Exclusive: Jeremy Corbyn calls Sir Keir Starmer 'weak' for blaming Labour's problems on him
By the Calling Peston team
Jeremy Corbyn has accused Sir Keir Starmer of being "weak" for blaming him for Labour's problems.
In an exclusive interview with the ITV Politics Podcast Calling Peston, Mr Corbyn said it was "a bit rich" for the current Labour leadership "to dump" responsibility for the party's poor election performance on him.
Labour received a drubbing in the local elections, losing control of a host of councils and suffering defeat at the hands of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the Hartlepool by-election – the first time the constituency has gone blue since its inception in the 1970s.
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The former Labour leader, who led the party to the worst general election defeat since 1935 eighteen months ago, told Daniel Hewitt and Shehab Khan he took "no responsibility" for the local or by-election results - instead blaming Sir Keir for "bizarre" election messaging and for agreeing with the government too much during the pandemic.
"I think it's a bit rich to start blaming me for stuff that's been done over the past year that I've had absolutely no part of whatsoever," said Mr Corbyn.
"I do think that dumping on somebody because they're not there anymore is a bit weak.
"Do I take responsibility for it? No."
Starmer vows to do "whatever is necessary" after Hartlepool defeat
The MP for Islington North said Labour suffered for not challenging the government's approach to the pandemic, and "ditching" previously "popular" policies.
"We had a set of popular policies in the last manifesto - green industrial revolution, investment in the economy, equality legislation, national education service - as a party, ditching all of that, we'll be in an even worse position.
"People didn't feel confident in what the policy offer was, and rather bizarrely, the leadership launched the local election campaign on the basis of national policies. Whereas, of course, it's a local election.
"But I think there's the feeling that Labour had done too much agreeing with the government when many people's experience of Covid is one of fear. We ended up being seen as a party that basically agreed with the whole government strategy."
Mr Corbyn instead blamed his lack of electoral success on the press.
“The mainstream media has monstered me for the past five years; monstered me and John McDonnell and Diane Abbott and others in a quite extraordinary way.
“We've had even more abuse than Arthur Scargill had and he led the miners' strike.
“Now, I'm grown up. I'm descendants of a rhinoceros - my skin is very thick. I don't really care what people say about me.”
Sir Keir undertook a shadow cabinet reshuffle in the wake of last week's results, which included the demotion and then swift promotion of Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.
Mr Corbyn said the reshuffle was a "knee-jerk reaction in order to create different headlines".
"No reshuffle is ever easy to do, so I've got some sympathies with that," he said.
"I've been through that experience myself, but I must say it's a very odd time to do a reshuffle, because it seems to be a sort of knee jerk reaction in order to create a different set of headlines.
"Personally, I would have left it a lot longer, worked out what you want to do and taking the soundings of the people you want to put in."
On Ms Rayner's treatment, Mr Corbyn told the podcast "she was elected as the deputy leader, and that should be respected."
Despite overseeing two consecutive general election defeats as Labour leader, including the party's worst performance for over 80 years in 2019, Jeremy Corbyn believes moving the party to the right would be a mistake.
"There's no way for Labour that moves to the centre or to the right.
"There has to be that position where you have a credible socialist-inspired program that I think people can come to. We had 600,000 members in December, 2019. I don't think we have so many now."
The 71-year old is currently suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party, but is still a party member.
He is campaigning to be reinstated as a Labour MP, but ruled out taking legal action.
"I want this to be a political decision, not a legal decision.
"I am a member of the Labour party, which I have been ever since 1966.
"As far as I'm concerned, I should be restored to full membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and that by the way, is what very large numbers of Labour party members also think, and absolutely what Islington North constituency Labour Party thinks, which is perhaps quite important since I am the MP for Islington North."