By Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, kicks off his election campaign on Thursday with a vow to take on Britain’s “rigged system”, which he said was run by a privileged elite of tax dodgers, billionaire owners and bad bosses.
On the day Britain was supposed to leave the European Union, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his main opponent, Corbyn, are on Thursday pitching their starkly different visions for world’s fifth largest economy ahead of a Dec. 12 election.
In a sweeping challenge to the Western capitalist consensus, Corbyn said the election was a once-in-a-generation chance to overthrow what he cast as a corrupt elite which profited by exploiting workers, lying to the public and polluting the environment.
“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,” Corbyn, a 70-year-old veteran socialist campaigner, said in remarks released by his party.
Corbyn named prominent billionaires such as landowner Hugh Grosvenor, Sports Direct (LON:) owner Mike Ashley, Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe, hedge fund manager Crispin Odey and U.S. media tycoon Rupert Murdoch as representatives of Britain’s “rigged system”.
He proposes nationalisation of rail, mail and water services and much higher taxes on the bankers who have made London the pre-eminent international financial capital.
The first December election in Britain since 1923 will be one of the hardest to call in years. Brexit has variously fatigued, enthused and enraged swathes of voters while eroding loyalties to the two major parties.
A five-year flurry of two historic referendums – on Scottish independence in 2014 and Brexit in 2016 – and two national elections in 2015 and 2017 delivered often unexpected results that ushered in political crises.
UK UNDER THREAT
Johnson, who has failed to deliver on his “do or die” promise that Britain would leave the EU on Oct. 31, is pitching the election as a chance to get Brexit done, and he will accuse Corbyn of threatening the United Kingdom’s future.
Johnson says Labour’s plan to hold another referendum on Britain’s membership of the bloc, and the possibility of Labour agreeing to another referendum on Scottish independence, risk ripping the United Kingdom apart.
“Today should have been the day that Brexit was delivered and we finally left the EU,” Johnson said in pre-prepared remarks provided by his office.
“But, despite the great new deal I agreed with the EU, Jeremy Corbyn refused to allow that to happen – insisting upon more dither, more delay and more uncertainty for families and business.”
Johnson, who was hailed by the U.S. president as Britain’s Donald Trump, will visit a school, hospital and police unit to argue that Britain needs to deliver Brexit so it can move on and focus on investing in public services.
The Conservatives are ahead of Labour by an average of about 10 percentage points in polls this month, indicating a majority in the 650-seat parliament for Johnson, though pollsters admit their models are imperfect with turnout a key variable.