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Labour backtracks on Corbyn's claims party will not lose seats

Published 04/05/2016

Voters will have their first chance to deliver a verdict on Jeremy Corbyn since he took control last September
Voters will have their first chance to deliver a verdict on Jeremy Corbyn since he took control last September

Labour has backed away from Jeremy Corbyn's bold claim that the party was "not going to lose seats" in elections taking place across the UK on Thursday.

A senior source said that the Labour leader had intended to say only that the party was "not in the business of losing seats".

Mr Corbyn's comment at a poster launch in London on Tuesday surprised some experts who have forecast that the party could lose hundreds of council seats in England - and is apparently on course for another difficult night in Scotland and a tough fight in Wales, where devolved governments are up for election.

Thursday's elections will provide the first national test of Mr Corbyn's leadership as Labour critics insist the party must make gains, with former shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher suggesting a benchmark of another 400 seats.

Polls suggest that the only bright moment for the party could be Sadiq Khan ousting Conservatives from City Hall in the race for London Mayor.

Insisting that he would carry on as leader if there was a challenge to his position following the polls, Mr Corbyn told reporters: "We are not going to lose seats, we are looking to gain seats where we can."

But pressed on his comments the following day, the senior Labour source suggested his words had been "misinterpreted".

"I'm saying what he intended to say and what he has said everywhere else," said the source.

"We are not making predictions about seat losses or gains. That's what he said yesterday and will continue to say."

He added: "We are not in the business of losing seats and we will be fighting to win as many as possible tomorrow."

In the final hours of campaigning before the polls open on so-called "Super Thursday", the Labour leader said the Tories needed to find billions to fill a budget black hole and could "no longer be trusted" to protect communities. Schools, hospitals and other public services left "devastated" by "ideological" Conservative cuts face a fresh squeeze on finances, he claimed.

He urged voters to send the Tories a message when they head to the ballot box, warning that the Government needs to find ways to fill a gap of £4.8 billion in funding in 2019 left by the U-turn on personal independence payments and other planned cuts that are yet to be specified.

The shortfall is equivalent to the loss of 2,900 police officers, nearly 20,000 nurses and 18,000 midwives and 16,500 teachers, as well as 3,000 residential social care places for the elderly, according to party analysis.

Labour has called an Opposition Day debate in the Commons to raise plans to scrap NHS bursaries for student nurses, midwives and other health professionals.

Mr Corbyn said: "The Tories have made it clear they don't stand up for people's priorities. Their ideological cuts have devastated public services, leaving the NHS with the worst A&E waiting times since records began, and an unnecessary dispute with junior doctors.

"Rather than tackle rising class sizes in schools or the shortage of teachers, they are now preparing to spend over £1 billion on a top-down reorganisation of schools than nobody wants.

"The systematic dismantling of our public services has meant 4,500 fewer firefighters, 18,000 fewer police and a care system unable to give the support that elderly and disabled people need.

"The Tories' failed economic policies mean there is now a multi-billion black hole to fill in this Parliament. The Tories can no longer be trusted with our communities, so send them a message on May 5: vote Labour."

Polls open on Thursday for S cottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly elections as well as for 124 councils in England and the Greater London Assembly.

Voters will also choose mayors in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Salford, and police and crime commissioners in most areas in England.

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