BRIGHTON — Jeremy Corbyn today set out a radical programme for government at the end of the Labour party conference in Brighton.
The Labour leader promised to move the centre ground in British politics to the left and said he is “ready for government”.
So what did we learn from the Labour leader’s speech and what does it tell us about the state of the party and what we can expect from a potential Corbyn government?
Here’s six things Corbyn’s speech showed us.
Corbyn has won the battle for the soul of the Labour party
The last two Labour conferences were fractious affairs dominated by widespread party infighting, acrimony and more than a whiff of outright chaos. This week, by contrast, has almost felt like a victory rally with Corbyn’s backers dominating proceedings throughout. Attempts by the leadership to push through changes to the party’s leadership structure were unanimously successful as what is left of the opposition to the Labour leader faded away. Two of Corbyn’s biggest critics in the party, Deputy Leader Tom Watson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, both publicly backed their leader in their speeches. Watson’s retreat, from his former position of seeking to oust Corbyn, was particularly remarkable. If you want to know what political surrender looks like, then look no further than this footage of him singing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” from the conference stage. The images were particularly galling for some Corbyn critics. “For God’s sake have some self-respect,” one former ally of Watson said upon seeing the footage.
Corbyn’s victory over his Labour critics was more apparent than ever during Corbyn’s speech where he delivered a confident and fluent speech, a long distance away from more faltering performances in previous years.
The left has professionalised
The pro-Corbyn group Momentum was once dismissed by Tom Watson as a “rabble” but they have since become a highly professional operation. Their fringe events were heavily oversubscribed, well-organised and the group used their smartphone app to successfully marshall their supporters to push through key changes to Labour’s constitution.
The operation around Corbyn, which was once widely derided as a shambles, has gone through a similar professionalisation, with the media team now highly effective and Corbyn’s media appearance much improved. Corbyn, who was spotted practising on the stage late into Tuesday evening, has undergone a similar professionalisation. “The Labour campaign machine is primed and ready to roll,” Corbyn told his party conference. The evidence from this week’s conference is that this isn’t just bluff.
Corbyn won’t be heading to the centre
For some in the party, their unexpectedly good performance in the general election was a sign that Corbyn’s left-wing agenda has widespread appeal. For others, Labour’s third defeat in a row was merely another sign that the party can only win from the centre. Corbyn’s speech today, and the radical agenda it contained, is a sign that the former lesson is the one he has decided to take from the election result. For those around the Labour leader, all the evidence from social democratic parties in Europe is that centrist politics is failing across the West and only a radical populist agenda is able to win majority support.
“The political centre of gravity isn’t fixed or unmovable, nor is it where the establishment pundits like to think it is,” Corbyn said today, adding that “we are now the mainstream”.
He remains obsessed by the media
The Labour leader may feel confident about his chances of winning the next election, but that confidence does not yet extend to feeling relaxed about the continued criticism he still receives from elements of the media. Corbyn devoted a whole section of his speech to having yet another pop at the “press barons” and their failure to swing the last general election for Theresa May. In particular, he singled out the Daily Mail for their election coverage, but the speech had the effect of lumping all media outlets together as “campaigning” against him. Coming in the same week as the BBC felt forced to have bodyguards accompany political editor Laura Kuenssberg around conference, this section seemed unnecessary and irresponsible. Corbyn would do well to follow his own mantra of not dishing out abuse and ditch the Trump-style media bashing for good.
Corbyn really does believe he will be prime minister
Jeremy Corbyn was famously reluctant to run for Labour leader and has throughout his leadership often struggled to answer questions about whether he expects, or even wants, to become Labour leader. The experience of the last general election appears to have removed that self-doubt. Whatever you think of Corbyn’s speech and the agenda he set out today, this was the speech of a man who expects to be entering Downing Street in the coming months or years. At previous Labour conferences, such a prospect seemed so distant as to be ludicrous, but with Labour now ahead in the polls and the government increasingly in turmoil over Brexit, that prospect now looks more real than ever before.
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