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13 November 2015

Jeremy Corbyn challenges Tories over patriotism as he defines his agenda

In a set-piece speech, the Labour leader will say "How dare Cameron’s Conservatives pretend that they speak for Britain". 

By George Eaton

In recent weeks Labour MPs have been asking when Jeremy Corbyn will make a speech defining his leadership and his policy agenda. Some have been surprised that greater efforts have not been made to draw the media’s focus away from process and split stories. 

At tomorrow’s Eastern region Labour conference, Corbyn will seek to address such concerns, delivering a speech setting out “where his leadership has come from” and where he wants “this movement Labour has launched to go, what we want to achieve and what our vision for Britain is all about”. By far the most striking section is on patriotism. In a rebuke to David Cameron, who labelled him a “security threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating” at the Conservative conference, Corbyn will ask: “What’s pro-British about a government that slashes support for serving soldiers and military veterans? How is it patriotic to take money from the poorest, from working families, and hand control of your country to a super-rich elite? Labour will take no lectures in patriotism from the Conservatives, the political wing of the hedge-funds, the bankers and the 1 per cent elite.

“How dare Cameron’s Conservatives pretend that they speak for Britain. We stand for this country’s greatest traditions: the suffragettes and the trade unions, the Britain of Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Alan Turing and the Beatles – and perhaps our greatest Olympian Mo Farah – the working people of this country who fought fascism, built the welfare state and turned this land into an industrial powerhouse.”

After criticism that he failed to reflect on Labour’s general election defeat in his conference speech, Corbyn will do so tomorrow, saying that his party “failed to win back the economic credibility lost in the financial crash of 2008 or to convince potential supporters we offered a genuine alternative”. Countering the charge that he is focused only on running the party, rather than the country, he will add: “If we focus everything on the interests, aspirations and needs of middle and lower income voters, if we demonstrate we’ve got a viable and credible alternative to the government’s credit-fuelled, insecure, two-tier economy, I’m convinced we can build a coalition of electoral support that can beat the Tories in five years’ time.”

Corbyn will say that his leadership will be based on three pillars: a new politics, a new economy and a different kind of foreign policy. On the first, he will say: “The democratisation of public life from the ground up, giving people a real say in their communities and workplaces. Breaking open the closed circle of Westminster and Whitehall, and yes of boardrooms too.”

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“We want people to be able to participate in politics, to have a direct voice in every part of their lives. The leadership election gives an insight into what can be achieved – 400,000 people were mobilised to vote, and more than half voted online.

“And in our communities too, we can extend this process. That’s why we want to see a mushrooming of online democracy and citizen’s assemblies, and why we’re backing a constitutional convention to bring power closer to people in every nation and region of our country, in every community, town and city. That’s why we want communities to have more direct control of their own services.”

He will also again signal that he wants to give both Labour members and registered supporters greater influence over the party’s policy-making. “We want to see that democratic revolution extended into our own party, opening up our decision-making to the hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters that have joined us since May. It’s a huge opportunity for Labour: to remake our party as a real social movement, organising and rooted in our communities. That’s not about fighting sectarian battles or settling political scores. It’s about opening up to the people we seek to represent and giving them a voice through our organisation and in our decision-making, and drawing individual and affiliated members into political action.” 

 On the economy, he will say: “We want to see a break with the failed economic orthodoxy that has gripped the establishment in this country and others for decades.

“The City elite that was supposed to know best brought the economy to its knees. The 1980s orthodoxy of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich hasn’t developed either sustainable growth, decent living standards for the majority or economic security. That model of how to run an economy is unmistakeably broken.

“We will put public investment first: in science, technology and the green industries of the future front and centre stage. We want to see the re-industrialisation of Britain for the digital age, driven by a national investment bank as a motor of economic modernisation for the 21st century, not the phoney Northern powerhouse of George Osborne’s soundbites and platform speeches – but a real economic renaissance of the north: a renaissance based on investment in infrastructure, transport, housing and technology that provides a solid return – but that this government prefers to spend on cuts in inheritance tax for corporate giants and the wealthy. 

“Change that puts the interests of the public and the workforce ahead of short-term shareholder interest. Only an economy that is run for the real wealth creators and puts them in the driving seat – the engineers, the web designers, the cleaners, office and supermarket workers, technicians and health workers, as well as the entrepreneurs and the growing army of self-employed – is going to deliver prosperity for all in the future.”

Corbyn will call for the government to take a public stake in the steel industry to combat the current crisis, declaring that “We need Cameron and Osborne to act as decisively in 2015 as Gordon Brown did in 2008, when Labour part-nationalised RBS and Lloyds to prevent economic collapse. If the Italian government can take a public stake to maintain their steel industry, so can we. That’s why Labour will be pressing Cameron to use the powers we have to intervene and, if necessary, take a strategic stake in steel – to save jobs and restructure the industry”. 

Finally, on foreign policy, he will promise “A different kind of foreign policy — based on a new and more independent relationship with the rest of the world. For the past 14 years, Britain has been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East. They have increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security in the process.”

Corbyn’s speech is the fullest account he has given of his agenda since his Labour conference address. But it is notable that the pre-briefed extracts do not include any reference to Trident – the issue that so divides him and his shadow cabinet. While there is a greater degree of consensus within the party over economic policy than often suggested, there is no prospect of the nuclear divide being bridged. For Corbyn, resolving this issue, most likely through a free vote, will be one of the greatest challenges he faces. 

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