LONDON (Reuters) - Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took aim at tax dodgers, dodgy landlords, bad bosses and big polluters on Thursday, launching an election campaign with a promise of “real change” in Britain.
After receiving a more than two-minute standing ovation, Corbyn told a crowd packed into a London arts centre that Labour was ready to oust Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives at an election on Dec. 12.
It was a message directed at what he called the vested interests holding people back, and he named some of Britain’s biggest business figures, such as media owner Rupert Murdoch and Crispin Odey, a hedge fund manager.
With an election agreed earlier this week, both Labour and Boris Johnson’s governing Conservatives have been quick to start campaigns for an election which will be largely shaped by Britain’s long-delayed departure from the European Union.
But Labour hope to move the narrative away from Brexit and focus on their plans to pump money into Britain’s struggling health, education and police services and nationalise its “rail, mail and water”.
“You know whose side Labour’s on - a Labour government will be on your side,” Corbyn said. “Together, we can pull down a corrupt system and build a fairer country that cares for all,” he told a crowd who cheered him after almost every sentence.
“It’s time for real change,” he said, to chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”, sung to the chords of The White Stripes’ 2003 hit Seven Nation Army that became a popular refrain in 2015 when he was elected Labour leader.
Corbyn, a 70-year-old socialist who has an almost cult-like following among his supporters, is lagging in the opinion polls.
His tenure as Labour leader has been dogged by charges of anti-Semitism - something he denies - and by criticism from some of his own lawmakers for taking the party too far to the left and for failing to come up with a clear Brexit strategy.
But Corbyn’s team hope his campaigning will change the picture, much as it did in the 2017 election, when Labour did better than expected despite losing to the Conservatives.
Several argue that he plays better when the public see him in action rather than relying on what they call poor portrayals of him by a biased media.
By attacking what he called Conservative cuts, especially to Britain’s beloved National Health Service, Corbyn took aim at Johnson’s privileged background and the wealthy donors who fund his election campaign, such as Odey.
“Labour will put wealth and power in the hands of the many. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, who think they’re born to rule, will only look after the privileged few,” Corbyn said.
“This election is a once in a generation chance to transform our country, take on the vested interests holding people back and ensure that no community is left behind.”
Editing by Stephen Addison