Jeremy Corbyn has said the Labour Party is a “government in waiting”—and that under his leadership it will replace a “failed and broken system”.
Speaking at Labour conference in Brighton today, Wednesday, Corbyn said the general election result “has put the Tories on notice and Labour on the threshold of power”.
Pointing to the Grenfell Tower fire, Corbyn spoke of the desperate need for change.
He said the Tories’ “degraded regime now has a tragic monument—the chilling wreckage of Grenfell Tower”.
“Grenfell stands for a failed and broken system, which Labour must and will replace,” he added.
Corbyn suggested that a transformed Labour Party would lead a different type of government.
“Our democracy needs to break out from Westminster into all parts of society, and the economy where power is unaccountable,” he said.
“Democracy must mean listening to people outside of election time, not just to the rich and powerful who are used to calling the shots.”
His speech reflected the emboldened mood among activists following Labour’s success at the general election, and a series of victories for the left at conference.
One Corbyn supporter told Socialist Worker she thought that the speech was “very inspirational”. “We’ll win the next election because we’ve had enough of neoliberalism and we’re going back to our own important values,” she said.
Another said the speech was “exactly what Labour should be saying. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with it.”
Most felt that an election victory was just around the corner. One activist summed up the mood when she said, “I think we’ve got this in the bag—we just need another election and we’ll win it.”
But there were mixed opinions on how Labour could face up to the interests of the rich and powerful who will try to prevent or bring down a left wing government.
When asked, one Corbyn supporter said, “I can’t answer that question—that’s not a great question to be honest.” Another said, “We’ll be fine, I don’t know what everyone is panicking about.”
One activist said, “We’re never going to win over the right wing media. I thought Jeremy gave them a brilliant two fingers today,” pointing to a joke Corbyn made about the Daily Mail in his speech.
He said that big businesses could be persuaded to tolerate a Labour government. “They’re always going to look after their own interests,” he said. “But with Brexit they’ve got problems of their own now.
“If they think they’ll be better off with a soft Brexit under a Labour government they’ll go along with it.”
But another said Corbyn supporters would have to fight to elect and then defend a left wing Labour government.
“It won’t be easy, so we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a lot of people behind us,” she said.
“We’ve got to support strikes—like the McDonald’s strike and the postal workers. And we’ve got to figure out how we fight the cuts.”
Sections of Corbyn’s speech will anger big businesses and those Labour MPs who still want to move back towards the right.
Corbyn condemned recent terrorist attacks. But against those in Labour who refuse to link the attacks to Britain’s wars he said, “Terrorism is thriving in a world our governments have helped to shape, with its failed states, military interventions and occupations where millions are forced to flee conflict or hunger.”
In a veiled swipe at Labour councils such as the one in Haringey, Corbyn attacked “regeneration schemes” that “really mean forced gentrification”.
“Regeneration under a Labour government will be for the benefit of the people—not property developers and private speculators,” he said.
And against those who want Labour to pander to anti-migrant racism Corbyn said, “We will never follow the Tories into the gutter of blaming migrants for the ills in our society. It isn’t migrants who drive down wages and conditions, but the biggest bosses along with the Conservative government.”
Corbyn has previously promised that Labour would deliver “fair and managed migration”. At conference in this context he said the party would “take action to stop employers driving down pay and conditions”.
Unfortunately that can be used as cover for more immigration controls – and it’s how some will see it.
Labour will come under increasing pressure to show big businesses that it can govern “responsibly” as it gets closer being elected. Parts of Corbyn’s speech were aimed at reassuring bosses.
His plans to transform the system were pitched as a way of rescuing it.
Ten years after the financial crash Corbyn said “now is the time the government took a more active role in restructuring the economy”.
He spoke of serving the “national interest”—which is the idea that bosses and ordinary people have a common stake in the system. And he said, “We must make the change we seek credible and effective.”
Yet being “credible” often means having to accept limits to what a Labour government will do.
So Corbyn said, “Scrapping the public sector pay squeeze isn’t just an act of charity—it’s a necessity to keep our public services fully staffed and strong.”
But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said Labour wouldn’t meet trade union demands for a five percent pay rise to help make up for years of cuts.
And earlier this week shadow chancellor John McDonnell and economist Paul Mason suggested that Labour should avoid major confrontations with bosses when in office.
Promises such as restoring public sector pay are popular—backing away from them could damage Labour’s support.
And attempts to work with bosses who want to crush resistance always end up with left governments under their thumb—as Syriza in Greece has shown.
Corbyn’s speech today will have inspired millions who want a transformed society. Following through on that means encouraging resistance—not dropping some of Labour’s best promises.