1. JEZ KAPITAL
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Jeremy Corbyn’s big day at the Labour conference. The overnight briefing to us hacks focused on two big, related themes: an attack on ‘greed-is-good’ capitalism, complete with a swipe at New Labour as well as the Tories, and a radical new pledge on green jobs. Although it may seem a stretch to link wind turbines with the 10th anniversary of the financial crash, Corbyn strategists want to connect them to show how a Jez-led government would end quick-buck economics and rebuild Britain for the long-term. It’s about economic and environmental sustainability.
The line that leapt out was the one that sounded very much like a criticism of not just Gordon Gecko, but Gordon Brown. “The political and corporate establishment strained every sinew to bail out and prop up the system that led to the crash in the first place,” he’ll say. Brown himself has admitted some mistakes with light touch regulation of the City in the run up to the 2008 crisis, but Corbyn’s phrasing suggests that the Labour PM’s much-lauded handling of the bailouts was too generous to the bankers. Indeed one aide told us: “The issue was about how that bailout was carried out… The way it was done, even more than America than here but here as well, led to greater inequality in an already unequal economic and financial system.” The criticism is obviously directed at George Osborne, but it’s unavoidable that it includes Brown too, given he was the ‘political establishment’ in power in 2008.
As for the green policies, I said in yesterday’s WaughZone that it looked like the environment would be a huge missed opportunity for Labour this week. Rebecca Long-Bailey had a big pledge to cut UK emissions to zero by 2050, a major announcement but one that the party media planners didn’t really trumpet properly because they wanted Tuesday to be ‘Brexit Day’ (it was, but in ways they’d not anticipated). Corbyn has made up for that with a new pledge to create 400,000 green jobs as the party builds more onshore and offshore wind, insulates millions of homes and puts a solar panel on every ‘viable’ roof in the UK. This will take 12 years and cover at least two terms of a Labour government, aides stressed. The detail of just how the party will get to its targets is still unclear.
Greenpeace praised Corbyn overnight, but added that Labour policies to tackle ocean plastic pollution “are currently behind the Government”. On speeding up the rollout of cleaner electric vehicles, Labour sometimes sounds behind the curve too. I wonder too if Gordon Brown will want to remind Team Corbyn that he once pledged an environmental energy revolution as Prime Minister. In a speech in 2009, guess how many new green jobs he promised? Yep, 400,000 of them. And in eight years, not 12.
2. BREX THERAPY
Most standing ovations at party conferences either done by rote (it’s X, we have to get on our feet) or sparked instantly (by a speaker touching a particular policy g-spot). The ovation for Keir Starmer yesterday was something else, a delayed reaction that reflected both the surprise of the audience and their relief that a Shadow Cabinet minister had at last publicly uttered the R-word: ‘Remain’. Cynics will say that PeoplesVote activists whipped up the crowd (a bit like Iain Duncan Smith’s aides stood up in the dying days of his leadership, desperately trying to prompt Tory members to follow them). Yet the roar of approval for Starmer looked genuine – and he looked genuinely stunned in response.
Some senior Corbyn allies were certainly stunned as the Shadow Brexit Secretary added a key line to his speech (all frontbench speeches have to be cleared by the leadership) at the last minute. Starmer stuck to the script by saying if Labour needs to break the Parliamentary impasse, “our options must include campaigning for a public vote”. But he added the killer rider “and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.” It was those nine extra words that got them on their feet. It felt like a mass group therapy session for people who have longed for their frontbench to yell that Brexit is irredeemably awful but were too afraid to say it in public.
Note that Starmer didn’t have an autocue yesterday. He’s more comfortable doing what he did as a lawyer in the courtroom, speaking from notes in front of him. And that allows last minute scribbled additions. In TV interviews, Jeremy Corbyn had to agree with Starmer that Remain had not been ruled out by the party’s approved Brexit motion. No wonder Labour Leave MP Graham Stringer sounded unhappy about Starmer on Today: “Seeing him trying to unpick our manifesto was a bit of an embarrassment.” Stringer and others will certainly be worried by Starmer and Emily Thornberry hinting that an extension to Article 50 - aka delaying Brexit Day beyond next March - may be needed.
Meanwhile over the other side of the Atlantic, the PM has been talking to hacks about Brexit scenarios and how they play out in both Parliament and Brussels. Tory backbencher Mark Francois yesterday warned May explicitly (on Radio 4’s World at One) that he and the European Research Group wanted a Canada-style deal and if she didn’t ‘pivot’ towards one they would vote down Chequers. The PM ain’t for budging though. Asked directly by reporters whether no deal would be better than a free trade agreement like Canada’s (clever question that), May duly obliged and kinda said ‘yes’: “I’ve always said no deal is better than a bad deal, and I think a bad deal, for example, would be something that broke up the United Kingdom.” As ever, it comes down to that Irish border conundrum.
3. THE WORKERS ARE REVOLTING
The best thing about party conferences are of course the unscripted moments in the hall and on the fringe. Last night, Crewe MP Laura Smith (who has clashed with the PM a few times in the Commons chamber), told The World Transformed festival: “If we can’t get a general election, we should unite with our comrades in the trade union movement and bring an end to the government with a General Strike”. She won a storming standing ovation (a g-spot one), which included Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon. Of course, John McDonnell used to advocate such extra-Parliamentary revolution on a weekly basis - but that was before he became the sober-suited Shadow Chancellor he is today.
However, will the workers in the defence industry revolt over the other unscripted moment that emerged overnight? Shadow Peace Minister (a new frontbench title created under JC) Fabian Hamilton revealed to the Yorkshire post that he was drafting a defence diversification plan for that would pave the way for scrapping Trident nuclear weapons. The 25-page document talks about retraining highly skilled defence engineers in areas like health tech, transport and education (I’m guessing wind turbine engines is in there too). Asked if this would be enough to change the minds of the trade unions who currently block any policy change, Hamilton said: “I sincerely hope so. I have always said party policy says we should renew Trident but I say we should scrap it. That is also the view of the leader of the party.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Angela Rayner and Jonathan Ashworth (seen by some as a possible ‘dream ticket’ for future leader and Chancellor, you heard it here first) belt out ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ at the Mirror party.
The issue of trans rights is very much a live one in Labour, with both sides very passionate. One feminist fringe on Sunday saw a trans woman leave in tears because of the tone of the debate. Last night, our Rachel Wearmouth was at another fringe hosted by feminists (the issue is so sensitive that such events are often not widely publicised). One Labour activist warned the party leadership to ‘ignore us at your peril’. Watch for our story up soon.Meanwhile, The Times reports on a billboard company pulling down a feminist poster put up in Liverpool that read: “Woman, women, noun, adult human female.” A male NHS doctor complained the company was complicit “in the spread of transphobic hate speech”.
5. UN FUNNY BUSINESS
More than anything else, Donald Trump hates getting laughed at. So perhaps the United Nations General Assembly knew exactly what it was doing when it responded to the start of his big speech with collective chuckling and titters. To be fair he had just claimed that “in just two years my administration has accomplished more than almost any other administration in the history of our country”. He paused then took the magnanimous approach. “Didn’t expect that reaction but that’s OK.” Meanwhile, he railed against Iran. But let’s not forget he railed against North Korea last year and now is expecting his second personal summit with its dictator leader.
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