Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn concluded the party’s conference – one of the most energised in years – with a stirring speech this afternoon (September 27) that set out what a “Labour government in waiting” would do to transform the lives of ordinary working people as it now stands on the “threshold of power.”
Paying tribute to the Labour party’s origins, he spoke of shop worker and trade unionist Margaret Bondfield who would go on to become the first ever woman to join the British cabinet.
It is this heritage of the Labour party standing as the democratic voice of working people in Parliament that Corbyn said today’s revitalised modern Labour party would once again honour and uphold.
“The kind of democracy that we should be aiming for is one where people have a continuing say in how society is run, how their workplace is run, how their local schools or hospitals are run,” he said.
“It means employees given their voice at work, with unions able to represent them properly, freed of undemocratic fetters on their right to organize,” Corbyn noted, referencing the Tories Trade Union Act which Labour has pledged to repeal.
The Labour leader explained that when it forms a government, it will “rebuild and invest in our economy, with a publicly-owned engine of sustainable growth, driven by national and regional investment banks, to generate good jobs and prosperity in every region and nation.”
He contrasted this forward-looking vision to what the Tories have done.
“The Tory approach to the economy isn’t entrepreneurial. It’s extractive,” he said. “They’re not focused on long-term investment and wealth creation. When you look at what they do rather than what they say it’s all about driving down wages, services and standards, to make as much money as quickly as possible with government not as the servant of the people but of global corporations.”
Turning to the Grenfell Tower disaster, he said the fire was an “indictment not just of decades of failed housing policies and privatisation and the yawning inequality in one of the wealthiest boroughs and cities in the world, it is also a damning indictment of a whole outlook which values council tax refunds for the wealthy above decent provision for all and which has contempt for working class communities.”
Under a Labour government, Corbyn said, decent housing will be a right and rents will be controlled.
“We will insist that every home is fit for human habitation, a proposal this Tory government voted down,” he said.
“Regeneration under a Labour government will be for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators,” he added. “First, people who live on an estate that’s redeveloped must get a home on the same site and the same terms as before.
“No social cleansing, no jacking up rents, no exorbitant ground rents.”
He pledged that a Labour government would reverse Tory austerity – and give public sector workers not only their financial due after years of real-terms pay cuts but also their say.
“Our public servants make the difference every day, between a decent and a threadbare society,” he said.
“Everyone praises them. But it is Labour that values them and is prepared to give them the pay rise they deserve and protect the services they provide.”
On Brexit, Corbyn again focused on the hopes and aspirations of working people.
“Labour is the only party that can bring together those who voted leave and those who backed remain and unite the country for a future beyond Brexit,” he explained. “What matters in the Brexit negotiations is to achieve a settlement that delivers jobs, rights and decent living standards.
He contrasted “a shambolic Tory Brexit driving down standards” to a Labour Brexit – one that “puts jobs first…one that guarantees unimpeded access to the single market and establishes a new co-operative relationship with the EU.
“A Brexit that uses powers returned from Brussels to support a new industrial strategy to upgrade our economy in every region and nation,” he went on to say. “One that puts our economy first not fake immigration targets that fan the flames of fear.
“It isn’t migrants who drive down wages and conditions but the worst bosses in collusion with a Conservative government that never misses a chance to attack trade unions and weaken people’s rights at work,” Corbyn noted, as he pledged that Labour would guarantee the rights of the more than 3m European citizens now resident in the UK.
The Labour leader lambasted Prime Minister Theresa May and the negotiating skills of her team – most recently May failed badly as the US Department of Commerce moved to slap fines on Bombardier despite the prime minister raising the issue with Donald Trump.
“If the special relationship means anything, it must mean that we can say to Washington – that way is the wrong way,” Corbyn argued, highlighting the thousands of jobs now at risk at Bombardier in Northern Ireland.
“A Prime Minister betting our economic future on a deregulated trade deal with the US might want to explain how 220 per cent tariffs are going to boost our exports,” he said.
‘We are the political mainstream’
After Corbyn highlighted many of Labour’s key policies, he described the winning vision that Labour party members, affiliated trade unionists and others have crafted together in a manifesto that inspired millions to vote for the party at the last general election.
He said that collectively they turned things around and redefined what’s considered centre ground in politics – Labour is “now the political mainstream”.
“We need to build a still broader consensus around the priorities we set in the election, making the case for both compassion and collective aspiration,” he said. “This is the real centre of gravity of British politics.”
Describing the people he met on the campaign trail – “struggling single parents, young people held back by lack of opportunity; pensioners anxious about health and social care; public servants trying to keep things together; and low and middle earners, self-employed and employed, facing insecurity and squeezed living standards” – Corbyn said how inspired he was by their hope in real change under Labour.
“Many hadn’t voted before, or not for years past,” he said. “But they put their faith in our party. We offered an antidote to apathy and despair.
“Let everyone understand — we will not let you down. Because we listen to you, because we believe in you,” Corbyn concluded to a rapturous standing ovation. “Labour can and will deliver a Britain for the many not just the few.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey praised Corbyn’s speech, which served as an inspirational bookend to an electrifying conference.
“Jeremy Corbyn spoke to our country,” he said. “He made it clear that nobody will be left behind by a Labour government. This is a profound and welcome contrast to the years of despair and weariness that have accompanied the Tories’ never-ending and worn out austerity.
“But more than this we heard confident and fresh thinking from the Labour leader about how this party will repair our nation but also prepare us for the challenges ahead.
“This is the difference Labour will make,” McCluskey added. “There is a new unity across the country. Workers, industry and communities are hungry for change. They are responding to the Labour Party’s message with hope like I have never before seen.
“Corbyn’s Labour can and will transform our country to make it work for the many not the few. Our party leaves this conference confident, united, invigorated and determined to build a better Britain.
“The tired, distrusted and squabbling Tories should move over. Let Labour give the people of the country a government that really is of the people and for the people.”