The leader’s speech at the Labour Conference shows Jeremy Corbyn has a firm grip on the party, and is staying the course on his policy direction
Three years ago, when people wrote off Jeremy Corybn as a temporary sideshow for the Labour leadership, they got it wrong. His speech in Liverpool yesterday shows his party faithful adore him and his message, making his leadership seem more secure than ever.
But even though the speech was packed with policy (actually resembling a pre-election leader’s speech) there isn’t much new in general tone and direction, except perhaps confidence. This is the case even with the interesting development on Labour’s Brexit policy; given its complexity and ambiguity, it’s perhaps not surprising the Shadow Cabinet itself cannot quite keep up-to-speed on their collective view on the issue.
The usual commitment to a “fairer society under Labour” was vocally on show in the speech, as well as standard attacks on “austerity under the Tories”. The time-honoured trigger words of ‘donors’ and ‘big business’ in reference to the Conservatives also met with rapturous applause – Corbyn played very effectively to his strengths here. His Labour Party believe the only ‘winners’ in recent years have been the rich and ‘the party of the rich’, aka the Tories. This populist message demonstrates it is business as usual in thematic and rhetorical policy terms for Labour, and that it’s increasingly inseparable from the body of Corbyn’s leadership. Corbyn is Labour and Labour is Corbyn.
Knowing where his broader support lies, he has continued his theme of a very notable commitment to young people in society. This can be seen in his £20 million ‘renters union’ plan for landlord disputes, obviously of appeal to young renters unable to get on the housing ladder. Older people weren’t left out though, with promises of a ‘triple-lock’ on pensions, free bus passes and a health service which serves their needs, as opposed to what he sees as Tory neglect via austerity.
Aside from some passionate repair work on antisemitism, some of the highlights from his speech include his vision for the “greatest house-building project in half a century”, 400,000 green-friendly jobs, profit shares for workers, workers on company boards and – with populism running strong – £3,000 annual levies on second homes and stopping tax cuts for the wealthy. All red meet for his supporters. Further detail on house-building was lacking in the speech. It’s likely that more concrete details will trickle out with relative speed as Labour is seemingly excited about a possible General Election. They smell weakness in Theresa May’s administration and the difficult process of Brexit with the clock ticking fast for March next year.
With a beleaguered Tory Government about to go to their own conference this weekend, Corbyn’s assured performance and unchanging core message about a fairer society, backed up by general policy commitments, poses a challenge. If firming up his leadership position was his core objective, he’s achieved it. Now he just needs to see if the Tories stumble over their Brexit angst in the coming days in Birmingham, or whether they keep it together and march on.