Jeremy Corbyn has said poverty and climate change are far greater priorities for Labour and the country than Brexit.
In advance excerpts of a speech to the Scottish Labour conference, Corbyn said his party was not “obsessed by constitutional questions like the others are. We’re obsessed with tackling the problems people face in their daily lives.”
In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to shift the focus away from his party’s deep divisions over Brexit, Corbyn said the greatest challenge posed to the UK was global warming.
“We are facing a climate crisis. There’s no bigger threat to our future. And fundamentally the destruction of our climate is a class issue,” he said.
“We believe that the real divide in our society is not between people who voted yes or no for independence. And it’s not between people who voted to remain or to leave the EU. The real divide is between the many, who do the work, create the wealth and pay their taxes, and the few, who set the rules, reap the rewards and dodge their taxes. So let me spell it out: our mission is to back the working class in all its diversity.”
While his emphasis on poverty and class will please some trade unionists and party activists, it will alarm the party’s largely pro-EU parliamentarians who have been publicly and privately critical of Corbyn’s stance on Brexit and on antisemitism.
The Scottish party is also divided over Europe. Its leader, Richard Leonard, was accused of censorship after a conference statement by its two MEPs, David Martin and Catherine Stihler, was edited to remove an expression of support for a second referendum. The party’s executive decided to include the question of backing for a second referendum in the conference agenda only on Thursday night.
Corbyn said he would commit his party to a target of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a goal many climate experts and campaigners say is not ambitious enough to halt climate change.
“It’s working class communities that suffer the worst pollution and the worst air quality. It’s working class people who will lose their jobs as resources run dry. And it is working class people who will be left behind as the rich escape rising sea levels,” he said in the speech extracts.
“Big corporations will never do anything serious about it. The Conservative government will never do anything serious about it either. But Labour will make it a central objective of our industrial strategy. We need to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest. It’s not just an ecological priority, it’s a socialist priority too.”
Many of Corbyn’s critics blame him and Leonard for the party’s weak standing in Scottish polls. A recent Panelbase poll for the nationalist blogger Wings over Scotland showed Labour was the only party in Scotland losing support, down four points on 22%.
Leonard told BBC Radio Scotland on Friday that the Brexit impasse was likely to be resolved in the Commons next week, and would probably leave Labour backing a second EU referendum.
He said if Labour failed to get its soft Brexit proposals through and failed to force a general election, “we have said that we will campaign for and back a public vote on either remain or else a credible leave deal”.
This content was originally published here.