Daily catch-up: Corbyn's speech – straight talking, honest politics, copy and paste

It was a speech that showed leadership all right: Corbyn has set out on his long march and he expects swing voters to follow him

John Rentoul
Wednesday 30 September 2015 08:56 BST
Jeremy Corbyn: do they mean me?
Jeremy Corbyn: do they mean me? (EPA)

He went for the claptrap option, then. I wrote on Sunday about Jeremy Corbyn's problem with his big speech, wondering whether he would give his supporters in the hall the clap lines they wanted, or whether he would try to build a bridge between their views and those of the eight million swing voters who might vote Labour but aren't currently intending to.

He told his anti-capitalist fan-people what they wanted to hear, and made no concessions to the views of people who want to vote Labour but felt that they could not do so in May. It was leadership all right. Don't believe all that stuff about a new politics, an open and listening style of leader who doesn't impose his views. The only reason he didn't impose his views on Trident, for example, was that Unite decided not to back him. He set out his views and he expects floating voters to be so inspired that they will rally to him.

He didn't forget to mention immigration and the deficit, he left them out on purpose (the text is here). The only immigrants he mentioned were refugees, and the only deficit he mentioned was the balance of payments deficit, which was a nice 1970s touch. (My What He Said And What He Meant for today's Independent.)

Technically, it wasn't a good speech. He kept misreading the autocue and getting the word stresses wrong. This is of course evidence of his charming unspun authenticity. The only remotely effective piece of oratory, a bit of sub-Marxist tub-thumpery ("Since the dawn of history..."), turned out to have been published by Richard Heller, Denis Healey's former adviser, four years ago. “You don’t have to take what you’re given,” Corbyn told delegates. But if it fits with your world-view, you take it anyway: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V. Heller had offered it to Corbyn, so it was no big deal, but equally it is not quite the unspun authenticity he was selling. Well done Alex Massie for spotting it.

Much of the speech was an unstructured list, and several assertions in it were factually incorrect. He said Trident accounted for a quarter of our defence budget (it is about 5 per cent); he said council-house building "can pay for itself" (not actually in the text: he also said it would "make the taxpayer a profit"); and he said Britain is at the bottom of the international investment league table, with which Full Fact disagrees.

But it was an effective speech, in the hall. His speaking style and calm manner might even be effective with some people outside the hall. He looks different from most politicians. But I disagree with the substance. I think it would be a mistake to get rid of Trident and to use the British military simply for fighting diseases rather than war (he praised British soldiers for their work in the ebola crisis in Sierra Leone). Above all, I disagree with his opposition to capitalism.

He tried to soften it a bit with some stuff about the self-employed, but as Peter Kellner reminds us in the New Statesman, he and John McDonnell, his shadow chancellor, want to overthrow capitalism:

In the short term, Corbyn will doubtless compromise on his policy agenda, in order to prevent an immediate revolt by more moderate Labour MPs. We should not be fooled. He is a principled socialist. His long-term aims remain. He is a leopard whose spots have never changed, and never will. In a way, that is to Corbyn’s credit. Throughout his political life he has held to a particular view of how to achieve prosperity. He thinks the best way to build a good society is for workers and elected politicians, not company shareholders, to take the big decisions in the business world.

I think that is wrong, and that the Labour Party should have nothing to do with it.

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