Jeremy Corbyn’s first election campaign speech: What he said and what he really meant

Our Chief Political Commentator provides the Labour leader’s internal monologue accompanying his speech at Church House in London

John Rentoul
Thursday 20 April 2017 17:20 BST
It is the establishment versus the people, the Labour leader said in his first election campaign speech
It is the establishment versus the people, the Labour leader said in his first election campaign speech (EPA)

What Jeremy Corbyn said: The dividing lines in this election could not be clearer from the outset. It is the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all.

What he really meant: Thank goodness we’ve started. I can keep it simple. Good, bad, Labour, Tory, rich, poor. Dividing people is what I’m good at.

What he said: It is the establishment versus the people and it is our historic duty to make sure that the people prevail.

What he meant: Well, some of the people anyway. About twice as many of the people intend to vote Conservative as Labour, according to the polls. But the polls are wrong. I mean, have you ever been polled?

What he said: A duty for all of us here today, the duty of every Labour MP, a duty for our half a million members – including the 2,500 who have joined in the last 24 hours.

What he meant: Hear ye, Labour MPs and bow down before my mandate. All parties sign up new members at the start of an election campaign – the Liberal Democrats report 3,500 new members – but mandate duty discipline do as I say mandate.

Jeremy Corbyn says he will break rules to overturn the ‘rigged system'

What he said: Much of the media and establishment are saying that this election is a foregone conclusion.

What he meant: They got the last election wrong, the EU referendum wrong, the US election wrong. They may be right this time, but it gives me the chance to fight the underdog corner for all it’s worth.

What he said: It is the establishment that complains I don’t play by the rules: by which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.

What he meant: So I say the rules are: Labour votes count double.

What he said: We’re not obsessed with the tittle-tattle of Westminster or Brussels.

What he meant: We’re obsessed with the Rule Book and reducing the threshold for MPs’ nominations so that it is safe for me to go back to my allotment and prepare for Rebecca Long-Bailey to establish total control of all the instruments of the proletariat.

What he said: We don’t accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers.

What he meant: That’s why I don’t like Tony Blair and New Labour. And the Tories are almost as bad.

Anyone who takes on the establishment gets vilified, Corbyn says

What he said: The establishment and their followers in the media are quite right. I don’t play by their rules. And if a Labour Government is elected on 8 June, then we won’t play by their rules either.

What he meant: If Labour wins the election the space-time continuum will have been bent out of shape and the Labour Party will be an infinitely dense black hole with no dimensions in the conventional universe.

What he said: They are yesterday’s rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past. It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations. It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors.

What he meant: Obviously Donald Trump is a crypto-fascist who is nearly as right wing as Peter Mandelson, but he’s right about rigging. Railing against the rigged system is a really effective political tactic.

What he said: The Conservatives, drunk on a failed ideology, are hell bent on cutting every public service they get their hands on, and they will use all of the divide-and-rule tricks of the Lynton Crosby trade to keep their rigged system intact.

What he meant: Hold on a minute, this is a bit strong, isn’t it? I’m not sure this is a good idea, Seumas. Aren’t we supposed to be the kinder, gentler politics?

What he said: Don’t be angry at the privatisers profiting from our public services, they whisper, be angry instead at the migrant worker just trying to make a better life. Don’t be angry at the government ministers running down our schools and hospitals, they tell us, be angry instead at the disabled woman or the unemployed man.

What he meant: This is more like it. Did you write it, Seumas, or this Paul Mason’s bit?

What he said: So many people in modern Britain do what seems like the right thing to do. They get jobs, they spend all day working hard, they save to buy their own home, they raise children, they look after elderly or sick relatives. And yet, at the end of it, they get almost nothing left over as a reward.

What he meant: I know, I didn’t realise people thought like this until they took me to that focus group. Now I see why Theresa May talks like this all the time.

What he said: We will overturn this rigged system. For all Theresa May’s warm words on the steps of Downing Street the Conservatives will never do any such thing. Seven years of broken promises show us that on pay, the deficit, the NHS, our schools, our environment.

What he meant: Britain’s getting better, don’t let Labour ruin it. No, wait, wrong election cliché. X years of broken promises. How many? What about the 13 years of Blairite broken promises before that? Shall I say 20 altogether, or shall we go all the way back to 1951?

What he said: It was their wealthy friends in the City who crashed our economy. How dare they ruin the economy with their recklessness and greed and then punish those who had nothing to do with it? It was not pensioners, nurses, the low or average-paid workers or carers who crashed the economy.

What he meant: John McDonnell tells me it’s rubbish economics but carry on with it because it always goes down well.

Reporter to Corbyn: Aren't you effectively just part of an Islington elite?

What he said: The Conservatives boast of record numbers of jobs. But what good is that if people in work are getting poorer and don’t share in the profits of that economy while the Conservatives look after the wealthy few?

What he meant: Low-paid jobs are worse than no jobs.

What he said: Why? Because those are the people who are monopolising the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us in this country. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a contribution to make and a life to lead. Poverty and homelessness are a disaster for the individual and a loss to all of us.

What he meant: Strong message here.

What he said: That is why we will prove the establishment experts wrong and change the direction of this election.

What he meant: They all think it’s impossible that the Lib Dems could actually win more votes than Labour. Comrades, if you believe strongly enough, nothing is impossible.

What he said: Theresa May will insist that this is an election about Brexit. She will try to downplay the issues that affect people’s lives every day and instead turn the election into an ego trip about her own failing leadership and the machinations of the coming negotiations in Brussels. It is only Labour that will focus on what kind of country we want to have after Brexit.

What he meant: Well done to the intern who spotted that the draft of the speech had nothing about Brexit in it.

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What he said: In the coming weeks Labour will lay out our policies to unlock opportunities for every single person in this country.

What he meant: We won’t be doing that right now because the policy department is being reconfigured at the moment and the office manager has saved up all his lieu days to take a break in Cuba.

What he said: We will build a new economy, worthy of the 21st century and we will build a country for the many not the few.

What he meant: As it says in the new Clause IV on our membership cards that Tony Blair so bravely rewrote. A new economy, for the many not the few. Vote New Labour.

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