Corbyn plays down Labour splits amid aide’s exit

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Media captionLabour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismisses rumours he will stand down.

Jeremy Corbyn has sought to play down divisions within his top team after one of his closest aides said he would quit and criticised the party’s leadership.

Andrew Fisher’s exit comes after a failed bid to oust deputy leader Tom Watson, as Labour conference begins.

Mr Corbyn said he got on well with both men and Mr Fisher was “extremely distressed” when he wrote a memo saying the leader’s office was “incompetent”.

He said he would serve five years if elected PM, adding: “Why wouldn’t I?”

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, he dismissed talk he could stand down as Labour leader in the next year or so as “wishful thinking”.

He also defended the party’s Brexit policy – to be debated later – amid calls for him to come out unambiguously to remain in the EU rather than sit on the fence.

While most Labour supporters wanted to remain in the EU, he said the party must respect the result of the Brexit referendum and do more to understand why people voted to leave.

Pressed on which side he would back in another referendum which Labour is promising, he said “let’s see” what kind of new deal he was able to negotiate with the EU.

However, he suggested he would ultimately go along with whatever party members decided at a special conference if Labour wins power at the next election.

‘Lack of decency’

Mr Corbyn was dealt a blow on Saturday when it emerged one of his aides, head of policy Andrew Fisher, revealed he will quit his post by the end of the year.

He said he wanted “to spend more time with his young family”, but the Sunday Times claims he warned Mr Corbyn would not win the next general election and criticised the leader’s office “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency”.

Mr Corbyn acknowledged Mr Fisher, who helped write the 2017 manifesto, had expressed concerns about the party’s direction and he had spoken to him “at length” about it.

He said Mr Fisher was “extremely distressed” when he made the comments, suggesting it was the sort of disagreement which happened in many workplaces.

“I think he said that because he was extremely distressed at that point about whatever was going on in discussions in the office at that moment.

“He is a great colleague, he is a great friend. We get along absolutely very well. He has promised whatever happens in the future, we will work together on policy issues.”

Amid continuing fallout from the bid to oust Mr Watson, Mr Corbyn also said he was not told beforehand of Friday’s move by left-wingers on Labour’s ruling body to abolish the role.

The party will now consult on replacing the single role with two deputies – one of whom will be a woman.

Mr Corbyn, who has been at odds with Mr Watson over Brexit, said he got on “absolutely fine” with him and suggested his intervention had “put the issue to bed”.

On the second day of its conference, Labour is unveiling plans to scrap Ofsted and replace it with a new school inspection system.

Mr Corbyn said the regulator was too “assertive” and its system of oversight needed to be more “supportive” of schools and pupils.

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