Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham speaks at the Labour conference in Manchester earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour to turn focus to health with 10-year NHS plan in January

Having addressed the deficit and immigration, the party plans to focus on its greatest strength. 

Labour has spent much of the last fortnight addressing its political weaknesses. Ed Miliband has made high-profile speeches on the deficit and immigration (the two subjects he forgot to mention in his conference address) and has announced general election pledges related to both. On the former, Labour has promised to reduce borrowing every year and to avoid unfunded manifesto commitments. On the latter, it has pledged to control immigration with "fair rules", to ban migrants from claiming benefits for two years after their arrival and to make it illegal for employers to undercut wages by exploiting workers. Both are aimed at providing the party with the protective cover it will need during the election campaign. 

Having "cleared away the undergrowth", in the words of one strategist, Labour now plans to focus on maximising its strengths: living standards and the NHS. January will be the party's "health month" with the conclusion of its mental health taskforce and the publication of a 10-year plan for health and social care by Andy Burnham. The party rightly regards the NHS, the issue on which it enjoys its biggest poll lead, as central to election victory. Voters consistently rank it at as one of the most important policy areas (or even the most important) and the role it played during the Scottish referendum (despite health being a devolved issue) was a reminder of the public's affection for our national religion. 

The Tories' recent panicked pledge to spend £2bn more on the NHS was aimed at neutralising Labour's attack. But the deteriorating state of the health service, and the blame the Conservatives have incurred as a result of their reorganisation, means they will struggle to reduce the opposition's advantage. Labour's lead on the issue has remained stubborn despite the Tories' repeated attacks over Mid-Staffs and Wales. Indeed, one aide recently told me that every time Cameron mentions the NHS, Labour benefits as the subject rises up the agenda. Expect Miliband to now focus on ensuring that the health service, as he put it at a recent PMQs, is "on the ballot paper" in May. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.