Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed speculation that he is planning to step down as Labour leader, after some of his allies launched a botched attempt to abolish the post of deputy leader, which is held by one of his critics, Tom Watson. Mr Corbyn said he was not aware of the move against Mr Watson but backed a proposal that could see the deputy leader blocked from becoming acting leader if the leader steps down.
The furore over the deputy leadership overshadowed the start of Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, which is expected to be the last before the next general election. Mr Corbyn suffered a major blow on Sunday morning when it emerged that one of his top advisers, Andrew Fisher, had resigned following clashes with other members of the leader’s inner circle.
Mr Fisher, who was the main author of Labour’s 2017 manifesto, said in a public statement that he was stepping down because the demands of his job meant he could not spend enough time with his family. But in a message sent to colleagues last week and leaked to the Sunday Times, Mr Fisher blamed the “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency” of Mr Corbyn’s team.
He said he no longer had faith that the party could win the next election and criticised the leaders’ office’s preparations for the party conference.
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“Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on focus groups and polling for this and there is no end-product, just a blizzard of lies and excuses,” he is quoted as saying.
Mr Corbyn said he had spoken to Mr Fisher and he praised his contribution to the party since 2015. He rejected speculation that the move against Mr Watson was part of a plan to prepare the way for his own departure as leader.
“I’m taking the party into the general election. I’m taking the party into the general election to end austerity, to bring forward policies that bring about a better standard of living and better opportunities for people all across this country. I’m enjoying doing that, I’m campaigning all the time,” Mr Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
The conference on Sunday backed a motion committing the party to abolishing private schools in Britain, starting with the withdrawal of their charitable status for tax purposes. It means Labour’s next manifesto will commit the party to ensuring that universities admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population (currently 7 per cent) and that “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools to be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.
The motion notes that 65 per cent of senior judges, 52 per cent of junior ministers and 44 per cent of newspaper columnists in Britain went to private schools.
“The ongoing existence of private schools is incompatible with Labour’s pledge to promote social justice, not social mobility in education. Labour is opposed to hierarchy, elitism and selection in education. Private schools reflect and reinforce class inequality in wider society,” it says.