LSR, LSTV and The Gryphon sat down with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to discuss Brexit, anti-semitism and higher education ahead of his talk to politics students at the University of Leeds.
Jeremy Corbyn welcome to the University of Leeds, thank you for taking the time to speak to us.
Pleasure to be here.
So, the last time you were in Leeds and spoke to students, I believe, was during the 2017 general election campaign. You stood outside the Brudenell Social Club, stood up with Alex Sobel on a box and said vote for this man.
And he won.
That’s the thing. He wasn’t expected to win that seat and he ended up winning by about 3000 votes. Do you think that day may have had an impact on his victory?
Probably. Because we got so many people there who were really enthusiastic about the idea that we could win, that we could get Alex elected and we could get a Labour government and that was one of the turning points in the campaign because that meeting was supposed to be a couple of hundred people getting ready to go door knocking, and it grew to four or five hundred in the car park and then it grew to thousands in the streets. I was actually generally concerned for the safety of some of the students who were hanging off trees. The branches were strong it turned out and they were okay, but I was worried.
I believe everyone was okay and it was, Leeds North West, which is Alex’s constituency, which ended up having the largest increase in student registration in the country. What are you and Alex planning to do to give back to all the students who have supported you on this campus and in this area?
Develop a society and an economy that works for all, to develop an education system that does genuinely give cradle to grave education for all and above all, a society that genuinely cares for all. We have too much greed in Britain, too great an inequality between the richest and the poorest, and too little done to help those having the hardest time in their lives. And so it is about the minimum wage, a living wage of £10 per hour, it is about investment in housing, it is about ending rough sleeping and it is above all about investment in industry for the future through a national investment bank and regional investment funds.
Now you see what you haven’t mentioned there, which was talked about quite a lot in the election campaign is reducing the burden of student debt and/or cutting tuition fees. This I don’t think has been mentioned by the Labour Party in quite a long time. Has your position changed on this?
My position hasn’t changed at all. I’ve mentioned it a great deal actually. I said cradle to grave education and that obviously includes university education. What I want to do is end student fees, return to a grant system for those that need support to be at university, but also to have an equality of esteem between vocational as well as academic qualifications, so that you get good quality training in engineering or whatever you choose to do as an apprenticeship, as well as academic qualifications.
For those that have a very large student debt, we have to look at ways at both raising the income level at which you’ll start to repay, removing the interest payments that are currently on it, because many former students are now paying incredible amounts of interest on a loan they never wanted but were forced to take out in order to get a university education. I think university education is an investment for all of us.
Now what you’ve touched on there is that really debt and fees are contributing factors in what is becoming a national epidemic of mental illness. The average wait time for students in the UK to receive mental health treatment is four months, this can be deadly. In the event of a Labour government getting elected, what provisions would you put in place to improve access to mental health care for students?
One, we put in parity of esteem to the Health and Social Care Act in 2012. Labour did as an amendment, said parity of esteem between physical and mental health. It hasn’t happened. The government has not funded it properly and you’re quite right that there are people going through a mental health crisis, go to a GP and ask for help and are told to wait four/five/six months and many universities and colleges are in exactly that situation. The biggest killer of young men in our society is suicide from mental health stress.
So, it needs two things, one is investment in treatment, in support, in counselling, but it also means a different attitude in our society. Stop making jokes about people going through stress, stop making jokes about mental health, recognise it is a condition you or I could suffer from, and recover from, provided we’re given the help and support. But when somebody does go and see a GP, I’m talking to somebody on the South Coast, Southampton, the nearest urgent bed they could get, because they were having a very serious crisis, was Bradford. Now there’s nothing wrong with a bed in Bradford absolutely, of course not, that’s not the point. The fact is the family couldn’t visit and also that bed ought to be available for somebody locally and not from somewhere far away.
Last Thursday The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the University of Leeds for a talk with some of the politics students here.Before his talk Jeremy sat down with Leeds Student Television, Leeds Student Radio and The Gryphon. He spoke about student loans, brexit, antisemitism and much more. Here is the full interview
Posted by Leeds Student Television on Monday, October 8, 2018
Now one of the many things that can contribute to mental health problems is abuse. You say you stand for a kinder, gentler politics. There are over 1000 Jewish students on this campus, many of whom have left the Party over abuse perpetrated in your name. Do you think your Labour Party is a safe space for Jewish students?
Absolutely a safe place for all students. Anti-Semitism is a curse in our society as it has been historically, it is a curse anywhere, as is Islamophobia or any other form of racism, and we do not tolerate it, do not accept it, do not allow it and take action against those that perpetrate it.
Now the University of Leeds and Higher Education as a whole has benefitted from European Research funding. How would Labour protect these benefits after Brexit?
We’d maintain membership of the appropriate European agencies and certainly maintain membership of the ERASMUS scheme.
Would that be possible?
Yes, it will be possible, we have discussed all this with a lot of people in Europe. It is very important we maintain those otherwise we end up reducing both our own academic status and abilities in Britain but also European universities that benefit from that relationship and so I would make sure it carries on.
“I’m not the solution. We, all of us, are a solution.”
Now bear with me one second, one of the main drivers behind Brexit votes happening was that people felt they weren’t being listened to in Westminster and that their vote didn’t count. Do you think it’s dangerous, I mean you spoke at the conference last week and Labour appears to have reached some kind of ground on, correct me if I’m wrong, not ruling out supporting another referendum on the Final Deal with an option to remain? Do you think it’s dangerous to tell people to keep voting until they get the right answer?
The referendum happened, it gave a result, not the one I wanted but it gave a result and I think it’s the incompetence of this government on their negotiations. Two and a half years in, we’re still very unclear what they want. We’ve set down our six tests which obviously include the trade relationship with Europe and Northern Ireland border and maintaining rights in the workplace and so on, which we inherited from the European Union. I think we have to have a relationship with Europe which maintains that and maintains that trade, whereas the Tory right are essentially heading in the direction of a trade deal with Donald Trump which is quite dangerous.
With respect that’s not really the answer to the question that I asked. Won’t people feel like they, people who voted for Brexit because they thought they weren’t being listened to, won’t they think that their vote still doesn’t count if there’s another referendum?
I’m not calling for another referendum. What I’m saying is there has to be effective negotiations and we have to decide in parliament how we vote on them. If they don’t meet our six tests we will vote against them. After that, we will see what happens but clearly what happens then is that the government should either resign or go back and negotiate something better with the European Union, but they wasted two and a half years on this.
I still don’t think we’ve quite answered the question there, but I have to move on I’m afraid we haven’t got much time. Still at the conference, it’s public knowledge that Momentum were pushing for a change in the rules for leadership nomination in the event that you step down. Their change seemed designed to make it possible to nominate a more Corbyn-like successor than MPs would be likely to back. What’s less well known is that your office was also pushing for this rule to be changed in some way. Were you after Momentum’s suggested rule change?
I’m happy that the Party has made a rule change which means that to be a candidate for a leader, you have to get the support of ten percent of the parliamentary Labour Party and you have to get five percent of either Trade Unions or constituency parties to go with it which means for the first time ever in the history of the Labour Party, the election of the leader is partly in the hands of either affiliated or full members of the Party, not just MPs. Up until the 1980s, MPs alone elected the leader. I would not be the leader if it hadn’t been an extension of the franchise.
Finally, you’re here at the University of Leeds to talk to a room full of politics students. What are you going to tell them to convince them that you are the solution in a world gone mad?
Well I’m not the solution. We, all of us, are a solution. That solution is you look at economics in a different way, you look at social justice in a different way, you look at the environment in a different way. We cannot go on in a world which is destroying itself environmentally, which is a society that is grotesquely unequal and getting more unequal and call it successful. What you have to do is recognise the need to support everybody and that means social policies that work, it means housing policies that work, it means education policies that work, and it means an international agenda based on the principals of human rights and justice.
Jeremy Corbyn, thanks very much for speaking to us.
It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much.
Polly Hatcher and Ian White
Questions by Patrick Carter / Images by Robbie Cairns