Corbyn threw down the gauntlet to his opponents in the Labour leadership contest on Wednesday – with a barnstorming speech at the Unite the Union policy conference.
The Labour leader has had a challenging week, to say the least. Faced with the possibility of an effective slap in the face from the National Executive Committee (NEC) over his right to automatically appear on the election ballot (a decision which eventually went in his favour); a final confrontation with David Cameron at PMQs; official challenges to his leadership from Angela Eagle and Owen Smith; and his constituency office being firebombed – none of this appeared to faze Corbyn.
If anything, there was a sense of determined resilience about him, as he addressed the crowd in Brighton.
Sending a clear message to all factions of the Labour party, he opened a 40 minute speech by saying:
This isn’t just about an individual, this is about the way in which we do politics, the way in which we mobilise people who haven’t been very politically active before, who can see some hope in what we are offering. That is what brought so many people into the elections last year, and has brought so many more over the past few months. United as a movement we stand, when we divide we all lose and we all fail.
But the strongest sentiment was when he made it very clear that his opponents should stand down:
I call now for the maximum unity of the whole Labour movement against this government.
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Corbyn went on to talk about the steel industry and Tata Steel specifically, saying that the Labour party “shouldn’t be afraid” of being a government which intervenes in the manufacturing industry when it is necessary.
He also spoke about Theresa May, who became prime minister on Wednesday. He criticised her talk of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, saying that:
if we walk away from an international convention that protects the right of free speech, of assembly, religious diversity, then we’re all weaker as a result of it – we don’t have the moral authority to condemn anyone else.
He repeatedly attacked David Cameron’s government, accusing it of favouring corporate companies over the ordinary taxpayer; of peddling an economic policy that left many behind; of imposing austerity because of political choice not necessity, and of creating “hateful campaigns” during the EU referendum and the London Mayoral elections.
He also focussed on his party’s achievements in opposition, since he’d been in charge – forcing the government back on working tax credit reductions; stopping cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP); the backtracking of former education secretary Nicky Morgan over the academisation of every school in England and Wales; the defeat of the Tories over extended Sunday trading hours, and the cancelling of the UK government-backed contract to run prisons in Saudi Arabia.
He concluded by talking about the possibility of a snap general election:
whenever the election comes […] we’re going to be there, united, campaigning together for a different kind of country. A country that genuinely cares for people, and doesn’t pass by on the other side. That is what makes us different. That’s what makes us strong. That’s what the unity of the trade unions and the Labour party is all about.
There was a clear message in his speech. One of calling out to his opponents to respect the mandate he had been given, and to unite behind him to fight the Tory government.
And it is a message that makes resolute sense.
At a time when the new prime minister is playing clever political trickery with the cabinet, by expelling unpopular, stale ministers and replacing them with fresh, more hardline blood – the country does not need the opposition party embroiled in a leadership election.
It needs an opposition doing what it should be: Opposing.
Corbyn has the full backing of the majority of trade unions – Unite general secretary Len McCluskey had called the attempted ousting of the Labour leader as a “squalid Westminster bubble coup, an attempt at political lynching”. He also would appear to have the backing of swathes of the membership.
And it’s this support which appears to have reinvigorated Corbyn, as his performances firstly at PMQs, and then at the Unite conference, show.
This is a man with a belly full of fight and determination. And he’s a man who is not going anywhere.
Watch Corbyn’s full speech:
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Featured image via Screengrab
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