Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at Labour MPs who quit the party to sit alongside former Tories in the Independent Group.
Speaking at a rally in Anna Soubry’s Broxtowe constituency, he said he was sad some MPs had left, but that he had no intention of changing the policies that delivered the biggest increase in the Labour vote since 1945.
In a campaign-style address, the Labour leader restated a series of policies, such as raising corporation tax to fund free education, and elaborated on the party’s plans to end the gender pay gap, saying that the Labour movement was the greatest force for progressive change the UK had ever known.
The event is likely to be seen as a thinly veiled demand for the MPs that resigned from Labour and the Conservatives this week to hold byelections.
“I’m disappointed that a small number of Labour MPs have decided to leave our party and join forces with disaffected Tories, who say they have no problem with austerity that has plunged thousands into desperate poverty and insecurity,” he said.
“Our programme for change won huge support in the general election because we offered hope, instead of the same old establishment demand for cuts, privatisation and austerity.
“That’s why we now back public ownership of the utilities and railways, why we now oppose tuition fees and corporate giveaways, and why we’re no longer afraid to ask the rich to pay their fair share of tax.”
Paying tribute to the children who went on strike this month in protest against inaction on climate change, Corbyn said that in government he would bring back the “family of local schools” and reverse many of the reforms since 2010 that had led schools run by local authorities to become academies.
“They were condemned by Tory ministers because they said they should have been studying … they should be working, they shouldn’t be doing all that,” he said. “All I simply say to them is ‘thank you for educating all of us that day.”
Corbyn was joined at the rally by some of his key cabinet allies, including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, and the shadow justice minister Gloria De Piero.
Addressing the antisemitism issues within the party, Corbyn said: “I’m proud to lead a party that was the first ever to introduce race relations legislation and also to pass the equality act and the human rights act into the statute book. Antisemitism is unacceptable in any form and in any way whatsoever, and anywhere in our society.”
He went on to criticise the voting records of Soubry and the former Labour MP Chris Leslie. “When the media talk about the bravery of those who walked away, Anna Soubry voted for austerity and said it was a good thing. Almost immediately after leaving Chris Leslie tells us that we should not be ending university fees … and we should be cutting corporation tax and increasing the burden on others,” he said.
Labour’s prospective candidate for the constituency, Greg Marshall, called for a byelection, claiming Corbyn was in Broxtowe more often than Soubry, who now sits with the Independent Group after resigning from the Conservative party this week. She holds a slim majority of 863 votes.
“I say to Anna Soubry, you need to stand aside and do the right thing by the people of Broxtowe,” he said. “You need to call a byelection.”
Soubry was in Nottingham on Saturday for a People’s Vote rally. She said that was where Corbyn should have been and called upon him to “stay true to Labour conference policy” and back calls for a second referendum, rather than “pursuing tribal politics”.