Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech to Labour conference as party leader was greeted with genuine support and real applause, unlike many of the speeches that have been given by previous leaders, which were simply stage-managed affairs for the media. The task now is to convert the hope and promises into a reality.
Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech to Labour conference as party leader was greeted with genuine support and real applause, unlike many of the speeches that have been given by previous leaders, which were simply stage-managed affairs for the media.
The positive reception to Corbyn’s speech reflects the fact that Jeremy is putting into words what many of the party members have been waiting for decades to hear from their leadership. Emphasising the injustice of the system and the way that the many are excluded to benefit the rich few, he laid out calls for taking rail back into public ownership, placing schools into local control, having a proper housing programme, fighting cuts to benefits and opposing austerity.
Corbyn attacked the way that the Tories have connived with repressive regimes, attacked the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society, and plundered the public purse to give handouts to hedge fund managers at our expense. He demanded that our youth should have a better deal than the one currently on offer.
The new Labour leader also made clear that it would be the party and its membership that will debate and decide policy, not the leaders’ office, focus groups or the boardrooms of the City of London. This represents a clear break with the rotten system that became dominant during the Blair era.
These promises must now be carried through. The massive increase in Labour Party membership will mean nothing if those hundreds of thousands of new and returning members are not able to play a real part in developing and deciding policy. A debate about the way forward is now needed.
Jeremy has rightly targeted the austerity programme of the Tories as one which has not benefited the vast majority. However, this austerity is the result of the capitalist system and is only alternative that the ruling class will accept. This is why the Labour right wing – who are totally wedded to capitalism – are so committed to cuts.
To oppose austerity – and make Corbyn’s vision a reality – it will be necessary to develop a programme that breaks with capitalism. Hoping that the capitalists will, if encouraged, mend their ways and provide jobs and decent levels of pay is out of the question. Even if funds are made available through a state bank or through public projects, the capitalists will simply pocket the money and carry on as before. They are only interested in their own well-being.
What is needed is a completely new set of policies and politics. We say that this must involve taking over the monopolies, banks and finance houses (with no compensation to the money-grabbing robbers who own them and have become rich at our expense), so that the resources in society can be used, under workers control and management, as part of a socialist plan, to provide the things that a new society really needs.
Without this transformation, power will remain in the hands of the few – a power they will exercise for their own benefit, not ours. The privatised public utilities must be taken back into public ownership; the NHS must be properly financed and made free for all; a massive programme of council house building is needed to end the scandal of homelessness and slum housing; we must fight for free education for all. These demands were reflected in much of Jeremy’s speech about the kind of society he wants us to have. These aspirations need socialist policies to make them a reality.
In this debate, we also need to recognise that the party’s representatives will need to fight for this future. Thanks to decades of manipulation, however, many of Labour’s MPs and other representatives are not interested in this at all. They are only interested in their careers and protecting the status quo. Calls for unity must be made on the basis of defending Corbyn and uniting around the programme that he has been overwhelming elected on.
We should not expect the Labour right wing to do anything else other than what they are doing, which is to try and undermine Jeremy’s position in every way. They hate Corbyn and all he stands for and are quite happy to say so.
In essence, the way forward is clear. These careerist Blairite relics must be replaced with people who will represent and defend the working class. There is no other way to proceed. Left to their own devices, they will chip away at the Corbyn leadership, pushing for compromises that are defeats in reality, and seizing on any sign of weakness.
So those party activists and supporters who welcome what Jeremy had to say – and many will, despite the moaning of the Blairites in the media and in the five-star hotels in Brighton – will need to organise and fight for the socialist policies that are needed to guarantee all the demands and promises made at conference. This is the struggle before us.