Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was excellent. It was passionate, full of campaigning zeal, focused on issues that the MP has campaigned on for years, and well-received in the hall.
The new Labour leader came across as warm, principled, personable, fun. He was introduced in a lovely, low key fashion by a member of his own constituency party, whose own life story summed up his own values. He opened with jokes about the media claiming that he was keen for an asteroid to destroy the earth (more on this and his opposition to PIGEON BOMBS here), and these went down well – both amongst the activists and the media sitting in the hall.
He ran through issues that he cared about, such as child poverty, mental health, education, Trident, foreign policy, and challenged David Cameron, particularly on Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
He took the Tory attack that he is a threat to security and applied it to different examples of injustice that he saw around Britain, asking them where the security was in homeless families, those turning to food banks, insecure housing, and others.
He had some good lines which the hall enjoyed: that the Conservatives were a ‘pre-paid government’, that globalisation always meant low wages for the poorest and high pay packets for those at the top. And the membership enjoyed his constant attacks on the commentariat.
The members in the hall gave him a number of standing ovations and throaty cheers. They stayed cheering for a good long while at the end of the speech.
There’s just one small, easily forgotten caveat to this. This speech was excellent for Jeremy Corbyn the campaigning MP. It might even have been excellent for Jeremy Corbyn the Labour MP brought on the stage to rouse the party troops. But it was completely and utterly useless at setting out how Labour, which has just lost a second election in a row, can win back the hearts of those who were not in the hall.
Jeremy Corbyn did not mention any of the key issues that voters told those candidates who are not sitting in Parliament as part of a Labour government were off-putting: Labour’s economic record and immigration. He did not mention the deficit, though he started by saying that Labour ‘will be challenging austerity, it will be unapologetic about reforming our economy’. Later he complained about Tory cuts, but said nothing about how Labour would do things differently to cut the deficit. His Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had addressed this yesterday, but given this was a major reason for people not voting Labour just a few months ago, and given it’s a year since Ed Miliband forgot the deficit in his speech, it is not enough to leave this to your Shadow Cabinet. Leaving it out was not a slip of the mind for Corbyn, it was deliberate.
We heard a lot today about Labour’s values, about Jeremy Corbyn’s moral priorities. But did we ever doubt that Labour cares about the poor and the oppressed? May’s election result shows that voters did have doubts about Labour – big doubts – but they weren’t about its kindly motives that it talks about a lot. They were about the economy.
Voters may watch the evening news bulletins and see a kind, warm, friendly man who has the best of intentions for our politics and for his party. But they will see very little that suggests he should be more than a friend to them. Kind, warm, friendly people may be utterly hopeless at managing the nation’s finances. They may have very little idea of how to be firm but fair on immigration. Perhaps this speech was only aimed at Labour activists. If that is the case, then it was indeed excellent. If it was aimed at any wider audience, it has failed.