Jeremy Corbyn pledges to recreate Labour as a mass movement of the 'modern left'

New leader uses appearance to issue rallying call to activists to launch a nationwide campaign to sign up new voters

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to recreate Labour as a mass movement of the “modern left” – abandoning the centre ground and gambling the party’s fortunes on winning over millions of people who don’t vote – in his first conference speech as party leader.

Mr Corbyn used his appearance to issue a rallying call to activists to launch a nationwide campaign to sign up new voters and stop Tory “gerrymandering” of the electoral register which could disenfranchise up to two million people.

But the new leader’s attempt to present his election as a new dawn in Labour politics was overshadowed when it emerged that several passages of his speech were at least four years old and had been previously rejected by his predecessor, Ed Miliband.

Mr Corbyn’s aides insisted that he had permission to use the material, written by the speech-writer Richard Heller, and said he believed the passages “captured perfectly what he wanted to say to the British people”.

Now we have new resources. The power of social media. The power of our huge new membership. Let’s get to it.

Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Heller said he had no idea Mr Corbyn would use his suggestions, which included an attack on the Tory Government for being “made by the few – and paid by the few”. He said the passages had been sent to every Labour leader since Neil Kinnock and were published on his website four years ago after being rejected by Mr Miliband. He added he was “delighted” that Mr Corbyn had chosen to use them.

In stark contrast to previous Labour leaders’ conference speeches, Mr Corybn made little attempt to win over floating voters to the Labour cause. Instead he issued a rallying cry to activists to build a new movement of those who had never taken part in politics before, to campaign against Tory austerity, injustice and discrimination.


Shadow cabinet members had a front row seat to watch their new leader deliver his keynote speech (EPA)

But he risked an early split with his new Shadow Cabinet by insisting that he would push through plans to make Labour back unilateral nuclear disarmament and vote against renewing Trident.

“I’ve made my own position on [the] issue clear,” he said. “I believe I have a mandate from my election on it.”

His reference to the mandate provided by his 60 per cent support in the leadership ballot was a late addition to the 59-minute speech, and did not feature in copies of the text circulated shortly before he took to the stage.

The position was immediately challenged by the backbencher John Mann, who said Mr Corbyn was “entitled to take a different point of view” but added: “I’m sure as leader he will feel obliged to follow the party policy.”

Laying out his stall for his leadership Mr Corbyn said his first priority would be to capitalise on the momentum of his victory to lead a campaign to register new voters before next year’s elections.

“From today our Labour Party starts a nationwide campaign for all our members to work in every town and city, in every university as students start the new term, to get people on the electoral register,” he said.

“But now we have new resources. The power of social media. The power of our huge new membership. Let’s get to it. Get those people on the register to give us those victories but also to get fairness within our society.”

Mr Corbyn also hit back at Tory claims that Labour under his leadership represented a threat to Britain’s economic prosperity, launching a scathing attack on Conservative economic policies.

“The Tories talk about economic and family security being at risk from us, the Labour Party, or perhaps even more particularly from me,” he said. “I say this to them. How dare these people talk about security for families and people in Britain? 

“Where’s the security for families shuttled around the private rented sector on six-month tenancies – with children endlessly having to change schools? 

“Where’s the security for the carers struggling to support older family members as Tory local government cuts destroy social care and take away the help they need?” 

“There’s no security for the 2.8 million households in Britain forced into debt by stagnating wages and the Tory record of the longest fall in living standards since records began.”

59 minutes

The length of Mr Corbyn's speech

Unusually for a conference speech that under previous Labour leaders had tended to focus on domestic issues, Mr Corbyn underlined his commitment to campaigning on international human rights.

He called on David Cameron to intervene in the case of a young Saudi Arabian campaigner who is threatened with beheading and crucifixion for taking part in a demonstration at the age of 17.

He also welcomed the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo Bay, which he said had been brought about by “ordinary people like you and me, standing on cold, draughty streets, for many hours over many years”. 

“I’ve been standing up for human rights, challenging oppressive regimes, for 30 years as a backbench MP,” he told the conference.

“Just because I’ve become the leader of this party, I’m not going to stop standing up on those issues or being that activist.”

He also issued a surprise condemnation of some of his supporters who had used social media to launch “misogynistic” attacks on his opponents during the leadership contest.

“So I say to all activists, whether Labour or not, cut out the personal attacks, the cyber bullying and especially the misogynistic abuse online. I do not believe in personal abuse of any sort. Treat people as you wish to be treated yourself.”

Mr Coybyn’s comments, which led to the biggest standing ovation of the speech, came after his rival Yvette Cooper called for any Labour member found to have carried out cyber bullying to be expelled from the party.