Jeremy Corbyn stood up today in front of Labour Party members for his third conference speech as Labour leader.
Just under 6,000 words and 75 minutes later a visibly fired up Corbyn told members that Labour were “on the threshold of power” and the true “government-in-waiting”. Looking the most comfortable we have seen him on stage and in front of the cameras, the Labour leader delivered a broad ranging lecture on topics from housing to Palestine, utilities to education. The speech was, as expected, bold and unashamedly radical.
Corbyn had been spotted practicing in the conference hall every night this week after closing time with Seumas Milne and a few other select aides, making sure that delivery and tone was ready for today’s announcements.
His speech came amid an anti-Semitism row in the party. This was hardly aided by Corbyn’s snubbing of the Labour Friends of Israel fringe last night. The deputising Emily Thornberry telling attendees Corbyn had locked himself away to focus on his speech rather than attend fringes the night before his big day… Only for the leader to be spotted at both the Unite and Daily Mirror parties.
Another debate brewing within the party has been that of Brexit. Corbyn touched on the subject in his speech accusing Conservative ministers of “bungling” talks with the EU and, in a clear attempt to position himself as the person who could lead Britain through negotiations, he told the Government to “pull yourselves together or make way” for Labour.
Still, perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the attack on Tory Brexit strategy, Corbyn remained relatively vague on his own party’s approach, describing how he was “ready to build a new and progressive relationship with Europe”. Though he did confirm the party’s commitment to keep Britain in the customs union and single market for the longevity of the transition period, whatever that may be.
Away from fighting the “Maybot”, Corbyn also pledged to fight the rise of actual robots. He suggested the increased use of artificial intelligence can create “a new settlement between work and leisure”, however was quick to note that would only be the case if was “planned and managed properly.”
Corbyn tied this into yesterday’s policy announcement of a new progressive cradle-to-grave National Education Service, which would see free vocational training in colleges and driving a new high-skilled economy.
Housing was another key point that a significant portion of the speech was dedicated to. Grenfell and the “failed and broken” system that surrounded the tragedy was addressed, with a promise of a new social housing policy report as well as further policies on social housing such as a tax and a “use it or lose it” approach to undeveloped land and promises to control rent.
After an asserted condemnation of Donald Trump, calling the President’s recent speech at the UN “disturbing” and his threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement “worrying”, Corbyn finally began to draw his speech to a close.
He did so by claiming that the UK was in a new consensus, with politics catching up with the 2008 economic crash. He was keen to suggest that the centre ground of politics in the country had shifted leftwards and that Labour were now the political mainstream.
Interestingly and perhaps poignantly, MPs were not guaranteed a seat in the conference hall for the speech, as Ilford South MP Mike Gapes tweeted earlier. A nod to the fact Corbyn now feels he no longer has to pander to his PLP for support and can go it alone with the ordinary members of the party without fear of an internal coup from the parliamentary party that he leads.
It was a relatively textbook Corbyn speech. An attack on the Tories, followed by an attack on the “traditional” media, interspersed with socialist rhetoric and policies that the polls show, do tend to resonate with the public. Some moments were little awkward and cringe-worthy, some were genuinely moving and emotional – in particular the sections on Grenfell Tower and the intolerable abuse of Diane Abbott during the election.
This is the new normal for the Labour Party. The Corbyn flock continues to march on, with their adoration only multiplied by speeches of this nature. Corbyn will see this conference and this speech as an undeniable success. But with the underlying tensions of Brexit, anti-Semitism and frankly stark divide over the direction of the party, particularly noticeable behind-the-scenes at this conference, whether this perceived stability can last, remains to be seen.
Authored by: Harry Goodwin