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The Beginning of the Modern Left?

Jeremy Corbyn's first speech as leader at the Labour Party Conference

William Cashmore

Naked Politics Blogger 

Waiting outside the door to the South Balcony at The Grand Hotel in Brighton, you can feel an air of static electricity caused by anticipation of the events that will occur in the upcoming hours. I’m about 15 people down from the doors, and the queue is lengthening behind me, Corbyn’s speech is at 2:15pm. It’s only 11:30 am.

Speaking to a few people around me, a few are disgruntled, due to the long waiting time, but everyone is excited. I am nervous however. I’m nervous that Corbyn will not pull this off, it’d be very easy for him to mess it up.

Fast forward to 1:15, and the doors open. Delegates, politicians, and members flood into the hall, and within about half an hour there’s not a seat left. Speaking to someone next to me, a Kendall voter, he talks about this being “a moment of history made before it has even happened”, and he’s right. Whether Corbyn succeeds or not, this will be a moment which we still talk about in ten, twenty, or even fifty years time. That, I should imagine, would explain the nervousness.

In this same conversation we agree that Corbyn needs to do away with the whole “veteran left-winger” media coverage. What he needs to be is something newer than New Labour.

It’s 2:15, after a short speech made by a constituent of Islington North, Corbyn finally walks onstage. Thankfully, he is welcomed with rapturous applause. And even more thankfully, he’s wearing a tie.

The applause lasts for a seemingly huge amount of time and Corbyn himself begins to applaud towards the end. A kind of signal to the tone of the beginning to his speech.

He begins with a very well executed icebreaker, sarcastically quipping how he’s had a “very quiet couple of weeks”. He goes onto cite some of the most ridiculous headlines about him, quoting a headline saying how he “would openly welcome an asteroid wiping out the entire human race”. Then a headline saying how he has “chosen to use a Chairman Mao style bicycle”, or as Corbyn rephrased it “a bicycle”. The headlines are both from The Daily Express, by the way.

After this, Corbyn gets onto the more important matters. He immediately confronts the great opposition that he has been presented to him from the parliamentary Labour Party. He makes it clear that he is open to opposition and he wants to open things up to debate. This is evidently very well received by the Conference and on the whole a good move. It’s now on the table that he is happy for people within his party to disagree with him, but he still urges them to unite for the common cause, getting into government.

He responds to the Tories’ claim that he is a threat to the country’s economic and family security by turning the statement on its head. “Where is the security for families driven away from their children, schools and communities by these welfare cuts… that is the nub of it, Tory economic failure. An economy that works for the few not the many”. A fairly typical counter-Tory argument, but effective and well received nonetheless. It’s a good move, as he is again responding to the media onslaught he has been subjected to.

He goes on to encourage those at conference to use social media as the primary way of spreading the word, possibly in an attempt to dodge the right wing’s monopoly on the mainstream media. In the same way, he encourages people to take things more seriously online, and stop political mudslinging. Essentially, he’s trying to end the age of the Twitterstorm.

This is all his idea of “New Politics” and “a kinder, more caring society” which he has been pushing throughout the speech. Those exact words have been popping up around every five minutes and he’s doing well to hammer them home. So he’s done exactly what he needs to do, he’s created a Modern Left, and the next morning it’s printed on the front page of The Times.

He really needs to finish on a strong message now, and he does. Richard Murphy, the brains behind Corbynomics, has clearly had some kind of influence on Corbyn. He talks about a woman called TINA (that’s actually an acronym for ‘There is no alternative’). Tina is what Murphy calls the attitude that the way our economy must be is that the working classes must accept their position in society. This is what Corbyn speaks out against at the end of his speech.

“Labour is the voice that says to the many at home and abroad that you don’t have to take what you’re given. Labour says you may be born poor but you don’t have to stay poor.”

This final message is what really rounds up his speech, and is bringing back the title of “the party of the people” to Labour.

The final round of applause and standing ovations is expected, but continues for even longer than the first. Corbyn has succeeded in everything he needed to do, he has proven himself as a speaker, he has begun the rebranding of Labour, and he has firmly responded to his opposition. The coming months now hold what will happen to Corbyn’s Labour. But if the leader keeps it up, I now feel firmly optimistic.

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