Corbyn: We’re the mainstream now
Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour now stands “on the threshold of power” because its policies are “what most people in our country actually want”.
“We are now the political mainstream,” he told Labour members in his 75-minute speech at their party conference.
In what at times had the air of a victory rally, the Labour leader said they were a “government-in-waiting”.
He promised rent controls, attacked “forced gentrification” and said only Labour could unite the UK after Brexit.
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The Labour leader – who was greeted by a chorus of the football terrace-style chant of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” as he made his way to the podium – lavished praise on party activists who he said had “stopped the Tories in their tracks” at the general election.
He mocked the hostile coverage of his campaign, saying attacks by newspapers like the Daily Mail had actually helped his party’s polling.
“Never have so many trees died in vain,” he said.
Mr Corbyn said the “centre ground” in British politics had shifted from where it was “20 or 30 years ago” and his Labour Party now stood for the things most people “actually want”, even if a “still broader consensus” was needed for the party to win power.
In his third keynote conference speech as party leader – Mr Corbyn also:
- Said only Labour could unite EU Leave and Remain voters
- Promised to “repair the damage done by austerity“
- Said his principles come from his parents and the North London community he lives in
- Urged Theresa May to call another snap election: “Take another walking holiday and make another impetuous decision.”
- Condemned the “intolerable” abuse aimed at Diane Abbott – and sang Happy Birthday to the shadow home secretary from the stage
Highlighting Labour’s pledge to curb rents in the private sector, Mr Corbyn said young people’s housing costs were three times those of their grandparents.
“Rent controls exist in many cities across the world. And I want our cities to have those powers too and tenants to have those protections.”
He added: “Regeneration is a much abused word. Too often what it really means is forced gentrification and social cleansing, as private developers move in and tenants and leaseholders are moved out.”
A Labour government would require any redevelopment of a housing estate to be backed by a council ballot of residents, he said.
And anyone living there would be able to get a home on the same site on the same terms.
He described the Grenfell Tower fire as “an entirely avoidable human disaster,” with the ruined tower standing as a “chilling” monument to privatisation and “yawning inequality”.
On Brexit, Mr Corbyn pointed the finger at divisions in Tory ranks, saying the Conservatives are “more interested in posturing for personal advantage than in getting the best deal for Britain”.
“Never has the national interest been so ill-served on such a vital issue. If there were no other reason for the Tories to go, their self-interested Brexit bungling would be reason enough,” he said.
“So I have a simple message to the cabinet: for Britain’s sake pull yourself together or make way.”
He backed Theresa May’s call for a two-year transition period after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 but claimed Labour was the only party that could “unite everyone in our country around a progressive vision of what our country could be” after Brexit.
Labour would push for “unimpeded access to the single market” and fight to protect jobs and wages, while rejecting immigration targets, he told delegates.
He said the “the capitalist system still faces a crisis of legitimacy” after 2008’s financial crash and the time had now come for a new economic model, with a bigger role for the public sector, renationalised utilities and more investment in infrastructure and skills.
For much of his tenure, Mr Corbyn has faced heavy criticism from many of his MPs, including a no-confidence vote and a leadership challenge – but after the party’s election gains he said this week had showed his party was now united and “ready” to take power.
Mr Corbyn spent the summer touring marginal seats, and Labour aides said the party was currently selecting candidates in 76 Labour-Tory marginals, who would be in place by the end of the year.
Responding to his speech for the Conservatives, First Secretary of State Damian Green said: “Jeremy Corbyn’s speech summed up the problem with Labour: lots of big promises, but no explanation of how they would deliver them.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said Mr Corbyn’s speech had “once again confirmed he is one of Brexit’s biggest cheerleaders”.