The Labour conference speech I would give if I were in Jeremy Corbyn’s shoes...

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The Independent Online

Comrades! It’s been a while since a leader of this party began a conference speech like that – and I do so proudly today. 

And since I am talking not just to those of you in this hall, I take pride in addressing everyone watching and listening across the country as comrades, too. The dictionary definition of comrade, after all, includes those who share your interests. And while we may disagree about how to bring it about, almost all of us, of whatever political vision, share an interest in making this a better country than it is today. Our stories are different, as President Obama said in his 2008 victory speech, but our destiny is shared.

I say almost all because there are a few whose interests begin and end with their own vested interests. I’ve been reading about a strange character purporting to be me in their newspapers. According to The Daily Telegraph, I’m a crazed paranoiac who believes in the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist’s old friend, the “New World Order”. Buried almost too deep in that report to notice was a reference to the very thing I was responding to in the ancient article the paper dug up. “New World Order” was a phrase used in 1990 by that celebrated radical and former CIA director, the elder President Bush. 

The Mail titles have portrayed me as an extremist maniac whose policies would bring on the apocalypse, with the streets aflame and Premier League football cancelled. And, last week, The Sun ran a story about me being investigated for expenses fraud. It was about an oversight in filing general election expenses in 1979, as an election agent, totalling £33.44. Startlingly enough, police investigation found no grounds for a criminal prosecution.

I wouldn’t dream of complaining about that when it was so thoughtful of Rupert Murdoch, who knows a bit more than me about criminal prosecution, to highlight the need for absolute propriety in public life. But I do want to talk about why he and other proprietors are so desperate to demonise me. 

What is it about a Labour leader seriously committed to collecting every last penny of personal and corporate tax that first repelled these multi-billionaire tax-shirkers, one might ask.

These men and their newspapers will go far beyond the outer limits of fair commen to destroy my leadership, to strangle in the cradle the surge of passion and political engagement that brought it about, and which offers such hope for the future. On their behalfs, their employees will twist every fact they can unearth from every speech I ever gave, and every article I ever wrote, to misrepresent me. They will paint me as a friend of our enemies and the useful idiot of dictators, forgetting that, when John Major’s government was extending trade guarantees to Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld was posing with him for the front page of Baghdad Gazette, I was implacably opposed to his tyranny.

They will distort the truth to represent me as something more sinister than a dangerous extremist. Just as with the Daily Mail’s attack on Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph – and by implication Ed himself – as “the man who hated Britain”, they want people to see me as less inherently British than the readers of their papers have every right to expect of a potential Prime Minister.

So today I want to talk about what being British means to me. Being British means having the right to sing the anthem and to stand respectfully silent while others sing it, to be a monarchist and not to be a monarchist – and it means having the democratic humility to accept that, if most citizens wish also to be subjects, their wishes are to be respected.

Nothing could be less British than dogmatically imposing a minority belief on an unwilling majority, whether from the bar of the House of Commons or with the unaccountable power of partisan newspapers. The British way is to persuade with argument, and to accept the failure to do so with cheerful good grace.

Britishness was once synonymous with fair play, and I want to make it so again. I want fair play in housing, so that our young can afford to buy or rent homes. 

What is less British than property prices wildly inflated by foreign nationals buying as an investment, and sitting indefinitely on empty houses that ought to be British homes? Being British means caring about the lives of British troops and for the victims of our military adventurism. Nothing could be less British than slavishly following the drumbeat of war, whether the drummer is an American president or an Australian-born naturalised American such as Rupert Murdoch, who argued for war in Iraq because it would lower the price of oil and help business. 

What could be less British than turning our backs on refugees whose lives have been wrecked by the aftershocks of wars in which we should have taken no part?

To be British is to appreciate that real patriotism is quiet and reflective. The true love of country is understated and dignified, and could never come at the cost of our humanity towards the peoples of other countries. 

Never shouty or self-righteous, never callously glorying in slaughter, it demands respectful acceptance of our differences and the desire to resolve them in friendship. To be British is to be inherently suspicious of the shrill false patriotism that screeches “traitor” at anyone with different beliefs; that takes refuge in Orwellian doublethink to claim that the way to liberate the poor from poverty is to make them poorer.

And that manipulates power in its own financial interests by inciting division between people who, because at heart they share an interest in creating a better country, are comrades.

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