Five Things We Learned From Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 Labour Conference Speech


There were attempts at conciliation, not least his admission that “we all have lessons to learn and a responsibility to do things better and work together more effectively…I will lead in learning those lessons”. There was the thanks to ‘all the Labour party staff’, some of whom have felt under siege from his supporters this summer, not least over claims of a ‘rigged purge’ (copyright: JMcDonnell).  He even mentioned ending the online abuse and anti-semitism that had scarred the leadership battle.

But buoyed by his second landslide, Corbyn had more than a few warnings for the PLP. There was the left jab about the leadership contest: “I hope we don’t make a habit of it.” There was the uppercut on deselection of MPs, with a telling line about the new mass membership: “Some may see that as a threat. But I see it as a vast democratic resource.” Was the plea for unity a rope-a-dope act, or was this just him stamping his new authority as leader?

Despite talk of an inclusive reshuffle, he won one of many ovations for praising the MPs who helped him get a Shadow Cabinet together after the ‘coup’. “They didn’t seek office, but they stepped up when their party and in fact the country needed them to serve..they are our future”. I’m guessing he meant Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey being the future, rather than Kelvin Hopkins and Paul Flynn, but anything is possible.

And there was his claim that ‘we are reuniting the Labour family’ by having leftwing unions like the Fire Brigades Union back in the party. “Each and every one” of the new members, including those previously barred (like Mark Serwotka), was welcome.

Corbyn often uses the word ‘we’ when asked for his own opinion in interviews. It’s not so much false modesty or even humility, as an expression of the collective. “We are half a million of us, and there will be more, working together to make our country the place it could be,” he said.

Labour MPs may say that his ‘we’ consists of party members, rather than voters. And they fear that he means only the loyal we. I saw a small, but co-ordinated group of delegates in the hall today refuse to join the ovation. Many Labour MPs had left Liverpool early to avoid being ‘vox-popped’ by eager TV cameras.

Yet there is something in his line that the Corbyn revolution is not about him. “It’s not about me of course, or unique to Britain,” he said. “Across Europe, North America and elsewhere, people are fed up with a so-called free market system, that has produced grotesque inequality stagnating living standards for the many calamitous foreign wars without end and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power… Since the crash of 2008, the demand for an alternative and an end to counter-productive austerity has led to the rise of new movements and parties in one country after another.”

Others will point out that while there is obvious discontent with the status quo, Britain didn’t exactly rush to the polls to defeat austerity in the 2015 general election. In fact, as Lisa Nandy put it to me this week, many voters backed the Tories “not despite austerity but because of it”.

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