LONDON (AP) — Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn apologized Sunday for this party’s crushing defeat in the British general election but defended his campaign, which failed to resonate with the party’s working-class base, as “one of hope rather than fear.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons in Thursday’s landslide election. Labor took 203 seats, its worst total since 1935.
Corbyn, 70, has pledged to stand down as the decimated party’s leader and the maneuvering to replace him has begun.
“I’m sorry that we came up short and I take my responsibility for it,” Corbyn wrote in a letter published in the left-leaning Sunday Mirror newspaper.
But he also said his party’s ambitious, big-spending policy platform was popular and blamed the British media for its portrayal of Labor. Corbyn was widely criticized for his perceived tolerance of anti-Semitism in his inner circle.
After coming under fire from within his own party in the aftermath of the electoral carnage, Corbyn said he will step down after a “period of reflection.” The process of choosing a replacement will begin early next year, but some have called for Corbyn’s immediate resignation.
“I remain proud of the campaign we fought. I’m proud that no matter how low our opponents went, we refused to join them in the gutter,” Corbyn wrote. “And I’m proud that our message was one of hope, rather than fear.”
At least one potential successor came forward Sunday. Labor lawmaker Lisa Nandy told the BBC she is “seriously thinking about” running to become the party’s next leader.
Corbyn’s policies failed to energize voters weary of more than three years of political wrangling over Britain’s divorce from the European Union. Johnson’s campaign, meanwhile, revolved around three words: His pledge to “get Brexit done.”
Johnson’s 80-seat majority means he is well placed to complete the first part of that Brexit process by pushing through legislation in time for Britain to leave the EU by the Jan. 31 deadline.
Then comes the hard part for his government — completing a comprehensive free trade deal with Brussels by the end of the year. A transition period built into Johnson’s Brexit deal means that Britain will remain closely aligned to Brussels until the end of 2020. But if no trade pact is ready then, the United Kingdom could still face an economically damaging departure from the EU.
Senior Johnson ally Michael Gove declined Sunday to outline the Conservatives party’s detailed plans for the coming week, when the new House of Commons meets for the first time on Tuesday.
“We will have an opportunity to vote on the withdrawal agreement bill in relatively short order, and then we will make sure … that it passes before Jan. 31,” Gove told Sky News.
He said investing in Britain’s cherished National Health Service would be the government’s top domestic priority.
The government’s plans will be laid out next week in a speech by Queen Elizabeth II that is written by Johnson’s government.
One thing that is not on Johnson’s agenda is Scottish independence.
Nicola Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party made strong gains in Thursday’s election, has been pushing hard since then to get U.K. government approval for a second referendum on Scottish independence, something Johnson has ruled out.
Gove was emphatic when asked if Johnson’s government would allow a second referendum five years after Scottish voters rejected independence.
“No,” he told Sky.
Image: British opposition Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, waits for the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. The first handful of results to be declared in Britain’s election are showing a surge in support for to the Conservatives in northern England seats where Labor has long been dominant. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)