I was in my pyjamas when Jeremy Corbyn gave his first conference speech as Labour leader. It was passionate, and delivered with alacrity, but that was the singular stylistic positive. As a whole the speech was rambling, and disjointed,when it was essential to have clarity and structure. If I am honest I found it difficult to sit through what was supposed to be a brief opening from the new Labour leader. This is from someone who is taking a degree in politics, and spent many hours campaigning for Labour in the General election. l can only imagine what people who don’t love politics made of it. Style though wasn’t the only problem. There were also factual errors contained within the speech. Just one of which was claiming Trident costs 1/4 of the defence budget, in reality trident costs a mere 5-6% of the defence budget. Early mistakes like these may be easy to dismiss, however it emanates a lack of attention to detail which must be of concern going forward.
The Leaders speech at conference is one of the few chances the leader of the opposition has to talk to the public on their own terms. Instead of being forced to simply be an opposition, the conference speech gives the leader an open space to set the agenda, and march forth with an alternative vision. This was the big opportunity which Corbyn missed. Instead of pitching to the millions who don’t know him, and are unsure of his radical socialist agenda, he decided to pitch to the converted. This was seen in the language used, in the pitch, and the new ideas, or rather the lack of them contained within the speech. The lack of an overarching theme besides we hate the Tories is hardly going to win anyone around. No-one who wasn’t watching the speech live today will ever know about it, and they will all still be contemplating Corbyn.
Some have argued Corbyn needed to pitch to the party, in order to shore up his position within the party. However his safety is more assured now than it will be at the next conference. At the next conference the electoral consequences of Corbynism will be the central theme, and as time passes the insulation for him given by the mandate from the membership will be increasingly weak. When Jeremy is on Newsnight next year he won’t be able to point to the cohort of new members as evidence of electability, as the majority will melt away. Indeed, the last time Labour had more members than they currently do was in 1997, and banking on new supporters is a strategy which gravely ignores history. The centre of the party will have regrouped, raised their standard around a bright young MP, and developed fresh policy for the party. They will be ready to strike with the poise of hounds going hunting.
As Tim Montgomerie insightfully argued in a Fabian fringe, talking to yourselves as a party is a strategy for failure. He knows from first hand experience, that preaching to the converted is not an option for electoral success. In order to win you must reach out, and yes dilute your fundamental message. This is a necessity the Corbynites will find particularly painful, after-all they see ideological purity as a strength, not a weakness. You may question this, but ask your average Corbyn voter why Labour lost the last election.
They’ll claim it’s because the party wasn’t left-wing enough. However, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support this claim. If you read my previous blogs you’ll find there is plenty of evidence that puts this proposition to bed. The Cobynites will then progress to non-voters, that if only more people voted Labour can pick up more votes and win. However, this ignores the very real problem that constituencies are socially ‘crunchy’ which essentially makes that theory unworkable as well.They see the abandonment of ideology as something which has killed the party, when in fact the opposite is true. The lack of an overarching theme bar one in Corbyn’s speech made it clear who he is pitching to, which is the left of the Labour party.
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