Jeremy Corbyn closed the Labour Party conference on Wednesday, with a speech that sounded like a man waiting to become Prime Minister. In a storming address the Labour leader said he could build support by focusing on the “needs and aspirations of middle and lower income voters”.
Corbyn’s concerted pragmatism
He also said that Labour should be ready for an early general election next year and urged colleagues to “end the trench warfare” and take on the Tories.
But many commentators wanted Corbyn to speak about cutting immigration numbers down as an answer to the Brexit vote.
In a very pragmatic way, Corbyn explained that Labour will not make “false promises” on immigration numbers, focusing instead on a new fund for high-migration areas. He also explained the reason why migrants are used as scapegoats by the Theresa May and her party:
“It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS… it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here… filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training… It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis … it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.”
But he also added that the party needed to understand what Brexit really meant and to accept the result of the referendum. But he warned the Tories that Labour will not accept a Brexit deal that will undermine workers’ rights:
“We have made it clear that we will resist a Brexit at the expense of workers’ rights and social justice… we have set out our red lines on employment, environmental and social protection… and on access to the European market.”
Unity, unity, unity
Corbyn also insisted that his party will be a party not only of protest, but also of power. He insisted that Labour had to win power to put labour values into action. He has also recognised that Labour needed to reach outside of its core voters in order to win the next general election.
Labour has an electoral mountain to climb, recognised the Labour leader, but it can win the election if the party is united, insisted Corbyn.
But Corbyn also tried to reach out to his own opposition, and called for the end of the trench warfare. And it was not just a call for unity, it was a call to deliver a Labour government at the next general election, based around 10 pledges that will form the framework of Labour’s platform. Corbyn said he was offering “greater equality of wealth and income, but also of power”.
Among all promises, the Labour leader called for a “real living wage” worth £10 an hour or more, a new National Education Service to be funded by levies on business, a £500 billion National Investment Bank, the renationalisation of railways, one million new homes and a foreign policy with “peace and justice at its heart”. Back-to-work assessments for people claiming disability benefits would be scrapped, he said.
We are all Bill Shankly’s
But Corbyn also said that the pledges were “not the Ten Commandments” and would be open to further consultation, leaving the door open to other wings of the party to put their own input in the “coming Labour manifesto”. He then added in all vibrant call of unity:
“Let us do it… in the spirit of the great Scots-born Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly, who said: “The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal … and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football… that’s how I see life.
We are not all Bill Shankly’s… Each of us comes to our socialism from our own experiences”.
And then finished his speech with a call to arms that was met with loud cheers from the conference hall:
“Everyone here, and every one of our hundreds of thousands of members has something to contribute to our cause. That way we will unite… Build on our policies, take our vision out to a country crying out for change. We are half a million of us, and there will be more… working together to make our country the place it could be.
Conference: united we can shape the future, and build a fairer Britain in a peaceful world.”
Scisco Media’s view
Labour can leave this conference confident that the party has the policies needed to deliver a real alternative. The Labour leader has delivered a speech in which he clearly explained what a Labour government will do to halt rampaging inequality that exists in our society. He also explained a serious plan to invest in our industrial communities and share wealth more fairly, and has showed a determination to defend public services that are under threat with the Tories. But Corbyn has also demonstrated that he was ready to work with the rest of the party in order to win back power.