LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused of incoherence and “dancing to the Tory tune” on immigration yesterday after he appeared to change position on the free movement of people at least twice in the space of 12 hours.
Late on Monday night, the press had been told the Labour leader would use a speech to say Labour were not “wedded” to the free movement of people. But by the time that speech came around yesterday afternoon, Corbyn had already distanced himself from that principle in about five different interviews.
Then, when he delivered the speech, the line had changed to: “We’re not wedded to freedom of movement as a point of principle, but I don’t want to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”
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Yesterday was supposed to be the beginning of a campaign to “relaunch brand Corbyn”.
It had started with an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme where Corbyn unexpectedly suggested there should be a maximum pay cap. The pledge reportedly took many of his own advisors by surprise.
“I would like there to be some kind of high earnings cap, quite honestly,” Corbyn told the show. When asked what the maximum someone should be able to earn he replied: “I can’t put a figure on it and I don’t want to at the moment. The point I’m trying to make is that we have the worst levels of income disparity of most of the OECD countries.”
“It’s absolutely f*****g bonkers,” one Labour Party source told the BBC. “He came up with it off the top of his head”.
Corbyn’s former economic advisor Professor Danny Blanchflower wasn’t impressed either, tweeting “Corbyn max wage idea idiotic firms would simply pay workers by giving profit shares”.
During a question and answer session with journalists, when he was asked if he wanted a “firm cap” on salaries, the Labour leader replied: “I think it’s probably better to look at the ratio issue because that indeed would then encourage wage rises lower down and ensure a better sharing of the resources and the profits of any company or organisation.”
A briefing note from Labour said it could see company bosses having pay limited to less than 20 times that of their lowest paid worker if they wanted to bid for government contracts.
The row overshadowed Scottish Labour’s first big campaign event of 2017, with deputy leader Alex Rowley facing more question on immigration and bosses’ pay than on local council politics.
The MSP said the earnings cap was “interesting” but didn’t say if the party in Scotland would support the move. He also said it was important “not to restrict freedom of movement”.
The SNP’s Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins said Corbyn’s shambolic policy would only help Theresa May push towards a hard Brexit.
“The Labour Party is now as incoherent as the Tories on their plans to leave the EU – it is increasingly unclear what they stand for or what relationship they want the UK to have with Europe,” Gethins said.
He added: “By dancing to the Tory tune on freedom of movement instead of providing strong opposition, Labour are helping drag the UK out of the world’s largest single market, and towards a right-wing hard Brexit that would do huge damage to our economy and society.”
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake was just as scathing: “Jeremy Corbyn this morning distanced himself from a speech which he then made. Apart from confirming that, under Corbyn, Labour are an utter shambles, we are no closer to knowing where Labour policy on Europe differs from the Tories.
“And this was only day one of the rebrand.”