Jeremy Corbyn – 2015 Speech to Labour South West Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, at Labour’s South West conference held in Bristol on 21 November 2015.

Thank you for that kind introduction and welcome.

It’s great to be back in the south west – the region where I was born.

I want to congratulate our new MPs in this region:

Thangam Debbonaire for Bristol West…. and Karin Smyth in Bristol South.

As well as our returning MPs….  Ben Bradshaw in Exeter and Kerry McCarthy in Bristol East.

We have council elections across this region next year.. and a mayoral contest in this city.. where we have an excellent candidate in Marvin Rees.

Last night we launched Marvin’s campaign with a fundraiser here in Bristol.

Over the summer we held a huge rally here, and others across the south-west..  in Plymouth, Exeter and at Tolpuddle.. for the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival.

Tolpuddle reminds us of the roots of our movement.
In working people organising together for a better life.

The bravery, determination and endurance of those early trade unionists inspire us to this day.

They understood the overriding importance of solidarity – no matter how tough the circumstances.

And trade unions are as necessary today as ever – not least in a region like this, where up to 40% of jobs in Devon and Cornwall earn less than the living wage. That makes Devon and Cornwall the low pay capital of Britain.

‘Together, we’re stronger’. ..‘United we stand, divided we fall’… These are not just slogans of the Labour movement, but enduring truths for all of us.

We’ve seen those values of solidarity and steadfastness in the response of the people of Paris to the horrific events of a week ago.

Those attacks on civilians were an indefensible outrage.
The same goes for the recent terrorist atrocities in Beirut, Ankara and elsewhere.

Those who planned and organized these mass killings must be brought to account.

The attacks were also an attempt to break the unity of our communities.

But the quiet heroism we have seen in Paris and other cities, by people who refused to be cowed or divided, is an example to everyone.

Today I want to use this chance of speaking to you to stand back a bit and reflect on the huge changes that have taken place here in Britain.. in our politics and our party.. how we got here and on the direction we now need to take.

By any measure, this has been an extraordinary few months for us all – in the Labour party, in British politics and across the country as a whole.

In six months we’ve gone from the demoralisation of a general election defeat.. through what can only be described as an eruption of grassroots democracy in our political system.

Two months ago, that tide of people demanding a real political alternative delivered a landslide in the Labour leadership election.

Of course, I’m humbled by the huge support and mandate I’ve been given.

It’s been a rollercoaster.. no doubt about that.

But I also know it’s not about me personally.

It’s about a thirst for a different kind of politics.. which I’m honoured to help give voice to.

And we’ve drawn strength from the huge numbers that continue to turn out across the country… to join what is now a deeply rooted movement for change.. for a different kind of Britain.

Labour party members and supporters in hugely expanded numbers, of course.. but also hundreds of thousands who’ve never been involved in politics before.

What seemed to come out of nowhere has certainly taken the powers-that-be by surprise.

But we know that what’s happened in the Labour party has deep roots in something that’s been building up in our country and across the world for years. It’s been a political rebirth.

People are fed up with a so-called free market system that has delivered grotesque inequality, stagnating living standards for the many…  calamitous foreign wars without end … and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power or influence.

Since the crash of 2008, anti-austerity politics – and the demand for an alternative – has led to the rise of new movements and parties.. in one country after another.

In Britain it’s happened in the heart of traditional politics, in the Labour party… which is something we should be extremely proud of.

It’s exactly what Labour was founded for: to be the voice of the many.. of social justice and progressive change from the bottom up.

Now of course it’s been a bumpy couple of months.

The sort of change represented by an election like we went through … was always going to be a difficult transition.

But amid all the sound and fury – and some stuff that has been truly off-the-wall – that change is already making itself felt.

Since we formed our new leadership team and shadow cabinet, Labour is now an unequivocally anti-austerity party.

We have already defeated George Osborne in parliament over the Tories’ swingeing attacks on working families’ tax credits.

Labour is now at last committed to bringing the railways back into public ownership… supported by the large majority of British people.

We’ve dragged the government behind us on the threat to our steel industry.

And we have shamed David Cameron into pulling the plug on his tawdry prison deal with Saudi Arabia.

That’s our first two months.

The campaign we launched across the country this summer will continue. Every week, I’m campaigning, speaking and meeting people throughout Britain.

But now the dust is settling, I think it’s time to set out, not just where my leadership has come from, but where I want this movement to go.. what we want to achieve.. and what our our vision for Britain is all about.

First and foremost, this Labour leadership is about a genuinely new political direction for the country.

The platform I was elected on is based on three pillars.. and everything we want to do will be based on those foundations.

The first pillar is the new politics: the democratisation of public life from the ground up.. giving people a real say in their communities and workplaces.. breaking open the closed circle of Westminster and Whitehall – and yes, of boardrooms too.

That’s why we want to see a mushrooming of online democracy and citizen’s assemblies.. and why we’re backing a constitutional convention to bring power closer to people, in every nation and region of our country, in every community, town and city.

That’s why we want communities to have more direct control of their own services.

As part of our constitutional convention, Jon Trickett will be asking citizens’ assemblies to discuss where powers should be held, who should hold them, and how they should be accountable … of the voting system, House of Lords reform and the voting age.

Some local councils have already led the way – through participatory budgeting or setting up Fairness Commissions.. to work out how council resources can be harnessed to increase equality.

People need more power in the workplace too.

The Conservatives are stripping away the most basic of workers’ rights through the Trade Union Bill.

Not only will we reverse the Bill when we get back in 2020.. we will extend people’s rights in the workplace – and give employees a real voice in the organisations they work for.

And Ian Lavery is leading a working group to drive forward this agenda.

Our party needs to be at the heart of this democratization drive as well.

Too often in the past, the democratic decisions of our conference have been ignored by the party leadership,

To many, it’s felt like a small cabal in Westminster decides, while you’re expected to be loyal foot soldiers pounding the streets for Labour.

But we want people to be able to participate in politics.. to have a direct voice in every part of their lives.

Our leadership election gave an insight into what can be achieved – 400,000 people were mobilised to vote, and more than half voted online.

Every week I’ve been asking people for their suggestions of what I could raise with David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions – and thousands of people send in their own questions.

Over the summer, the parliamentary party got a decision badly wrong. We abstained on the welfare bill.

Would we have made that mistake if we had asked you, our members, what we should have done?

Why not give members the chance to take part in indicative online ballots on policy in between annual conferences – and give our grassroots members and supporters a real say?

We want to see this democratic revolution extend into our party.. opening up decision-making.. to the hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters that have joined us since May.

It’s a huge opportunity for Labour: to remake our party as a real social movement.. organising and rooted in our communities.

That’s not about fighting sectarian battles or settling political scores.

It’s about being open to the people we seek to represent … giving them a voice through our organisation and policy-making.. and drawing members into political action.

Of course the new politics is also about open and respectful debate.
All my political life I have stood for tolerance, debate and the democratic determination of policy.

But I have also been elected to lead, to express the aspirations and concerns of millions of people – hundreds of thousands of whom gave me my mandate.

We owe it to them to unite and conduct our debates in a comradely and constructive way… and all of us to live with the outcomes. It’s about respecting democracy – and also those who depend on us.

The second pillar of our project for Britain is a new economy.
It’s anti-austerity economics.. that goes without saying.
And like so many other of the policies we’re developing.. that’s something that unites our shadow cabinet and MPs..  with members across the party.

Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity.. as our new shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the party conference.

Five years ago, the Conservatives said they were going to wipe out the deficit and cut the debt.

Instead, slashing services and benefits – while cutting taxes for the wealthy – only slowed our recovery… and loaded the burden of the banks’ crisis onto the backs of people… who had nothing whatever to do with it.

Recovery only got going once Osborne panicked.. took the brakes off … and pumped up housing credit to get through the general election.

Now the Tories are about to impose a new wave of even more devastating cuts.. and effective tax rises for millions of working families.

That’s happening just as the risks from a weakening global economy are growing.

Osborne’s economy is a house built on sand.

But what Labour now stands for is far more than stopping the damage being done by the Tories.. and their threat to our economic future.

We want to see a break with the failed economic orthodoxy that has gripped the establishment in this country for decades.

The City elite that was supposed to know best brought our economy to its knees.

The 1980s orthodoxy of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich hasn’t delivered sustainable growth.

And it hasn’t delivered decent living standards for most of us .. let alone economic security.

That model of how to run an economy is broken.

The results in Britain have been a lop-sided and unstable economy.. an explosion of insecure low-paid jobs.. declining productivity.. and stagnating or falling incomes for the majority.

Our alternative will put public investment first.
It will put science, technology and the green industries of the future front and centre stage.

We want to see the reindustrialisation of Britain for the digital age.. driven by a national investment bank.. as a motor of economic modernisation for the 21st century.

Not the phoney Northern powerhouse of George Osborne’s soundbites – but a real economic renaissance of the north: a renaissance based on investment in infrastructure, transport, housing and technology.. that provides a solid return.

We need the same for the South West too… investing in a new Okehampton bypass and rail electrification on the Great Western line.

A genuinely mixed economy.. of public enterprise and long-term business commitment.. that will provide the decent pay, jobs, housing, schools, health and social care of the future.

An economy based on a new settlement with the corporate sector.. that, yes, involves both rights and responsibilities.

Labour will always distribute the rewards of growth more fairly. That’s for sure.

But to deliver that growth.. and create that wealth in the first place.. demands profound change in the way the economy is run.

Change that puts the interests of the public and the workforce.. ahead of short-term shareholder interest.

Only an economy that is run for the real wealth creators – the technicians, designers, cleaners, supermarket and health workers..  as well as the entrepreneurs and self-employed – and puts them in the driving seat .. is going to deliver prosperity for all in the future.

The third pillar of our vision for Britain is a different kind of foreign policy – based on a new and more independent relationship with the rest of the world.

A relationship where war is a last resort.

For the past 14 years, Britain has been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars..  that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East.

They have increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security.

That in no way excuses or mitigates the responsibility of those who carry out these indefensible outrages, whether in Paris a week ago or in the last 24 hours in Bamako, Mali.. or Beirut or Ankara.

Absolutely nothing can justify the targeting of civilians, by anyone, anywhere.

But the experience of Afghanistan.. Iraq… and Libya has convinced many of our own people .. that the elite’s enthusiasm for endless military interventions .. has only multiplied the threats to us – while leaving death and destabilisation in their wake.

David Cameron told parliament this week that last Friday’s atrocities in Paris, claimed by Isis, made the case for British military action in Syria stronger.

Everyone, including British Muslims, wants to see the defeat of this murderous and reactionary cult.

Yesterday I was in Finsbury Park mosque to support the Muslim community.. and as I said in parliament on Wednesday, at times like these.. we must stand more strongly than ever.. against anti-semitism, Islamophobia or racism in any form.

And Labour will consider the proposals the government brings forward – including its responses to the Foreign Affairs select committee report opposing British air strikes in Syria.

But in our view, the dreadful Paris attacks make the case for a far more urgent international effort… to reach a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war – and end the threat from Isis.

It is the conflict in Syria…and the consequences of the Iraq war …which have created the conditions for Isis to thrive and spread its murderous rule.

And it is through political agreement to end the civil war – negotiated with all the external powers.. backed by the United Nations.. and with Syrians in control of their own country – that Isis will be isolated and defeated.

Action against ISIS that sticks… on the ground.. that destroys the virus .. and reclaims hearts and minds, as well as territory.. will have to come from within the Arab and Muslim world itself.

It can’t be seen as an external intervention.. although the international community has a part to play.

That’s why we have called on the government to work through the UN. And why we should use the UN security council resolution passed last night.. to accelerate moves towards a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.

Of course, Labour will support every necessary measure to protect people on the streets of our towns and cities.

But it is vital at a time of tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred.

As the US president Barack Obama said recently, Isis “grew out of our invasion of Iraq” and is one of its “unintended consequences”.

We must not keep making the same mistake – again and again.

Let me make it clear. Labour will always stand up to any threat to this country and our people.

We will never leave Britain unprotected.

But we need a different approach to foreign policy that puts peace.. justice.. and real security first.

Our experience of 14 years of failed foreign wars has driven home.. that human rights are better protected through solidarity and universally accepted bodies such as the UN.. rather than arming dictatorships and unilateral military force.

Engagement, dialogue and negotiation through the UN isn’t a cop-out.

We’re seeing the start of a process in Vienna that could pave the way for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.. and end the refugee crisis.

That’s clearly a better and safer way.. to relate to the Arab and Muslim world.

It’s one that also better reflects Labour’s values.

Fair trade.. respect for human rights.. aid, internationalism and conflict resolution – instead of perpetual war.. and support for dictatorial regimes that threaten.. not protect.. our security.

That’s also part of the reason so many…. including at the heart of our military establishment…. question the sense of renewing the Trident weapons system at huge cost, when the threats to our security demand a different defence strategy in the 21st century…. even as we do everything necessary to protect jobs and hi-tech industry.

We all know there are different views on nuclear weapons in our party, passionately held on both sides.

But having that debate in a serious and respectful way isn’t a sign of weakness.

It’s a recognition that some of the most important issues facing our country.. have been excluded from mainstream politics for too long.
And we are determined to end that.

Just as we are determined to put the need for a progressive reform agenda in the European Union back on the table – everything from workers’ rights…. to ending corporate privilege.. and enforced privatisation ….  instead of David Cameron’s timid and skewed renegotiation.. choreographed for the cameras.

But this is the prime minister who tries to wrap himself in the Union Jack.. and claim his opponents hate Britain.

The gall of the fake Tory patriots is really something to behold.
Who is it who’s really anti-British?

Is it the Tory ministers and their non-dom City hedge-fund backers.. who sell off our national assets to overseas governments and corporations?

Who take instructions from Gulf tyrannies on British domestic policy..  in exchange for arms and oil deals.. or who outsource decisions on our own national security to the US government?

What kind of patriotism is it.. to sell your country to the highest bidder?

To flog off the publicly owned NHS to privateers?

How is it patriotic to take money from working families.. and hand control of the country to a super-rich elite?

What’s pro-British about a government that slashes support for serving soldiers and military veterans?

Or ministers whose police cuts are so severe that, as senior officers have warned, they are expected to “reduce very significantly” the ability to respond to a Paris-style attack?

The letter from senior police chiefs to Theresa May after the Paris tragedy makes clear that planned cuts would have a severe impact on the capacity of the police to respond to attacks on this scale.

This is an alarming situation. By pressing ahead with these cuts, the government is failing in its most basic duty.. to protect our citizens.

The planned cuts to police numbers and capability pose a direct threat to the security of our own people.

They must be halted.

Following discussions with Andy Burnham, we want to make this very clear.

After Paris, there must be no cuts in the police front line.

That means no reduction in numbers, essential equipment or helicopter support.

To press ahead with these cuts would be gambling with the safety of the British people.

Labour will take no lectures in patriotism from the Conservatives, the political wing of the hedge-funds and the bankers.

How dare Cameron’s Conservatives pretend that they speak for Britain.

We stand for this country’s greatest traditions: the suffragettes and the trade unions..  the Britain of Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Alan Turing and the Beatles… and perhaps our finest Olympian – and a Somalian refugee – Mo Farah.. an Arsenal fan of course.

And for the working people of this country who fought fascism.. built the welfare state.. and turned this land into an industrial powerhouse.

The real patriots.

For all their talk of defending the country, Cameron’s Conservatives won’t even take action to save our steel industry.. when the means are at hand.

A job in Scunthorpe is as good as a job in the City of London.

But Cameron’s government is sitting on its hands.. while what’s left of our manufacturing based is bled white by import dumping and its own inaction.

We need Cameron and Osborne to act as decisively in 2015 .. as Gordon Brown did in 2008.. when the Labour government took over RBS and Lloyds.. to prevent economic collapse.

Why didn’t Cameron’s government help with high energy costs, without waiting for approval from Brussels?

Or cut the business rates the industry pays… which are much higher than elsewhere in Europe?

And what about an industrial strategy to build a modern manufacturing base?

If the Italian government can take a public stake to maintain their steel industry, so can we.

That’s why Labour will be pressing Cameron to use the powers we have.. to intervene and, if necessary, take a strategic stake in steel..  to save jobs and restructure the industry.

Cameron has the power.

He must act now to save steel.

The Tories won in May on their lowest ever share of the vote for a parliamentary majority – just 37% of those who voted.. and less than a quarter of those eligible.

That’s no landslide in anyone’s book.

But Labour failed to win back the economic credibility lost in the financial crash of 2008.. or convince potential supporters we offered a genuine alternative.

The result is that millions of families now face deep cuts to their incomes and a savage squeeze on public services.. while the richest enjoy tax cuts and household-name corporations pay almost no tax whatsoever.

Privatisation and job insecurity are being let rip.. while the government unleashes a legal onslaught on the very trade unions that could defend them.

Meanwhile middle income voters faces growing insecurity.. and relentlessly rising costs.. from housing to higher education.

We will oppose and resist this government’s brutal and incompetent policies at every turn.. inside and outside parliament.

And we will base our campaigns on the commitment and enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands who have been drawn into Labour politics by my election.

But at every stage.. starting with next month’s by-election in Oldham.. we will be focused on how to build the support to win elections..  in every community and every part of the country..  laying the ground to win back power for Labour in 2020.

In May, the votes we needed to win fragmented in all parts of the country..  while millions of our potential voters stayed at home.

Many didn’t believe we offered the alternative they wanted. Some of our supporters were drawn to Ukip.

But even if Ukip won’t build you a home, find a school for your kids, or protect the NHS.. it will always find someone to blame.

It’s true there’s an electoral mountain to climb.

But if we focus everything on the needs and aspirations of middle and lower income voters….  if we demonstrate we’ve got a viable alternative to the government’s credit-fuelled, insecure economy..
I’m convinced we can build a coalition of electoral support…. that can beat the Tories in four and a half years’ time.

That means being the voice of women, of young people and pensioners…. middle and lower income workers….
the unemployed and the self-employed….
minority communities – and those struggling with the impact of migration at work.. and in our towns and cities.

It means putting climate change and green jobs..
housing..
the NHS..
education..
social care..
workplace rights..
mental health..
and arts for all.. at the centre of everything we do and say.

Running like a golden thread through Labour’s history is the struggle for equality.

And rampant inequality has become the great scandal of our time, sapping the potential of our society.. and tearing at its fabric.

Labour’s goal isn’t just greater equality of wealth and income.. but also of power.

Our aim could not be more ambitious.

We want a new settlement for the 21st century: in politics.. business.. our communities.. with the environment, and in our relations with the rest of the world.

Every one of us in the Labour party.. is motivated by the gap between what our country is .. and what it could be.

We know that in the fifth largest economy in the world.. the foodbanks.. stunted life chances.. and growing poverty alongside wealth on an undreamt of scale.. are a mark of shameful and unnecessary failure.

We know that privatisation, outsourcing and unscrupulous employers are driving down pay and conditions.. as the Tories kick away the limited protection people still have.

We know how great this country could be.. for all its people.. with a new political and economic settlement..

With new forms of democratic public ownership,.. driven by investment in the technology and industries of the future.. with decent jobs, education and housing for all.. with local services run by and for people.. not outsourced to faceless corporations.

That’s not backward-looking, it’s the very opposite.

It’s the socialism of the 21st century.

But it’s not simply a Labour offer to the British people.. cooked up like some political marketing wheeze.

What we’re starting this autumn is a democratic transformation..  inside and outside our party.. to build a future that can belong to the British people.

Based on the three pillars of my leadership mandate, that’s our goal.. to to take back power from the 1% and put it in the hands of our communities..

Those communities are being damaged by this Tory government.
Our people are hurting.

That’s why we need a Labour mayor in Bristol next year… and a Labour government in 2020.