Several passages of Jeremy Corbyn’s keynote speech at the Labour party conference are believed to have been rejected by every Labour leader since Neil Kinnock in the 1980s, it has emerged.
The new Labour leader set out a vision for a “straight talking, honest” and “kinder politics” in the UK in his first address to party delegates as Labour leader and used the speech to reaffirm his opposition to a number of previous Labour policies, such as Trident and austerity.
But it was overshadowed after it was revealed that at least five chunks of the speech were extracts offered to Mr Miliband and four other former Labour leaders by the speechwriting expert Richard Heller. It is not believed that any of the former leaders have used the speech advice offered to them by Mr Heller.
Mr Corbyn’s team confirmed that Neale Coleman, the Labour leader’s head of policy, spoke to the Mr Heller in preparation for the speech, after the Spectator first revealed the similarity between Mr Corbyn’s words today and Mr Heller’s previous suggestions.
Mr Heller has offered Labour leaders since Neil Kinnock in the 1980s advice on how to attack the Tories in a range of speeches. In 2011 he suggested Mr Miliband use a speech titled ‘You don’t have to take what you’re given’ for his speech to the party conference.
Those exact same words were used by Mr Corbyn in his speech today, along with a raft of other quotes – some word for word and others paraphrased – from Mr Heller’s advice to Mr Miliband, which he said would be good for “setting out his basic values”.
Mr Heller said he had sent the passages to Mr Corbyn’s team and said he was “delighted” and “proud” it was used by the Labour leader today, while dismissing claims it was plagiarised as “nonsense”.
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said Mr Heller was “happy” for the extracts to be reused for Mr Corbyn’s first conference speech as Labour leader.
The passage – titled ‘You don’t have to take what you’re given’ – the exact same Mr Corbyn used after consulting with Mr Heller began: “Since the dawn of history in virtually every human society there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing. Some people have property and power, class and capital, status and clout which are denied to the many.”
This was very similar to Mr Heller’s suggested passage of speech offered to Mr Miliband for his 2011 conference address: “Since the dawn of history, in virtually every human society there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing. Some people have property and power, class and capital, status and even sanctity, which are denied to the multitude.”
The suggested passages of speech were published by Mr Heller on his website under the headline ‘A collection of zingers’. It said they were “speaking passages offered to Ed Miliband, without reply.” But were “available to others” if they emailed him.
A Labour party spokesman said: “Heller was consulted and gave permission for his material to be sourced as Jeremy Corbyn felt it captured perfectly what he wanted to say to the British people.”
Mr Heller told the Guardian: “I sent it to Team Corbyn as I have sent it to each and every Labour leader before him. I am very proud of that passage. I had no idea they were going to use it until today, but I am delighted that they have. It is a very fine passage. I sent it by post two weeks ago, to the leader of the opposition’s office.
“I offered it to him as Labour leader, because I felt it was a passage applicable to anyone with the values of the Labour party. I also published it on my website, probably about four years ago. It may look like they took it from there but that isn’t the case and to say it was stolen or plagiarised is nonsense.”
Mr Heller used to work in politics as an adviser to veteran Labour MP Gerald Kauffman and former Labour stalwart Dennis Healey.
Mr Corbyn’s speech was warmly welcomed by Labour delegates. He won several standing ovations as he pledged to “expose the absurd lie” that the Tories are the party of working people, confront the Government over its cosy relationships with authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and his pledge to prioritise social issues such as mental health, housing and parental leave.
The speech was short on policy but his shadow cabinet ministers insisted afterwards that it would have been unrealistic to offer a detailed platform of pledges just two weeks after being elected leader and five years from the next general election.
However by sending a clear message that he had a “huge” mandate to deliver some of his strongest-held views, many of which are opposed by much of his frontbench team, will alarm centrists in the party who are hoping to moderate Mr Corbyn’s radical history.
He said he was determined to oppose the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent when the vote on continuing Trident comes before MPs next year. He insisted he would “make my own position absolutely clear” that the UK should not spend £100bn on renewing Trident, saying he would try to win over the many Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members who disagree with him.
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman stressed later that the 59.5 per cent of people who had voted for him in the leadership contest gave him a mandate to pursue a policy of scrapping Trident because it was one of the most important views he held. The spokesman said the party had nine months to “discuss” changing Labour party policy, which currently remains the same as it was at the general election – a full renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent.