Jeremy Corbyn has urged Labour to lead “the resistance” to Boris Johnson’s Tory government over the coming year despite its crushing election defeat.
In his New Year message, the party’s leader said it faced tough times ahead after its fourth defeat in a row but its movement remained “very strong”.
He said there was “no other choice” but to continue the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change.
He will stand down once a new leader has been elected early in 2020.
A number of senior Labour politicians have said they are considering entering the race to succeed him, in a contest due to begin in earnest in January.
The early contenders include Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Clive Lewis – while Angela Rayner, Yvette Cooper, Jess Phillips, David Lammy and Ian Lavery could also put themselves forward if they secure enough support.
Most have refrained from direct criticism of Mr Corbyn’s leadership although many of the 59 Labour MPs who lost their seats in the party’s worst electoral performance since 1935, in terms of seats won, have accused him of failing to take personal responsibility.
In his traditional leader’s New Year message, Mr Corbyn makes no direct reference to the election result or his own future, suggesting 2019 had been “quite the year for our country and for our Labour movement”.
While the party is set to be out of power for at least another four years, he said it must continue to make its influence felt and stand up for its values.
Having led Labour so recently to defeat, this message was hardly going to be brimming with optimism.
But Jeremy Corbyn does focus on his legacy as he prepares to step down. He tells his supporters that they have built a movement which is 500,000 strong and that they can form the resistance to Boris Johnson, not just in Parliament but on the streets.
In the new year, Labour members will have to decide whether they want a leader who will stick to that message or whether they want the forthcoming leadership contest to result in a change of direction.
“It won’t be easy,” he said. “But we have built a movement. We are the resistance to Boris Johnson. We will be campaigning every day. We will be on the front line, both in Parliament and on the streets.”
He said Labour’s priorities must be to ensure the NHS remains free to all at the point of use, preventing the climate crisis causing “irreparable damage” at home and abroad and working with “movements and parties seeking social justice and change all over the world”.
“Make no mistake, our movement is very strong… we’re not backed by the press barons, by the billionaires or by the millionaires who work for the billionaires. We’re backed by you. We are by the many, for the many.
“2020 and the years ahead will be tough – no one is saying otherwise. But we’re up for the fight, to protect what we hold dear, and to build to win and to transform. The fight continues. There is no other choice.”
With the contest to succeed him expected to take about three months, Mr Corbyn is set to continue leading the party in Parliament and the country until the spring. The party has no deputy leader, with Tom Watson having stood down at the election.
Mr Johnson, who is currently on holiday in the Caribbean, is also expected to issue a New Year message to the country in the coming days. Meanwhile, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland will be at the “centre of international attention” in 2020.