Ed Miliband and Justine Thornton at the Labour party's conference in Manchester. Photo: Getty.
Show Hide image

Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference: full text

“Across every part of the United Kingdom there is a silent majority who want Britain to endure, but are also telling us it must change.”

It’s great to be at Labour Party Conference in Manchester. A fantastic city. A city with a great Labour council leading the way. It’s here four years ago here that I won the leadership of this great party.

We meet at Conference in serious times. Let’s face it: our country nearly broke up in last week’s Scottish referendum. And a country that nearly splits apart is not a country in good health.

I’ll let you in on a story from that campaign -- there were six days to go before the big vote and I was on my way to a public meeting. I was late, but I ran into a woman just outside the building and asked her about how she was voting; she told me she hadn’t decided. Her name was Josephine and it turned out she was a cleaner in the building. I asked what the company was like - she said the company was decent but the wages were rubbish.

She hadn’t made up her mind because life was incredibly tough. She didn’t want to leave but she thought it might be the best thing to do. I don’t know how she voted in the end, but I do know the question she was asking: “Is anything going to make life better for me and my family?”

I hear Josephine’s question everywhere, not just in Scotland. “Can anyone build a better future for the working people of Britain?” It wasn’t just the referendum question -- it’s the general election question.

I am not talking about a better future for the powerful and the privileged.
Those who do well whatever the weather. I’m talking about families like yours treading water, working harder and harder just to stay afloat. For Labour, this election is about you.

You have made the sacrifices. You have taken home lower wages year after year. You have paid higher taxes. You have seen your energy bills rise. You have seen your NHS decline. You know this country doesn’t work for you.

My answer is that we can build that better future for you and your family.
Wherever you live in the United Kingdom, these are Labour’s plan for Britain’s future.

Across every part of the United Kingdom there is a silent majority who want Britain to endure, but are also telling us it must change. They come from every walk of life. For example, there’s a young woman who works in a pub near where I live, called Xiomara. She lives at the other end of the country from Josephine and she’s separated from her by at least a generation. But she shares a common experience -- she couldn’t afford to go to college, so she got a job washing dishes in the pub kitchen and has worked her way up to being one of the chefs.

But like Josephine, life is incredibly tough for her too and she thinks nobody can sort it out -- she thinks all politics is rubbish. And it isn’t simply that people like Josephine and Xiomara are struggling today.
So many people have lost faith in the future.

I met two students from a top university in London recently. One of them said something to me that really stuck with me. She said: “My generation is falling into a black hole.” Then she said about her parents’ generation: “They had it so good and now there’s nothing left for us.” She wasn’t just speaking for herself but for millions of people across Britain, including people who earning a good wage.

Gareth is pretty high up at a software company, but still can’t afford to buy a home for his family. Because he’s simply being priced out by the richest.
He thinks that unless you’re one of a very few, then the likelihood is that your kids will have a harder life than you. So the task is to restore people’s faith in the future.

The way to do it is not to break up our country, but to break with the old way of doing things. I’m not talking about changing a policy or simply a different programme, but something that is bigger: transforming the idea and ethic of how our country is run.

Strip away all of the sound and fury and what people across Scotland, England and Wales, across every nation of the United Kingdom are saying is that this country doesn’t care about me. Politics doesn’t listen. The economy doesn’t work. And they’re right. But this Labour Party has a plan to put it right.

To do that we have to go back to the very foundations of who we are and how we run things. We just can’t carry on with the belief that a country can succeed with a small minority doing well. Prosperity in one part of Britain, amongst a small elite, a circle that is closed to most, blind to what is going on for everyone but a few. They’re sending the message to everyone but a few: You’re on your own.

In our economy, working people are left to bear the burden of insecurity, of precariousness, of anxiety. They’ve been told: you’re on your own.

So many young people who don’t have privilege feel life is going to be harder for them than it was for their parents. They’ve been told: you’re on your own.

Small businesses find themselves up against forces more powerful than them. They’ve been told: you’re on your own.

The most vulnerable have been cast aside, thrown on the scrapheap, not listened to even when they have a case. They’ve been told: you’re on your own.

And to cap it all, because it is only a few who have the access, everyone else feels locked out of our politics. They’ve been told: you’re on your own.

That’s why so many have lost faith in the future. That’s why so many voted to break our country apart. Is it any wonder? The deck is stacked. The game is rigged for those who have all the power.

In just eight months, we’re going to call time on this way of running the country. “You’re on your own” doesn’t serve you, it doesn’t serve your family, and it doesn’t serve Britain.

Can we build a better future for our whole country? With a different idea we can. An idea that in the end won this referendum but has meaning far beyond that. An idea I love because it says so much about who we are and who we can become. An idea rooted in our party’s character and our country’s history. An idea that got us through our darkest moments and built our greatest institutions. An idea that is just one simple word: Together.

Together we can restore faith in the future. Together we can build a future for everyday working people. Together we can rebuild Britain. Together we can.

Together says it is not just the rich and powerful whose voice should be heard. It is everyone. Together says that it is not just a few that create the wealth. It is every working person. Together says that we won’t succeed just with the talents of a few. But we need to use and reward the talents of all. Together says that we can’t have some living under different rules.
But we need everybody to play their part. And together says we have a duty to look after each other when times are hard.

Together: a different idea for Britain and the way we will restore faith in the future.

Of course it’s hard to believe that we can run the country differently. But look around us and the inspiration is everywhere to see.
There are so many shining examples of a different way of doing things.
I told you about Gareth earlier -- I didn’t just meet him, I met a lot of his colleagues. And do you know what shines through for me about his company? It is full of brilliant, savvy, young people with great enthusiasm.

But what stood out the most is that they all say the most important thing about this company is that it is based on using the talents of every single person. Not just the software designers, but the customer service. Not just the developers, but the people who manage the accounts. And go to so many other firms that succeed.

This is the ethic of the 21st century in so many of our businesses.
You need the great entrepreneurs. Britain needs its great entrepreneurs.
But the greatest entrepreneurs recognise that they’re only as a strong as their team.

And this is just as true of great public services too. Earlier this year, I spent a couple of days at an NHS hospital in Watford, getting to know how it looks from the frontline. At 9pm I stood in A & E, as the night shift started and I was incredibly moved as I watched people from different backgrounds, different walks of life, all working together. I was inspired by their teamwork and I was deeply proud of our NHS.

Go to any good hospital, go to any great school, it is the team that makes it strong. And think about our brilliant, heroic armed forces, doing the most dangerous job, serving our country. They, more than anyone else, will all tell you, it is about the team.

If the ethic of the 20th century was hierarchy, order, planning and control, rewarding the talents of just a few, then the ethic of the 21st century is co-operation, everybody playing their part, sharing the rewards and using the talents of all. Together. It’s time we ran the country like we know it can be run.

But if the question is how to build a future together, the Tories can never be the answer. If you want the best example of the “you’re on your own”, insecure, rig the system for the powerful few, trickle down, throwback dogma, then just look at this government.

“You’re on your own”

If you’re a low paid worker struggling to make ends meet. You’re working harder for longer for less and you’re on your own. If you’re a family in the squeezed middle. You just feel like you’re treading water. And you’re on your own.

If you’re on a zero-hours contract, having to ring up at 5 o’clock every morning asking whether you are going to get work. They’ll tell you that is how an economy succeeds. You’re on your own.

If you are worried about the railway company, the payday lender ripping you off. Tough luck. You’re on your own.

And if you’re one of the nine million people renting your home, they won’t act to support you. Because they say that would be like Venezuela. And you’re on your own.

You’re on your own they say, because they don’t believe in government intervention.

Really?

Of course they do.

If you are a millionaire they’ve intervened to give you a tax cut. You will never be on your own.

If you are a banker, who wants your bonus, they are going to intervene to protect it. You will never be on your own.

If you are an energy company whose profits are soaring, they’ll intervene to support you. You will never be on your own.

And by the way, if you are a Conservative supporting, gold mining, luxury hotel owning, Putin award winning, Tory ball attending, Russian oligarch, and you have got a £160,000 to bid in an auction? You won’t be on your own either; you will be on tennis court playing doubles with David Cameron.

David Cameron is going to spend a lot of time in the next eight months trying to fight this election about the past. He tells you that any problems are not his fault, he’s done a tremendous job and everything is about to get better for you and your family. In the end you’re going to have to be the judge of this. But his record isn’t just mediocre. For your family it is the worst ever.

The longest fall in living standards since records began. Wages rising slower than prices for 50 out of 51 months. Nearly five years of David Cameron. For your family that’s five years of sacrifice, and zero years of success for him.

Now you could believe that’s nothing to do with David Cameron. But isn’t there a more plausible explanation? That a Tory economy is always going to be an economy for the few, because that’s who the Tories care about.

We’ve had five years of their experiment with your life and so we have a pretty clear view of what the Tory future looks like.

Your family worse off.

Your family can’t afford to take that risk. Your family can’t afford another five years of David Cameron.

I’ve got a better idea -- come this May, let’s give him all the time he needs for surfing and angry birds and tennis with the Russian oligarchs Let’s send him into opposition.

Here’s the hard truth: the Tories have no plan for the future for you and your family. That’s why we need Labour’s plan for Britain’s future.
And in the four years since we lost the last election, we have learnt hard, important lessons. They start with government having to live within its means. If people feel cynical now -- and they do -- think how much worse it would be if we made false promises.

There won’t be money to spend after the next election. Britain will be spending £75 billion on the interest on our debt alone. That’s more than the entire budget for our schools.

So as Ed Balls announced yesterday, Labour’s plan is based on a tough new approach. Eliminating the deficit as soon as possible in the next parliament. Getting the national debt falling. And no proposals for additional borrowing.

We will get the deficit down.

The next Labour government will deal with our nation’s debts. And it is because government won’t have the money to spend, it is more important than ever that everyone does their bit so we change Britain together.

One Nation Labour has changed from New Labour -- businesses have a responsibility to pay their taxes, respect their customers and treat their workers fairly.

Because together we can and on our own we can’t. Those who can work have a responsibility to do so. Because together we can and on our own we can’t.

Immigration benefits our country but those who come here have a responsibility to learn English and earn their way. And employers have a responsibility not to exploit migrant workers and undercut wages.

Because together we can and on our own we can’t. Government, business, working people acting together. Living up to their responsibilities. A new ethic. A national effort. Labour’s plan for Britain’s future.

Six national goals

I want to set out six national goals. Not just for one year or one term of office. But a plan for the next ten years. Britain 2025.

Goal 1

The starting point of Labour’s plan is that we become a country that rewards hard work once again.

One in five of the men and women go out to work in Britain, do the hours, make their contribution, but find themselves on low pay. With Britain’s traditions, with Labour’s traditions, that should shame us all. So our first national goal is that we will halve the number of people in low pay in our country. Changing the lives of two million people in Britain, and we will start straight away. Building a country together means not just using but rewarding the talents of all. The minimum wage must become a route to bringing up your family with dignity. So we will raise the minimum wage by £1.50 an hour by 2020, to £8 an hour.

Someone working full-time on the minimum wage would be paid nearly £60 a week more than they are now. That’s almost £3000 a year. The Tories are the party of wealth and privilege. Labour is once again the party of hard work fairly paid, and every working person should have their hard work rewarded.

Goal 2

So our second national goal is that all working families share fairly in the growing wealth of the country. That means, when the economy grows, the wages of everyday working people should grow at the same rate.

I will tell you what is extraordinary: that this has become controversial.
We used to take it for granted. Now, that is what the cost of living crisis is all about. It is hard to turn round. But you need a government with a clear focus on it.

There is only one way to achieve this: to transform our economy so that it starts to create good jobs at decent wages. This needs a national effort,
from government to let no vested interest, no stale orthodoxies, no old mindset, stand in the way of restoring the basic bargain of Britain. It means bigger reform of our banks, including breaking up the big banks so they help create those good jobs. It means getting power out of Whitehall.
Businesses, towns and cities, controlling the resources to create the jobs and prosperity their area needs. It means businesses and trade unions engaged not in confrontation but in cooperation. And it means this great party using our historic values to fight for the people in the frontline of the modern workforce.

To the growing army of our self-employed, five million working people so often the most entrepreneurial, go-getting people in our country -- they don’t want special treatment, but they do deserve a fair shot. Two thirds have no pension. Because of the jobs they do, one in five is stopped from getting a mortgage. It is time to end this modern, 21st century discrimination. The next Labour government will ensure there are equal rights for the self-employed.

Goal 3

I said the only way to transform our economy is to make sure we create good jobs. The jobs of the future. So our third national goal is for Britain to be truly a world leader in Green technology by 2025, creating one million new jobs as we do.

Under this government, Britain is behind Germany, Japan, the United States and even India and China for low-carbon, green technologies and services. So many of our brilliant businesses are desperate to play their part in creating their jobs of the future but they just can’t do it unless government does its bit. With our plan, we will.

Making a clear commitment to take the carbon out of our electricity by 2030. A Green Investment Bank with real powers to borrow and attract investment. And as Caroline Flint announced yesterday, devolving power to our communities so that we can insulate 5 million homes. The environment may not be fashionable as a political issue any more. But I believe it is incredibly important to our economy today. And it is the most important thing I can do in politics for the future of my kids and their generation.

A plan for our country, a plan for our families, must have at its heart a future for all our young people.

Goal 4

Yesterday, I met some apprentices from Manchester College. Most of them had no encouragement from their schools. They had been told they were a waste of time. But I did a young woman, Elizabeth, who had been encouraged by her school. She was doing a fantastic apprenticeship in Auto electrics. She is one of the lucky few.

So our fourth national goal is that as many young people leaving school should be able to do apprenticeships as currently go to university. Under this government, the number of apprenticeships for young people has actually fallen. So here again we need the biggest national effort that we have seen for generations. Young people showing the ambition to get on.
Schools and colleges leading a dramatic change in education, with gold standard technical qualifications. And business and government leading a revolution in apprenticeships.

We will end the failure of the public sector to provide apprenticeships.
Companies that bring workers in from outside the EU will have to offer apprenticeships to the next generation. And we will give employers the money for apprenticeships for the first time and we will say to every big company that wants a government contract: you must provide apprenticeships to our young people.

Goal 5

And a plan for your family doesn’t just depend on wages, jobs and education. What is it that provides us with security in life and faith in the future? The love of the people we care most about. Decent work properly rewarded. And the confidence and security that comes from having our own home.

So many people in Britain today don’t have that. That most British of dreams, the dream of home ownership, has faded for so many. Under this government, Britain has the lowest level of house-building since the 1920s.

So our fifth national goal is that for the first time in fifty years we will make sure this country is building as many houses as we need. By 2025, doubling the number of first time buyers who get on the housing ladder each year. Again, we will need a national effort to achieve. We will stop the large developers sitting on land and we will back the thousands of small developers and construction companies with access to new loans. There will be new towns, garden cities and suburbs with a half a million new homes. And housing will be a top priority in our capital investment programme. Because we need to start Britain building again.

Goal 6

You also need to know that public services -- policing, schools, transport -- will be there when you need them. But it is especially true when it comes to health.

I mentioned earlier the two days I spent at an NHS hospital in Watford.
I met a patient, Colin, in his 80s, who sadly passed away a few weeks later. We had an amazing conversation -- he remembered the foundation of the NHS, and life before and he said: “where would we be without it?”
We know where we would be. We would be on our own.

I know my duty to Colin and the British people. We need to make sure there is an NHS there when we need it.

So our sixth national goal is to create a world-class 21st century health and care service. Because a hospital is only as good as the services in the community -- that’s the biggest lesson I learnt in Watford. If people can’t get to see their GP, if they can’t get the care they need at home, they end up in hospital when that could have been avoided. That’s bad for them, and it costs billions of pounds.

One in four people have to wait a week or more for a GP appointment.
We’ve seen the scandal of care visits restricted to just 15 minutes for the elderly. And we know huge future pressures facing the NHS. We are going to have to transform the way the NHS works in the years ahead. It is time to care about our NHS. We need doctors, nurses, care workers, midwives able to spend proper time with us, not to be rushed off their feet.

So the next Labour government will set aside funding so we can have 3000 more midwives, 5000 more homecare workers, 8000 more GPs & 20000 more nurses in our NHS

We’ll create an NHS with time to care. And because there has never been a more important time for our National Health Service, there will be £2.5 billion in an NHS Time to Care Fund to start transforming services for the future.

Tomorrow, Andy Burnham will present our plan for a truly integrated service, for physical health, mental health and care for the elderly. And we won’t borrow a penny to do it, nor will we be raising taxes on everyday working people. We will raise a billion pounds from tax avoidance, including by closing the tax loop-holes for the hedge funds. We will use the proceeds from a tax on houses worth over two million pounds. And we will raise revenue from the tobacco companies, who make soaring profits on the back of ill health.

Doing it together, means everyone playing their part to help fund our NHS. The stakes are incredibly high in this election, but nowhere more than on the NHS. The NHS is sliding backwards under this government -- they are privatising and fragmenting it. Just think what it would look like after five more years of this government. It is not safe in their hands.

We built the NHS. We saved the NHS. We will repeal their Health and Social Care Bill and we will transform the NHS for the future. And we will do it together.

So here we have six national goals. Labour’s plan for Britain’s future. A future fit for the everyday working people of Britain.

This plan is about how we can build a better future for you and your family. But to make this plan really work, we need to change who has the power so that all those people who feel locked out are let back in.

Westminster politics is so often out of touch, irrelevant and disconnected from people’s lives. It is time we brought power much closer to people.
It is time the voice of young people was heard which is why we will give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

It is time we complete the unfinished work of reform of the House of Lords, aiming to make it truly a Senate of the regions and nations. And yes it is time to devolve power to England too.

I am proud of our devolution proposals. Reversing a century of centralisation in this country. We need to go further. We have to be led by the people not politicians. If the problem is Westminster we can’t have a quick fix, a stitch up in Westminster. We’ve got to mobilise and harness the energy of people all across the country. That’s why only a constitutional convention will do. And giving voice to everyone in Britain is also about who we are.

We are more than ever, four nations -- and one. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Britain too. Each nation making its contribution. Not just better together, but greater together. Not something to fear but something to be proud of.

In the Scottish referendum people showed us they can be proud to be Scottish and proud to be British. And let’s play tribute to the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. Proud to be Welsh and proud to be British.
And let’s be proud of our Englishness too. No political party owns our English national identity.

So is time we fought, this party fought, for the traditions of England and did not cede them to others. Englishness: a history of solidarity. From the Battle of Cable Street to the spirit of the Blitz. Englishness: traditions of fairness. From the Dagenham workers who fought for equal pay to today’s campaigners for a living wage. Englishness: a spirit of internationalism.
From those who fought in the Spanish Civil War to our generosity to those overseas. There will be some people who tell you that being English, Scottish or Welsh means cutting ourselves off or seeking to divide.

That’s never been our tradition. And that’s not our future. Because the same injustices face working people across our whole country and the only way we can tackle them is together.

Social justice, not unfairness. Solidarity, not division. Together, not on your own.

And the principle of together is why our future lies in reaching out to the rest of the world, not turning our backs on it. Because we’re stronger with allies than we are on our own. Let me say it plainly: Britain’s future lies inside not outside the European Union.

And the way we reform the EU is by building alliances, not burning them.
And it’s why all those who want to leave, including in the Conservative Party, are now a huge threat to the prosperity of our country. And so too the government I lead will be engaged in the world.

Over four years, I’ve shown this party has learnt the lessons of the Iraq war. We have all been horrified by the murderous actions of ISIL in the last few months. And our thoughts are with Alan Henning and his family at this terrible time. Our traditions of Internationalism mean that we can never turn away when we see that threat.

But we will seek to build alliances across the world, and in the region, in a legitimate and effective way to counter it. And fighting for our values overseas also means promoting human rights, including for gay and lesbian people.

That is why I make this commitment to you today. When I am Prime Minister the question of human rights for gay and lesbian people will never be ignored. And I will appoint Michael Cashman to lead the government’s work in promoting gay rights across the globe, so that together we can build a fairer, more equal, more just world for everyone.

Making our plan happen, at home and abroad, also needs the right leadership. And I know that the next eight months represent my interview with the British people for one of the most important jobs in the country.
Let me tell what I care about: I care about big ideas that can change our country— the principle of together.

I care about reaching out to people right across our country, and hearing them not shutting them out. And I care about being a Prime Minister who will stand up for you when you need it against powerful forces.

As Rosie, a doctor from Devon said to me the other day: “what we need is someone who will stand up for working people, everyday people, because you will have the power and we won’t.” That’s why I stood up against Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking. Stood up against the banks over bonuses. Stood up against the payday lenders over their disgraceful exploitation. Stood up against the energy companies over their soaring profits and prices. And, yes, I stood up against the Daily Mail when they said that my Dad hated Britain. Because I know my Dad loved Britain.

Friends, as Prime Minister I will show the same resolve. My opponent stands for something different. He stands for the “you’re on your own” idea. And he seems to believe that a good photo opportunity will fool you into thinking he doesn’t just stand up for the rich and powerful, he stands up for you. But, he’s been found out.

He’s been found out because he hugged a huskie before the election, and then said “let’s cut the Green crap” after the election. He’s been found out because he stood outside a hospital with a sign saying “no hospital closures” before the election, and then closed that very A&E department after the election. He’s been found out because he changed his logo to a tree before the election, and tried to sell off the forests after the election.
He’s been found out because he said he’s a compassionate conservative before the election, and then imposed the cruel, the unfair, the vindictive bedroom tax after the election.

And you know what gets me even more? He has heard all the stories of misery, hardship, injustice but he thinks a clever bit of rebranding will get him off the hook.

So he calls it the “spare room subsidy” as if somehow that will make the problem will go away. Britain won’t fall for it any more. David Cameron, you’ve been found out.

There will be a choice of leadership at this general election. A stark, real, choice of leadership. Leadership that will always stand for the privileged few, or leadership that fights for you.

But as I have said, this task isn’t only about leadership and government.
Labour’s plan for Britain’s future requires us to mobilise every part of our country to work together.

So to every young person in this country, I say: we need your hope, your energy, your vitality. To every older person, I say: we respect your service and need your wisdom. To every business, I say: you can be part of this and we can’t do it without you. To every entrepreneur, I say: we need your ideas, your creativity. To every charity, I say: we admire your spirit and want to hear your voice. To every nurse, teacher and all the public service workers, I say: we salute your dedication and we know why you do what you do. To every person in Britain who believes, like I do, that tomorrow can be better than today, I say: we need you.

Together.

Together we bring up our families.
Together we look out for our neighbours.
Together we nurture our communities.
Together we build great businesses, the best in the world.
Together we teach the young.
Together we heal the sick.
Together we care for the old.
Together we invent cures for the most terrible of diseases.
So, of course, together we can rebuild our country.
Together we can reward hard work.
Together we can ensure the next generation does better than the last. Together we can make our NHS greater than it has ever been.
Together we can make Britain prouder, stronger in the world.
Together we can restore faith in the future.
On our own, we can’t. But together we can.

In just eight months’ time you will face one of the most important choices in generations: a choice between carrying on as we are, on your own, for the privileged few, or a better future, for you and your family.

We are ready. Labour’s plan for Britain’s future. Let’s make it happen. Together.

 

 

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

How Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election

The revolt against the leader transformed him from an incumbent back into an insurgent. 

On the evening of 12 July, after six hours of talks, Jeremy Corbyn emerged triumphantly from Labour’s headquarters. “I’m on the ballot paper!” he told supporters gathered outside. “We will be campaigning on all the things that matter.”

The contest that Corbyn’s opponents had sought desperately to avoid had begun. Neither a vote of no confidence by 81 per cent of Labour MPs, nor 65 frontbench resignations had persuaded him to stand down. Days of negotiations led by Tom Watson had failed (“For years I’ve been told that I’m a fixer. Well, I tried to fix this and I couldn’t,” Labour’s deputy leader sorrowfully told the parliamentary party). The rebels’ last hope was that the National Executive Committee would force Corbyn to reseek nominations. After being backed by just 40 colleagues in the confidence vote, both sides knew that the leader would struggle to achieve 51 signatures.

But by 18-14, the NEC ruled that Corbyn would be automatically on the ballot (“Watson, Watson, what’s the score?” chanted jubilant aides in the leader’s office). After withstanding a 16-day revolt, Corbyn appeared liberated by the prospect of a summer of campaigning. His confidence prefigured the outcome two months later.

Corbyn did not merely retain the leadership - he won by a greater margin than last time (with 61.8 per cent of the vote to last year's 59.5 per cent) and triumphed among all three sections: party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. The rebels had hoped to narrow his mandate and win among at least one group: they did neither. Far from being a curse for Corbyn, the contest proved to be a blessing. 

***

The day before the pivotal NEC meeting, Angela Eagle, who had been preparing to stand for months, launched her leadership bid. The former shadow business secretary was admired by MPs for her experience, tenacity, and economic acumen. Her trade union links and soft left background were further cited in favour of her candidacy.

But after an underwhelming launch, which clashed with Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Conservative contest (leaving Eagle calling questions from absent journalists), MPs gravitated towards Owen Smith.

Like Eagle, Smith hailed from the party’s soft left and had initially served under Corbyn (two prerequisites in the rebels’ eyes). But unlike her, the former shadow and work pensions secretary did not vote for the Iraq war (having entered parliament in 2010) or the 2015 Syria intervention. “It looks like the war party,” a senior Corbynite said of Eagle’s campaign launch with Hilary Benn. Many Labour MPs feared the same. With the left-leaning Lisa Nandy having ruled herself out, only the ambitious Smith met the criteria.

“I’d been in hospital for two days with my brother, who was unwell, in south Wales,” he recalled when I interviewed him.  “I came out having literally been in A&E at Cardiff Heath hospital for 29 hours, looking after him, to have my phone light up with 30, 40, 50 colleagues, MPs and members, ringing up saying ‘there’s going to be a contest, Angela Eagle has thrown her hat into the ring, you should do likewise.’ And at that point, on the Wednesday night, I started ringing people to test opinion and found that there was a huge amount of support for me.”

On 19 July, after Smith won 90 MP/MEP nominations to Eagle’s 72, the latter withdrew in favour of the Welshman. A week after the Conservatives achieved their second female prime minister, Labour’s 116-year record of all-male leaders endured. Though Smith vowed that Eagle would be “at my right hand throughout this contest”, she went on to appear at just one campaign event.

Corbyn’s challenger was embraced by MPs as a “clean skin”, untainted by service during the New Labour years. But Smith’s non-parliamentary past was swiftly - and ruthlessly - exploited by his opponents. His time at the US drugs firm Pfizer was cited as evidence of his closeness to big business. Corbyn’s supporters also seized on interviews given by Smith as a by-election candidate in 2006.

The man pitching to the left was found to have defended Tony Blair (suggesting that they differed only over the Iraq war), supported private sector involvement in the NHS and praised city academies. “I'm not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances,” he told Wales Online. Such lines were rapidly disseminated by Corbyn supporters through social media.

“Getting out early and framing Owen was crucial,” a Corbyn source told me. A Smith aide echoed this assessment: “It helped secure their base, it took a load of people out of contention.”

Throughout the campaign, Smith would struggle to reconcile his past stances with his increasingly left-wing programme: opposing private provision in the NHS, returning academy schools to local authority control, banning zero-hours contracts and imposing a wealth tax of 1 per cent. “It was easy for us to go for the jugular over his background when he portrayed himself as a left candidate,” a Corbyn source said.

Smith insisted that the charge of opportunism was unmerited. “To be honest, my opponents have extrapolated rather a lot in an attempt to brand me as a ‘Blairite wolf in sheep’s clothing,’” he told me in August. “Well, I’m nothing of the sort, I’ve always been a democratic socialist and I always will be.” He added: “I’m someone who’s been surrounded by people who’ve been on the left of the Labour movement all their lives. It should come as no surprise that I’ve come out of that background and I’m pretty red. Because I am.”

But a former shadow cabinet colleague said that Smith did not stand out as “a radical” in meetings. “The only time that I remember him becoming really animated was over further tax-raising powers for Scotland and the implications for Wales.”

As well as Smith’s ambiguous past, Corbyn’s allies believe the breadth of his political coalition hindered him from the start. “He was trying to bring together Blairites, Brownites and every other -ite in between,” a campaign source said. “That was never going to hold, we knew that and from the moment there were splits it was easy to point out.”

Jon Trickett, the shadow business secretary and one of Corbyn’s early supporters, told me: “They tried to pretend that there was no distinction between them and Jeremy on policy grounds, they tried to narrow down the areas of difference to electability. But, frankly, it didn’t seem credible since some of the people behind it were absolutely ideologically opposed to Jeremy. Peter Mandelson and people like that.”

A frequently expressed charge was that Smith’s left-wing pledges would be overturned by Blairite figures if he won. John McGeechan, a 22-year-old postgraduate student who joined Labour after “self-indulgent, self-serving MPs initiated their corridor coup”, told me of Smith: “He’s just another mealy-mouthed careerist who says whatever he thinks is going to get him elected. I don’t believe at all that he means what he says about creating a radical socialist government given that he’s got the backing of Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, people who’ve disagreed with Corbyn on pretty much all his socialist policies. I don’t believe that he’s going to stand up to these people.”

Whether believable or not, Smith’s programme showed how Corbyn had shifted Labour’s centre of gravity radically leftwards - his original aim in June 2015.

***

On the night Corbyn made the leadership ballot, the rebels still found cause for hope. Unlike in 2015, the NEC imposed a freeze date of six months on voting (excluding 130,000 new members) and increased the registered supporter fee from £3 to £25 (while reducing the sign-up period to two days). “It’s game on!” a senior figure told me. By narrowing the selectorate, Corbyn’s opponents hoped to achieve a path to victory. With fewer registered supporters (84 per cent of whom voted for Corbyn last year), they believed full party members and affiliated trade unionists could carry Smith over the line.

But when 183,000 paid £25 to vote, their expectations were confounded. Far from being “game on”, it looked to many rebels like game over. Once again, Corbyn’s opponents had underestimated the left’s recruiting capacity. Smith’s lack of name recognition and undistinctive pitch meant he could not compete.

Alongside the main contest were increasingly fractious legal battles over voting rights. On 28 July, the high court rejected Labour donor Michael Foster’s challenge to Corbyn’s automatic inclusion on the ballot. Then on 8 August, a judge ruled that the party had wrongly excluded new members from voting, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal.

In the view of Corbyn’s allies, such legal manevoures unwittingly aided him. “They turned Jeremy, who was an incumbent, back into an insurgent,” Trickett told me. “The proponents of the challenge made it seem like he was the underdog being attacked by the establishment.”

Smith, who repeatedly framed himself as the “unity candidate”, struggled to escape the shadow of the “corridor coup”. That many of his supporters had never accepted Corbyn’s leadership rendered him guilty by association.

“The coup had an enormous galvanising effect and an enormous politicising effect,” a Corbyn source told me. “For a great number of people who supported Jeremy last year, there was a feeling, ‘well, we’ve done the work, that’s happened, now over to him.’ What the coup meant for a lot of people was that this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn, this is a people’s movement, which we all need to lead.” The Corbyn campaign signed up 40,000 volunteers and raised £300,000 in small donations from 19,000 people (with an average donation of £16). Against this activist army, their rivals’ fledgling effort stood no chance.

“At the launch rally, we had 12 simultaneous events going on round the country, livestreamed to each other,” a Corbyn source said. “We had a lot of communication with people who were big in the Sanders campaign. In the UK context, it’s trailblazing.”

On 12 August, after previously equivocating, Smith ruled out returning to the shadow cabinet under Corbyn. “I've lost confidence in you. I will serve Labour on the backbenches,” he declared at a hustings in Gateshead. In the view of Corbyn’s team, it was a fatal error. “He shot apart his whole unity message,” a source said.

Smith, who initially offered Corbyn the post of party president, was rarely booed more than when he lamented Labour’s divisions. As one of the 172 MPs who voted against the leader, he was regarded as part of the problem, rather than the solution. By the end, Smith was reduced to insisting “I wasn’t in favour of there being a challenge” - a statement that appeared absurd to most.

As well as his leftist credentials and unifying abilities, Smith’s other main boast was his competence and articulacy. “HIs USP was that he was this media-savvy guy,” a Corbyn source said. “As a result, he threw himself up for any and every media opportunity and made tons of gaffes. We just made sure people were aware of them.”

The most enduring gaffe came early in the campaign, on 27 July, when he spoke of wanting mto “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”. Though Smith initially defended his “robust rhetoric” (“you’ll be getting that from me”), by the afternoon his campaign had apologised. What was explained as a “rugby reference” dogged them for weeks. “It played into the hands of how Corbyn wanted to depict us,” a Smith source told me. “It was really hard to shake off.”

More unforced errors followed. Smith suggested getting Isis “round the table”, in anticipation, many believed, of Corbyn agreeing. But the Labour leader baulked at the proposal: “No, they are not going to be round the table”. Corbyn’s communications team, more organised and agile than in 2015, denounced Smith’s remarks as “hasty and ill-considered”. As with “smashed”, the Labour challenger had achieved rare cut-through - but for the wrong reasons.

Smith’s rhetorical looseness became a recurring problem. At a rally on 23 August, he appeared to refer to Corbyn as a “lunatic”. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he said of meeting his wife: “1,200 boys, three girls and I pulled Liz. So I must have something going on. That must be leadership.”

Earlier in the campaign, Smith’s team denied that the candidate referred to the size of his penis when he quipped of his height: "5ft 6. 29 inches - inside leg!” The guffaws from his supporters suggested otherwise.

We used to have a gaffe counter,” a Corbyn source told me. “I think it got up to 30 by the end.”

Smith’s team, meanwhile, despaired at how the Labour leader’s own missteps failed to dent him. The discovery that Corbyn had in fact secured a seat on a Virgin train, contrary to initial impressions, did little lasting damage. “It’s priced in, the bar is much lower for him,” a Smith source complained.

Incorrect claims, such as Labour being level in the polls before the coup attempt and Corbyn giving 122 speeches during the EU referendum campaign, were believed by many of his supporters. “How do you rebut bullshit?” a Smith aide asked. “If you respond, it becomes a story.”

So frequently had Labour MPs condemned their leader that extraordinary charges were soon forgotten. On 22 August, shadow business minister Chi Onwurah wrote in the New Statesman that Corbyn’s treatment of her and Thangam Debbonaire could constitute “racial discrimination”.

If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in,” she argued. But within a day, the story had moved on.  

For Smith, fleeting momentum was achieved through significant endorsements. On 10 August, the GMB backed his campaign after becoming the only trade union to ballot its members. The following week, Labour’s most senior elected politician, Sadiq Khan, endorsed Smith. Unlike Andy Burnham, the London mayor believed he could not remain neutral during this profound schism. Smith was subsequently also backed by the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale. Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband trumpeted his cause. Yet such declarations counted for little. “It’s like the Remain campaign and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” one Smith ally told me, suggesting that Labour members, like Leave voters, ”weren’t listening” to such grandees.

But in the view of Corbyn’s team, the rebels profoundly “underestimated” their opponent. “He’s a nice guy but he also has an inner steel and won't flinch from a challenge. The Obi-Wan Kenobi comparison is very accurate when you work up close with him. He’s also extremely intelligent and has a great grasp and retention of detail. It showed in the debates.”

“I have to say, I felt pretty sorry for Owen at several points,” another Corbyn source reflected. “Whatever it was, his ambition or being pushed into it, it didn’t seem like it was the right time for him. He hadn’t worked out what he was about and why that fitted with the times.”

***

Those Labour MPs who long warned that an early challenge to Corbyn would prove futile have been vindicated. “Party members are always loyal to the incumbent,” a senior source astutely noted. In the case of Corbyn, a lifelong campaigner, who many contended was “never given a chance”, this traditional fealty was intensified.

“Most of the people backing and funding him didn’t think Owen was going to win,” a Corbyn source said. “Their aim was, one, to reduce Jeremy’s mandate and, secondly, to map the selectorate.”

Having won a second leadership contest - an unprecedented achievement for the Labour left - the leader’s supporters insist their ambitions do not end here. “We’ve got to think incredibly seriously about how we win a general election in a totally changed landscape,” a Corbyn source told me. “This campaign has been showing how to do it.” But a Smith aide warned that it was a “massive strategic error” to make electability, rather than principle, the defining test of Corbyn. The leader, he suggested, could withstand a general election defeat provided he simply affirmed his values.

Beyond regarding a split as worthless, Labour MPs are divided on how to proceed. Some want another leadership challenge as early as next year. Rather than seeking to narrow the selectorate, they speak of recruiting hundreds of thousands of new members to overpower the left. “There are lots of people out there who want a credible, electable, centre-left proposition and we have not given them enough of a reason to sign up,” a former shadow cabinet minister told me. “Who has an offer and the charisma to be able to bring in new people? That has to be the question the next time round.”

Others believe that backbenchers should follow Thumper’s law: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  A senior MP argued that MPs should “just shut up” and “let Jeremy crack on with it.” The imperative, he said, was to avoid MPs “taking the blame for us getting thumped in a snap election”. Some are prepared to move beyond neutrality to outright support by serving under Corbyn.

The Labour left and their most recalcitrant opponents both confront challenges of electability. The former must demonstrate a path to victory despite Corbyn’s subterranean poll ratings. The latter, who boast so often of their superior appeal, must face a remorseless truth. Until they are electable in the party, they will never be electable in the country.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.