LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn chose Leamington for one of his first whistlestop general election campaign trail visits – and was quickly whisked away to head north without facing media questions.
He gave a 15-minute speech in front of national TV cameras and a 300-strong throng of supporters from the steps of the town hall. It was in the shadow of Queen Victoria’s statue, perhaps a symbol of an establishment order he has for much of his lifetime fought against.
Notable by its absence was one powerful single word which will characterise this election – ‘Brexit’.
His speech did however signal that he and Labour – as long as he is leader anyway – will fight on their own traditional territory, and not on Prime Minister Theresa May’s marked turf. Notably, public services including the NHS and schools, domestic tax and spend polices, investing in the economy, and pensions.
His speech gave some insight into what his manifesto will contain – a manifesto which party colleagues have indicated should overwhelmingly be his and his alone.
On future relations with the European Union and the world, he called in one short sentence for “tariff free trade access” before quickly moving to Labour’s traditional position on fighting ‘injustice and inequality’.
It meant the pro-immigration leader of the opposition was not scrutinised on how such free trade could be protected without restrictions on freedom of movement – such restrictions that his Brexit shadow minister Sir Keir Starmer has indicated could result from last year’s EU Referendum for those who do not specifically come for a designated job.
His speech listed areas for likely key manifesto pledges, starting with his ‘number one priority’ of tackling homelessness and establishing a national housebuilding programme based on need, not profit.
The so-called ‘triple lock’ protection for pensions would remain.
Controversial cuts and saving programmes drafted by NHS regions including Coventry and Warwickshire – called the Sustainability and Transformation Programmes (STPs) – would be suspended pending a review under a Labour government, he added.
There would be free school meals for “every child in every school eating together” while the dilemma facing school heads of choosing “which teachers and assistant teachers to sack” would be addresed.
On the economy, as well as investment on infrastructure to create jobs, he insisted Labour’s new pledge – to raise taxes only for those earning above £80,000 – WAS costed and achievable.
It comes amid criticism, including from Professor Richard Murphy of City University in London, that it would only raise additional revenues for a few billion of extra spending, and would largely restrict Labour to current government spending.
Again, Mr Corbyn was not in Leamington to answer questions on such matters. His entourage within minutes had walked him through the cameras, straight into the town hall, and then straight out of a side door, into his car.
Neither could we ask why he had chosen to come to the Warwick and Leamington constituency – after a stop in Worcester – where Tory incumbent Chris White increased his lead in 2015.
Labour would require a 6.5 per cent swing here to win it back for the first time since former home office minister James Plaskitt lost to Mr White in 2010.
The seat is a lowly 68th on a list of national Labour target seats.
One possible reason is that there was a strong ‘Remain’ vote of 58 per cent here in the EU referendum – not that Mr Corbyn or Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for the seat, Matt Western, seemed keen to elaborate on.
Asked if the local Remain vote was one reason for Mr Corbyn’s visit, Mr Western – who became a Warwickshire county councillor last week and could not have anticipated Mrs May’s snap election announcement – deflected our question onto Mr Corbyn’s favoured territory of the homelessness, and rebuilding the economy.
Mr Corbyn told the assembled Labour throng: “Winning in Warwick and Leamington gives us a chance of finding a Labour government that will do things very differently in this country.”
Mr Western told us: “It is a fantastic endorsement to have a leader of the opposition come and talk to us. We’re a relatively small seat and marginal – not a close marginal,” he accepted.