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Blogs Coffee House

Exclusive: ‘unspun’ Jeremy Corbyn used an old speech rejected by Miliband

29 September 2015

5:02 PM

29 September 2015

5:02 PM

On its own terms, I imagine Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Labour conference can be considered tolerably acceptable. Much of it, after all, consisted of time-served bromides with which almost no-one could reasonably disagree. It was a Marx and apple-pie speech that omitted most of Marx. And who dislikes pie?

Nevertheless, what was new was not good and what was good was not new. Much of it, actually, was not new at all. I can disclose that a significant chunk of Corbyn’s speech was, in its essentials, written many years ago. Not by Corbyn, of course, but by the writer Richard Heller.

Mr Heller (with whom I should say I have played cricket in the past) has been offering his speech to various Labour leaders since the days of Neil Kinnock. Four years ago, he offered Ed Miliband this unsolicited advice. As best I can tell, Miliband ignored him – as previous Labour leaders had. So Heller posted his words on his website, a well of leftie rhetoric free to anyone who may want to use it.  It seems that Corbyn (or his speechwriters) have been happy to draw upon this well. Let’s compare and contrast this speech with Heller’s words from four years ago (emphasis added).

To wit, Corbyn said this afternoon:

Since the dawn of history in virtually every human society there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing.  Some people have property and power, class and capital, status and clout which are denied to the many.  

And time and time again, the people who receive a great deal tell the many to be grateful to be given anything at all. They say that the world cannot be changed and the many must accept the terms on which they are allowed to live in it.

And Heller said:

Since the dawn of history, in virtually every human society there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing. Some people have property and power, class and capital, status and even sanctity, which are denied to the multitude. And time and time again, the people who receive a great deal tell the multitude to be grateful to be given anything at all. They say that the world cannot be changed and the multitude must accept the terms on which they are allowed to live in it.

[Alt-Text]


Now back to Corbyn:

These days this attitude is justified by economic theory. The many with little or nothing are told they live in a global economy whose terms cannot be changed. They must accept the place assigned to them by competitive markets.

By the way, isn’t it curious that globalisation always means low wages for poor people, but is used to justify massive payments to top chief executives.

Our Labour Party came into being to fight that attitude. That is still what our Labour Party is all about. Labour is the voice that says to the many, at home and abroad: “you don’t have to take what you’re given.”

And Heller wrote:

 The multitudes with little or nothing are told that they live in a global economy whose terms cannot be changed: they must accept the place assigned to them by competitive markets.

“The Labour Party came into being to fight that attitude. That is still what the Labour Party is all about. Labour is the voice that says to the multitude, at home and abroad: ‘you don’t have to take what you’re given.’ 

Back to Corbyn’s speech. He then said:

Labour says:

“You may be born poor but you don’t have to stay poor. You don’t have to live without power and without hope. You don’t have to set limits on your talent and your ambition – or those of your children.”

“You don’t have to accept prejudice and discrimination, or sickness or poverty, or destruction and war. You don’t have to be grateful to survive in a world made by others.  No, you set the terms for the people in power over you, and you dismiss them when they fail you.” 

That’s what democracy is about. That has always been our Labour Party’s message. You don’t have to take what you’re given.

It was the great Nigerian writer Ben Okri who perhaps put it best:  “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love”.

But Corbyn’s words owed less to Nigerian aphoristists than they did to Heller:

“Labour says: ‘you may be born poor but you don’t have to stay poor. You don’t have to live without power and without hope. You don’t have to set limits on your talent and your ambition – or those of your children.You don’t have to accept prejudice and discrimination, or sickness or destitution, or destruction and war. You don’t have to be grateful to survive in a world made by others. No, you set the terms for the people in power over you, and you dismiss them when they fail you.’

“That has always been Labour’s message. You don’t have to take what you’re given.”

Then Corbyn said:

But they’re at it again. The people who want you to take what you’re given. This Tory government.  This government which was made by the few – and paid for by the few.

Since becoming leader David Cameron has received £55 million in donations from hedge funds. From people who have a lot and want to keep it all.

And this is what Heller advised:

“They’re at it again. The people who want you to take what you’re given. This Tory-led government. This government which was made by the few – and paid by the few. Before the last election David Cameron’s received £x millions in donations from just y people. People to whom much had been given and who wanted to keep it.

Fill in the Xs! Very New Politics. Corbyn continues:

That is why this pre-paid government came into being.  

To protect the few and tell all the rest of us to accept what we’re given.  To deliver the £145 million tax break they have given the hedge funds in return.  

They want us to believe there is no alternative to cutting jobs.

Slashing public services. Vandalising the NHS. Cutting junior doctor’s pay. Reducing care for the elderly.Destroying the hopes of young people for a college education or putting university graduates into massive debt. Putting half a million more children in poverty.

They want the people of Britain to accept all of these things. They expect millions of people to work harder and longer for a lower quality of life on lower wages. Well, they’re not having it. Our Labour Party says no.  The British people never have to take what they are given.  

Corbyn certainly knows all about taking what he is given. These are the words he was given by (or, rather, took from) Heller:-

“That is why this Tory-led government came into being. To protect the few and tell all the rest of us to accept what we’re given. David Cameron and George Osborne want us to believe that there is no alternative to cutting jobs, slashing public services, vandalizing the NHS, attacking pensions, reducing care for the elderly. Destroying the hopes of young people for a college education – or a decent job afterwards if they do manage to get one. They want the British people to accept all of these things. They expect millions of people to work harder and longer for a lower quality of life. They want families to accept more stress and hardship and whole communities to accept destruction.

“Labour says no. You don’t have to accept any of these things. No one has to take what they’re given from David Cameron and George Osborne.”

Fair enough and nowt wrong with borrowing (and I’m pretty sure Heller, though likely surprised will not object), even if you might think the ‘new politics’ might place at least a small premium on originality. Then again, Mr Heller did say in 2011 that his remarks were available to others, albeit upon application.

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