Guardian interview earlier this week, in which he compared Theresa May’s wish to use the royal prerogative to take Britain out of the EU with Henry VIII.
The Labour leader makes no reference to his own turbulent year, which saw him face down scores of shadow cabinet resignations and a vote of no confidence by 172 of his own MPs – an overwhelming majority. Most backbenchers believe it is unlikely he will face a fresh threat to his leadership in 2017.