POLITICS
26/09/2018 13:55 BST | Updated 26/09/2018 21:31 BST

Jeremy Corbyn Speech: Labour Can Only Unite The Country If It Unites Itself - HuffPost Verdict

Labour leader calls for "unity" in party conference speech.

K E Y  P O I N T S

  • Jeremy Corbyn told Labour members the party was now “ready to take charge” but must “focus on what unites us” following a summer marked by divisions over anti-Semitism and Brexit.

  • In his keynote speech to party conference, Corbyn said “as it stands” Labour would vote down Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal. The Labour leader said he would then push for a general election but if one was not granted then “all options are on the table”.

  • But unlike Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, Corbyn did not explicitly say that a referendum with the choice of continued EU membership was one of them.

  • Corbyn said he wanted to “work with Jewish communities to eradicate anti-Semitism, both from our party and wider society”. And pledged “whatever support necessary to ensure the security of Jewish community centres and places of worship”.

  • On the domestic policy front, he used the speech to denounce “greed-is-good capitalism” and outlined his plan change the economy by handing more powers to workers.

  • He has also proposed bringing several industries, such as water, back under public ownership, as well as the railways.

  • He promised a “green jobs revolution” to achieve a 60% reduction in emissions by 2030, which he said could create 400,000 skilled jobs.

  • Corbyn confirmed Labour would make 30 hours a week of free childcare available to all two, three and four-year-olds.

  • In an appeal to older voters, Corbyn said a Labour government would maintain the triple lock on pensions as well as the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes.

  • Corbyn said he now accepted the evidence “now points clearly to the Russian state” as being behind the Salisbury attack.

  • In a surprise move, Corbyn offered the PM Labour’s backing in the Commons on Brexit - but only if she delivered a ‘sensible deal’ that protected worker and environmental rights and ‘includes a customs union and no hard border in Ireland’.

  • Freedom of the press must be protected, Corbyn said. But he accused the media in the UK of using that freedom to “spread lies and half-truths, and to smear the powerless, not take on the powerful”.

S N A P   V E R D I C T  

From HuffPost UK’s Paul Waugh

Unity is strength. That was the main, overarching theme from Jeremy Corbyn as he sought to heal the painful wounds in his party caused by Brexit and anti-semitism. Labour, and Britain, were on “a journey together and can only complete it together”.

The celebratory tone of last year’s conference speech, when the party was riding the wave of a Corbyn surge that deprived May of her Commons majority, was always going to be hard to match.

But the Labour leader was right to confront head-on the fact that his party had been distracted by its own internal divisions in recent months. Admitting that the anti-Semitism row had meant “this summer was tough” for Labour was a signal to his supporters not to dismiss the whole affair as some kind of smear.

Rather than offering yet another apology, he opted to offer concrete help, promising the next Labour government would “guarantee” security funding for Jewish community centres and synagogues. Relations are so poor that it’s unclear if that community would accept the offer, but he may win praise for trying to reach out afresh.

The unity theme was picked up with a call to end “abuse, online and in person”. Yet while the activists loved his attack on the mainstream media, his line that “social media” is “the mass media of the 21st century” could be seen by critics as yet another green light for the trolls and fake news factories.

On Brexit, suspicious Remainers will be pleased that he confirmed that “all options are on the table”, without explicitly mentioning a referendum. His joke, about Keir Starmer managing to get a form of words his party could unite around, was shrewd as it underlined how Labour would seek to build consensus at home and abroad. “Keir, having got agreement yesterday in this conference hall, getting one in Brussels should be a piece of cake.” Heck, there was even an olive branch for Tom Watson.

Still, the whole point of Corbyn and of Corbynism, is that it aims to smash what it sees as the New Labour-Tory consensus. The climate change target, recognition of Palestine, share-grab for workers were all radical moves designed to build on the 2017 manifesto. Echoing a theme from last year, he said “Labour speaks for the new majority” but that claim can only be tested by a general election that many Tories are determined not to hold until 2022.  

And to make his vision a reality, the only majority that matters is a Parliamentary majority. Labour’s political momentum had stalled in recent months, though with no fewer than 104 pauses for applause today, his supporters clearly think he’s back on track. This speech was an admission of a key truth: only by uniting his own tribe can Corbyn persuade the voters to kick out a Tory party that looks even more riven by Brexit. The coming autumn will put that strategy to the test.

K E Y V I D E O