By Jeremy Corbyn, Brighton
We meet here this week as a united party, advancing in every part of Britain, winning the confidence of millions of our fellow citizens, setting out our ideas and plans for our country’s future, that have already inspired people of all ages and backgrounds.
And it’s a privilege to be speaking in Brighton. A city that not only has a long history of hosting Labour conferences, but also of inspirational Labour activists.
It was over a century ago, here in Brighton, that a teenage shop worker had had enough of the terrible conditions facing her and her workmates. She risked the sack to join the Shop Workers’ Union, after learning about it in a newspaper used to wrap up fish and chips, and was so effective at standing up for women shop workers, she became assistant general secretary before the age of 30.
In that role she seconded the historic resolution at the Trades Union Congress of 1899 to set up the Labour Representation Committee so that working people would finally have representation in Parliament.
That became the Labour party and it was this woman, Margaret Bondfield who later become a Labour MP. And in 1929, the first ever woman to join the British cabinet.
From a Brighton drapery to Downing Street. Margaret Bondfield’s story is a reminder of the decisive role women have played in the Labour party from its foundation, and that Labour has always been about making change by working together and standing up for others.
Conference, against all predictions in June we won the largest increase in the Labour vote since 1945 and achieved Labour’s best vote for a generation. It’s a result which has put the Tories on notice and Labour on the threshold of power.
Yes, we didn’t do quite well enough and we remain in opposition for now, but we have become a government-in-waiting. Our outstanding shadow cabinet team here today. And our message to the country could not be clearer – Labour is ready.
Ready to tackle inequality, ready to rebuild our NHS, ready to give opportunity to young people, dignity and security to older people, ready to invest in our economy and meet the challenges of climate change and automation, ready to put peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy. And ready to build a new and progressive relationship with Europe.
We are ready and the Tories are clearly not. They’re certainly not strong and they’re definitely not stable. They’re not remotely united. And they’re hanging on by their fingertips.
But this Tory government does have one thing that we lack. They have tracked down the Magic Money Tree when it was needed to keep Theresa May in Downing Street. It was given a good old shake – and lo and behold – now we know the price of power – it’s about £100m for each Democratic Unionist MP.
During the election campaign, Theresa May told voters they faced the threat of a “coalition of chaos. Remember that? Well, now they’re showing us exactly how that works. And I don’t just mean the Prime Minister’s desperate deal with the DUP. She’s got a “coalition of chaos” around her own cabinet table – Phillip Hammond and Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis.
At each other’s throats, squabbling and plotting, manoeuvring to bundle the Prime Minister out of Number Ten and take her place at the first opportunity Instead of getting to grips with the momentous issues facing our country.
But this coalition of chaos is no joke. Just look at their record since the Conservatives have been in office;
The longest fall in people’s pay since record began.
NHS waiting lists lengthening.
School class sizes growing and teachers leaving.
Over 4 million children now in poverty.
20,000 police officers … and 11,000 firefighters cut.
More people in work and in poverty … than ever before.
Condemned by the United Nations for violating the rights of disabled people.
That’s not strong and stable. It’s callous and calculating. Because the Tories calculated that making life worse for millions in the name of austerity would pay for hefty tax handouts to the rich and powerful.
Conference, your efforts in the election campaign stopped the Tories in their tracks. The election result has already delivered one Tory U-turn after another over some of their most damaging policies. The cruel dementia tax was scrapped within three days of being announced. Plans to bring back grammar schools have been ditched . The threat to the pensions’ triple lock abandoned. Withdrawal of Winter Fuel payments dumped. The pledge to bring back fox hunting dropped. And their plan to end free school meals in primary schools has been binned.
The reality is that barely three months since the election this coalition of Conservative chaos is tearing up its Manifesto and tearing itself apart. They are bereft of ideas and energy. Indeed, they seem to be cherry-picking Labour policies instead, including on Brexit.
I say to the Prime Minister: “You’re welcome . But go the whole hog end austerity, abolish tuition fees, scrap the public sector pay cap. I think we can find a Commons majority for all of that. This is a weak and divided Government with no purpose beyond clinging to power.
It is Labour that is now setting the agenda and winning the arguments for a new common sense about the direction our country should take.
Conference, there were two stars of our election campaign. The first was our Manifesto that drew on the ideas of our members and trade unionists and the hopes and aspirations of their communities and workplaces. And we were clear about how we would pay for it by asking the richest and the largest corporations to start paying their fair share.
Not simply to redistribute within a system that isn’t delivering for most people but to transform that system. So we set out not only how we would protect public services but how we would rebuild and invest in our economy, with a publicly-owned engine of sustainable growth, driven by national and regional investment banks, to generate good jobs and prosperity in every region and nation.
Our Manifesto is the programme of a modern, progressive socialist party that has rediscovered its roots and its purpose, bucking the trend across Europe.
And Conference, the other star of that campaign was YOU. Our members, our supporters in the trade unions, our doorstep and social media campaigners. Young people sharing messages and stories on social media, hundreds of thousands organising online and on the ground to outplay the Tories’ big money machine.
Is it any wonder that here today in Brighton you represent the largest political party in western Europe, with nearly 600,000 members, alongside three million affiliated trade unionists, brimming with enthusiasm and confidence in the potential of our people. You are the future. And let me say straight away. I’m awed and humbled by everything you have done, along with hundreds of thousands of others across the country, to take us to where we are today.
I have never been more proud to be your elected leader. Our election campaign gave people strength. It brought millions on to the electoral register and inspired millions to go to vote for the first time.
And Labour was the Party of unity, bringing generations and communities together, rather than pitting young and old against each other, as the Tories did. We will never seek to squeeze one generation to support another. Under Labour, people will win together.
The result of our campaign confounded every expert and sceptic. I see John McDonnell said the ‘grey beards’ had got it all wrong. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, John? We wiped out the Tory majority, winning support in every social and age group and gaining seats in every region and nation of the country.
So please, Theresa May take another walking holiday and make another impetuous decision. The Labour campaign machine is primed and ready to roll.
Of course, there were some who didn’t come out of the election too well. I’m thinking of some of our more traditional media friends. They ran the campaign they always do under orders from their tax exile owners to trash Labour at every turn. The day before the election one paper devoted fourteen pages to attacking the Labour Party. And our vote went up nearly 10%.
Never have so many trees died in vain. The British people saw right through it. So this is a message to the Daily Mail’s editor- next time, please could you make it 28 pages?
But there’s a serious message too, the campaign by the Tories and their loyal media was nasty and personal. It fuelled abuse online and no one was the target of that more than Diane Abbott. She has a decades-long record of campaigning for social justice and has suffered intolerable misogynistic and racist abuse. Faced with such an overwhelmingly hostile press and an army of social media trolls,it’s even more important that we stand.
Yes we will disagree, but there can never be any excuse for any abuse of anybody. We settle our differences with democratic votes and unite around those decision.
That is the Labour Party, here this week, and out in the communities EVERY week -diverse, welcoming, democratic and ready to serve our country.
There is no bigger test in politics right now than Brexit, an incredibly important and complex process, that cannot be reduced to repeating fairy stories from the side of a bus or waiting 15 months to state the obvious. As democratic socialists, we accept and respect the referendum result, but respect for a democratic decision does not mean giving a green light to a recklesss Tory Brexit agenda that would plunge Britain into a Trump-style race-to-the-bottom in rights and corporate taxes.
We are not going to be passive spectators to a hopelessly inept negotiating team putting at risk people’s jobs, rights and living standards. A team more interested in posturing for personal advantage than in getting the best deal for our country. To be fair, Theresa May’s speech in Florence last week did unite the cabinet. for a few hours at least. Her plane had barely touched down at Heathrow before the divisions broke out again.
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. So I have a simple message to the cabinet for Britain’s sake pull yourself together or make way.
One thing needs to be made clear straight away. The three million EU citizens currently living and working in Britain are welcome here. They have been left under a cloud of insecurity by this government when their future could have been settled months ago. So Theresa May, give them the full guarantees they deserve today. If you don’t, we will.
Since the referendum result our Brexit team has focused above all on our economic future. That future is now under real threat. A powerful faction in the Conservative leadership sees Brexit as their chance to create a tax haven on the shores of Europe a low-wage, low tax deregulated playground for the hedge funds and speculators. A few at the top would do very nicely, no question. But manufacturing industries would go to the wall taking skilled jobs with them our tax base would crumble our public services would be slashed still further.
We are now less than 18 months away from leaving the European Union. And so far, the Tory trio leading the talks have got nowhere and agreed next to nothing. This rag-tag Cabinet spends more time negotiating with each other than they do with the EU. A cliff-edge Brexit is at risk of becoming a reality. That is why Labour has made clear that Britain should stay within the basic terms of the single market and a customs union for a limited transition period. It is welcome at least that Theresa May has belatedly accepted that.
But beyond that transition, our task is a different one. It is to unite everyone in our country around a progressive vision of what Britain could be, but with a government that stands for the many not the few.
Labour is the only party that can bring together those who voted leave and those who backed remain and unite the country for a future beyond Brexi. What matters in the Brexit negotiations is to achieve a settlement that delivers jobs, rights and decent living standards.
Conference, the real divide over Brexit could not be . A shambolic Tory Brexit driving down standards .Or a Labour Brexit that puts jobs first a Brexit for the many, one that guarantees unimpeded access to the single market and establishes a new co-operative relationship with the EU.
A Brexit that uses powers returned from Brussels to support a new industrial strategy to upgrade our economy in every region and nation. One that puts our economy first not fake immigration targets that fan the flames of fear. We will never follow the Tories into the gutter of blaming migrants for the ills of society. It isn’t migrants who drive down wages and conditions but the worst bosses in collusion with a Conservative government that never misses a chance to attack trade unions and weaken people’s rights at work.