The speech with which Jeremy Corbyn concluded the three-day Labour Party conference in Liverpool had all the main elements that have marked Labour’s return to itself in the three years since he daringly took over its reins: the fight against inequality, against the environmental catastrophe, against unemployment, against the culpable passivity of the country in the Palestinian issue (for which it is, after all, partly responsible), and—for a completely new element—against the UK’s traditional ancillary role in US foreign policy disasters.
What was most noticeable was Corbyn deftly avoiding digging his own political grave on the issue of the national psychological drama of Brexit. Hopefully, the Conservatives will end up doing just that, who in their chaotic infighting are proving once again that there is no bloodier war than civil war. Despite the shrill protests of the centrist of his party, which, together with the bloodless Lib Dems, are trying to limit their electoral erosion by immolating themselves theatrically on the barricades of an implausible second referendum, Corbyn did not mention the prospect of another referendum even once. In its place, however, he offered what the country really needs: economic stimuli to create jobs that would not be exploitation, the overcoming of financial greed, and serious action to counter the eco-massacre to which we are already victims, and by which we are cold-bloodedly taking away the future of our children.
As concerns Brexit, the Labour Party will vote against Theresa May’s Chequers plan, which no one is happy about, and will oppose any “hard” exit from the EU (from both the common market and the customs union), as “that would be a national disaster. That is why if Parliament votes down a Tory deal or the government fails to reach any deal at all we would press for a General Election. Failing that, all options are on the table.”
Corbyn then made an unexpected—and, it appears, tactical—offer directed at the Prime Minister: “If you deliver a deal that includes a customs union and no hard border in Ireland, if you protect jobs, people’s rights at work and environmental and consumer standards – then we will support that sensible deal.” Then he delivered the rhetorical punch that wowed the delegates present: “But if you can’t negotiate that deal then you need to make way for a party that can.”
In a sign of a return to favor of Keynesianism, the speech articulated the promise of an end to austerity, which would result in 400,000 new jobs in renewable energy, a massive housing program and, most notably—here’s a real shocker—equity participation for employees: a plan that would require all companies with more 250 workers to transfer 10 percent of their net assets into a workers’ fund. In short, Corbyn proposed an end to the social vandalism that the Conservatives, alone or in coalition, have been perpetrating on the country since 2010.
In terms of foreign policy, the Labour leader again distanced himself entirely from any Trumpian delusions on climate, on the US embassy in Jerusalem, on the Iran nuclear deal, on Israel’s crimes in Gaza—“an outrage”—as well as on Israel’s new “Jewish nation-state” law. Instead, Corbyn emphasized again Labour’s support of a two-state solution, of a stop to “humanitarian” wars and of the immediate recognition of the Palestinian State, in addition to the unwavering condemnation of all racism and anti-Semitism within the party, which had been wracked by internal polemics in this regard.
It was not a flashy speech, but the speaker had clearly overcome the stiffness and uncertainty that plagued him at the start of his tenure. In addition to his natural affability, Corbyn now possesses a remarkable control of rhetorical technique. Form and content are finally working together, in the service of a government program that—when you look at what is happening elsewhere in Europe, to say nothing of Italy—looks like a dream from another age.
Above all, it was the speech of a former political upstart who now feels close to taking power, and who is able to wake a politically sclerotic Labour party from its inane centrism, so that it would finally open its eyes and see the greed and cynical acquisitiveness to which the Blair era had pushed it, hybridizing contradictory ideologies into a transparently insincere makeover that has led to its crumbling at the polls starting from 2008.