JEREMY CORBYN has apologised to Labour supporters over the party’s catastrophic general election but insisted his policies which led to the heaviest defeat in living memory were still popular.
Mr Corbyn admitted the party “came up short” at the polls and said: “I take my responsibility for it.” But despite Labour suffering its worst result since 1935 – with dozens of perviously safe seats falling to the Tories – he said he was “proud” the party had offered a message of “hope” in the election.
Mr Corbyn was widely criticised in the aftermath of the election for failing to apologise as Labour’s hitherto impregnable “red wall” of seats in the the Midlands, north of England and North Wales crumbled in the face of the Conservative onslaught.
In an open letter published in the Sunday Mirror, he said: “I will make no bones about it. The result was a body blow for everyone who so desperately needs real change in our country.
“I’m sorry that we came up short and I take my responsibility for it.”
The Labour leader – who has said he will stand down in the early part of next year after taking the party through a “process of reflection” – said it was determined to regain the trust of traditional Labour voters who turned against it.
He said: ”We will learn the lessons of this defeat, above all by listening to lifelong Labour voters who we’ve lost in working-class communities.
“This party exists to represent them. We will earn their trust back.”
Writing in The Observer, Mr Corbyn insisted the policies he set out were genuinely popular and had re-set the terms of the debate in the election.
He said: “I am proud that on austerity, on corporate power, on inequality and on the climate emergency we have won the arguments and rewritten the terms of political debate.
“There is no doubt that our policies are popular, from public ownership of rail and key utilities to a massive house-building programme and a pay rise for millions.
“The question is how can we succeed in future where we didn’t this time?”
The defeat sent Labour into turmoil with some MPs and losing candidates turning on Mr Corbyn, saying his left-wing politics had cost them votes.
But Corbynistas have turned their fire on Remainers who pushed the party into backing a second EU referendum, saying they had alienated Leave voters in the Labour heartlands
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the party had been caught on the “horns of a dilemma” over Brexit, and dismissed claims they had picked the “wrong” leader.
He said: “I didn’t back the wrong person because Jeremy was the right leader. We could have won in 2017. Things moved on. Brexit dominated everything.”
He said Mr Corbyn was “one of the most principled, honest, sincere, committed, anti-racist politicians”, but he had been “demonised by a smear campaign against him”.
Mr McDonnell, who confirmed he will also be standing down when Mr Corbyn goes, said: “I think we have to have a wider debate here about the role of social media and the media overall, and sometimes the nature of our politics.
“I don’t want to live in a society where those sorts of lies and smears and character-assassination dominate our politics. Let’s have an honest debate about the issues.
“It isn’t about individuals, it is about policies and analysis.”
Potential successors to Mr Corbyn have already started emerge with Keir Starmer currently leading the betting as the 5/2 bookies’ favourite with Rebecca Long-Bailey just behind as a 4/1 shot.
Angela Rayner and Jess Phillips both find themselves chalked up at 6/1 and Lisa Nandy’s odds have halved to 8/1 from 16/1. Richard Burgon is a rank outsider at 100/1.
Speaking about the timetable for him to leave, Mr Corbyn said: “The National Executive will have to meet, of course, in the very near future and it is up to them. It will be in the early part of next year.”
There is no doubt that our policies are popular