At the Labour Party conference held two days ago, newly–re-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn surprised observers by delivering a powerful speech that resulted in a standing ovation. It was a call for Labour to return to its socialist roots and reject the words of the doomsayers who think that neoliberalism is the way of the future and that Labour is heading to its doom. You can read the full text of his speech and here are some short excerpts.
We meet this year as the largest political party in western Europe with over half a million members campaigning in every community in Britain.
More people have joined our party in the last twenty months than in the previous twenty years. We have more of our fellow citizens in our party than all the others put together.
Some may see that as a threat. But I see it as a vast democratic resource. Our hugely increased membership is part of a movement that can take Labour’s message into every community, to win support for the election of a Labour government. Each and every one of these new members is welcome in our party.
There’s no doubt my election as Labour leader a year ago and re-election this month grew out of a thirst for a new kind of politics, and a conviction that the old way of running the economy and the country, isn’t delivering for more and more people.
It’s not about me of course, or unique to Britain but across Europe, North America and elsewhere, people are fed up with a so-called free market system, that has produced grotesque inequality stagnating living standards for the many calamitous foreign wars without end and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power.
Since the crash of 2008, the demand for an alternative and an end to counter-productive austerity has led to the rise of new movements and parties in one country after another.
In Britain it’s happened in the heart of traditional politics, in the Labour party which is something we should be extremely proud of. It’s exactly what Labour was founded for to be the voice of the many of social justice and progressive change from the bottom up.
But it also means it’s no good harking back to the tired old economic and political fixes of twenty years ago because they won’t work anymore. The old model is broken. We’re in a new era that demands a politics and economics that meets the needs of our own time.
Each of us comes to our socialism from our own experiences.
Mine was shaped by my mum and dad, a teacher and an engineer. Both committed socialists and peace campaigners, my mum’s inspiration was to encourage girls to believe they could achieve anything in their lives.
Although the British political and media establishment has been highly critical of Jeremy Corbyn and even condemned the party members for overwhelmingly voting for him, they could not avoid giving him grudging praise for his speech, which impressed them both in its content and delivery. Here are some excerpts from commentators.
This was a Corbyn a world away from the hesitancy of his speech last year. He joshed with the audience. He connected with the campaigners of Hillsborough. He deployed a talent for comedic pauses and shrugs.
There was Tory-bashing, during which his smooth tone ascended to a growl. There was personal testimony, about his parents and his time spent in Jamaica. Here was a man who doesn’t do normal politics – but this looked very much like it.
But above all there was a message: a repeated rebuttal of the claim that Corbynism, by definition or perhaps design, equals electoral oblivion. I can win; I want to win; I see the need to win, he said. If critics believe that, they may acquiesce yet.
This was easily the most confident Corbyn performance to date, his delivery fluent and strong. Only occasionally did the emphasis stray on to the wrong syllable. Most of the time he looked relaxed in front of the Autocue rather than terrified, as he had this time last year. There was an (admittedly brief) personal passage about his upbringing, a couple of stirring quotations, even something close to a joke. All those appearances before adoring crowds over the summer have clearly helped.
He did that by reminding dissidents of the size of his renewed mandate, of the fact that Labour is now the biggest party in western Europe and by urging them to be a ready for a general election that could come at any moment. (He also warned the bigger beasts that their temporary replacements in the shadow cabinet may not be so temporary after all – that they could be the future.)
He also sought to remind those in the hall of what they had in common, hitting those ideological notes that are more or less uncontroversial. So he played the reliable keys of opposition to grammar schools; rail nationalisation; giving councils the power to borrow to build homes; and investment in manufacturing, engineering and innovation. There were some new policy nuggets that he knew would go down well too, such as an arts pupil premium for lessons in music, dance or painting.
But at the heart of today’s speech Corbyn was making a big new argument, one I haven’t heard from a Labour leader’s speech in my entire working life. In just over a year, the Labour party has gone from a being desiccated husk of worn-down old leftists and elbows-out young Blairites to being a mass movement. At half a million members, it is the biggest party in Europe – at a time when other political parties are dying. To use business terminology, we have witnessed something akin to a reverse takeover of the Labour party. It is incomplete and it is certainly contested, but it is real.
Even if it tops voter concerns, here was no truck with populist, anti-foreigner sentiment, despite the foghorn Brexit vote: no immigration controls, no arbitrary limit on numbers. “It isn’t migrants that drive down wages. It’s exploitative employers.” Quite right.
I am going to show again Jonathan Pie’s wonderful rant about how Corbyn has fought the media and the party establishment and won. Pie is a fictional reporter played by Tom Walker, whose shtick is the conversations he has with the editors in the studio when he is ‘off the air’ and tells them what he really thinks instead of the centrist drivel he is obliged to spout when on the air.