Jeremy Corbyn has lambasted newspapers over claims he helped Communist spies in the 1980s, attacking their owners as “billionaire tax exiles” and warning them “change is coming”.
In a personal video message, the Labour leader hit out at The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Express for printing allegations that he had worked with a Czechoslovakian agent to hand over British secrets.
His angry riposte follows claims by former Czech agent Jan Sarkocy that he was on the country’s payroll during the Cold War.
Corbyn, who earlier on Tuesday made his first public comment on the claims, used the video to hit back at newspaper proprietors who “dodge paying their fair share for our vital public services”.
He said that “we’ve got news for them – change is coming”.
Labour insiders told HuffPost that the party in government would take action on tax dodging, higher taxes on the richest, implement ‘Leveson Two’ on media regulation and review the plurality of newspaper ownership.
The Labour leader ridiculed the allegations against him, saying: “In the last few days, The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have all gone a little bit James Bond.
“They’ve found a former Czechoslovakian spy whose claims are increasingly wild and entirely false.
“He seems to believe I kept him informed about what Margaret Thatcher had for breakfast and says he was responsible for either Live Aid or the Mandela Concert – or maybe both.”
But he warned that the allegations were so serious that it was time he and Labour hit back.
“It’s easy to laugh, but something more serious is happening. Publishing these ridiculous smears that have been refuted by Czech officials shows just how worried the media bosses are by the prospect of a Labour government.
“They’re right to be. Labour will stand up to the powerful and corrupt – and take the side of the many, not the few.
“A free press is essential for democracy and we don’t want to close it down, we want to open it up.”
Corbyn served notice that he intended to tighten up media regulation.
“At the moment, much of our press isn’t very free at all. In fact it’s controlled by billionaire tax exiles, who are determined to dodge paying their fair share for our vital public services.
“The General Election showed the media barons are losing their influence and social media means their bad old habits are becoming less and less relevant.
“But instead of learning these lessons they’re continuing to resort to lies and smears. Their readers – you, all of us – deserve so much better. Well, we’ve got news for them: change is coming.”
Earlier, Corbyn was cheered by businessmen as he hit back at a Daily Mail reporter for asking him to publish any secret file held on him by the Stasi, the East German secret police.
BBC Economics presenter Steph McGovern, who was chairing the event, jokingly asked at the end of the session: “Are you a Czech spy?”
Corbyn replied: “No.”
Sarkocy, who was a member of Czechoslovakia’s Communist secret service Statni Bezpecnost (StB) last week told the Sun that Corbyn was named ‘Agent Cob’ and that he met him in the House of Commons.
The Sun reported that a newly-released archive in the StB’s HQ in Prague included a Sarkocy report that read: “Jeremy CORBYN, Labour MP of the House of Commons of the British Parliament, contact initiated 25.11.1986.
“Followed up to the degree of RS (person of interest) ‘COB’. He has an active supply of information on British intelligence services.”
On Monday night, Corbyn threatened legal action against a Tory MP who had claimed he had “sold British secrets” to spies in Eastern Bloc states.
Tory vice chairman Ben Bradley deleted the tweet after the Labour leader instructed lawyers to purse a libel claim.
However, Security Minister Ben Wallace had not deleted a similar Twitter message that suggested Corbyn had acted like the British spy Kim Philby.
The Labour leader has not denied meeting the agent for tea – but insists he had no idea Sarkocy wasn’t a normal diplomat as he claimed.
BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban revealed on Tuesday that he had talked to former UK intelligence agents who also dismissed the spying claims as ‘nonsense’.
“These claims are a ridiculous smear and entirely false,” his office said on Monday.
“The former Czechoslovak agent Jan Sarkocy’s account of his meetings with Jeremy was false 30 years ago, is false now and has no credibility whatsoever.”