Jeremy Corbyn has used his introductory speech to Labour conference to tell the British people they “never have to take what they are given”, as he promised to stir up discontent across Britain against injustice and prejudice.
Much of the one-hour address in Brighton was dedicated to spelling out his “kinder politics” and designed to introduce his political values and brand of patriotism to the British public.
Ending his speech, Corbyn said: “Don’t accept injustice, stand up against prejudice. Let us build a kinder politics, a more caring society together. Let us put our values, the people’s values, back into politics.”
He also used the speech to assert his authority within Labour by saying he had a personal mandate from his election as party leader to oppose a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace Trident.
His remarks on nuclear arms will alarm those shadow cabinet members who believed the party conference had agreed not to change the existing defence policy and had been given personal assurances that Corbyn would not impose his views on his colleagues.
But, to cheers, the Labour leader told the conference: “I don’t believe £100bn on a new generation of nuclear weapons taking up a quarter of our defence budget is the right way forward.”
Corbyn is understood to regard unilateral disarmament as a red line and the most important issue on which he had campaigned for the leadership. He has been forced to retreat on a variety of other policy issues and a battle looks certain as the shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, starts a review that may need to come to conclusions ahead of a vote on renewing Trident in the Commons next year.
But he faced criticism when it emerged that parts of the more ideological sections of the speech were written several years ago by a former adviser to Denis Healey.
There were emollient parts of the address, in which he praised his defeated leadership rivals Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. His predecessor as leader, Ed Miliband, was singled out for his “courage and dignity”.
Corbyn appeared on stage wearing a tie and brown jacket, and repeatedly told the British people that they could challenge and improve society. He said: “You don’t have to be grateful to survive in a world made by others.”
Democracy, he said, in an echo of Tony Benn, was about setting the terms for people in power over you and dismissing them when they failed you. He also cited the authors Maya Angelou, Ben Okri and Labour’s first party leader, Keir Hardie.
However, he offered the party no explanation for Labour’s severe election defeat in May 2015. He also made no reference to immigration and, like Ed Miliband in his final conference speech in 2014, omitted any mention of the need to reduce the deficit in the public finances.
Corbyn also highlighted several policy promises including:
• A call for David Cameron to come to the aid of steel workers facing job losses on Teesside “as the Italian government has done” with their industry.
• A promise to make every school accountable to local education authorities, in effect ending free schools and academies as currently structured.
• Making resolution of the housing crisis his top priority with a very large and active housebuilding programme, including 100,000 new council houses.
• An offer to expand statutory maternity and paternity pay to self-employed people, as part of a commitment to adapt to a changing labour market.
• A plan to bring private rail franchises into public ownership as they expire.
The speech also contained longer passages on foreign policy and human rights than in Ed Miliband’s speeches, and challenged Cameron to act personally over Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a protester who faces the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for a crime he allegedly committed aged 17.
He offered no direct apology for Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq but said: “It didn’t help our national security when we went to war with Iraq in defiance of the United Nations and on a false prospectus.
“It didn’t help our national security to endure the loss of hundreds of brave British soldiers in that war while making no proper preparation for what to do after the fall of the regime.”
He also tried to drive home his message about a new kind of politics with a call for greater civility online, saying his aim was to “bring the values back into politics” in comments that drew a standing ovation.
But Corbyn insisted that the party would use social media to circumvent what he characterised as a largely hostile press. He said: “Treat people with respect. Treat people as you wish to be treated yourself. Listen to their views, agree or disagree, but have that debate. There is going to be no rudeness from me.”
Within an hour of completing the speech, Corbyn ran into controversy after it emerged that parts of his speech had been published on a blog written in 2011 by Labour activist Richard Heller.
The passages had been sent by Heller to the Corbyn office a fortnight ago for possible inclusion in the speech. The activist had sent the same passage to Ed Miliband in 2011, and had offered versions of it to every leader since Neil Kinnock.
Heller had not been aware that the passages would be picked up, but told the Guardian that he was delighted that they were used. A Labour spokesman said that the leader’s team “had liked some of his ideas” and sourced some of his material.
Speaking for the Conservatives, Michael Gove, the justice secretary, said: “Labour have confirmed that it is a threat to our national security, our economic security and to the security of every family in Britain. The Labour leader’s policies to borrow more, print money and put up taxes on people’s jobs and incomes would wreck our economy.”
Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, whose union supported Corbyn in the leadership contest, said: “Today Jeremy treated us to a different kind of politics, and I believe people will like what they see. Principle, honesty, fairness and dignity – our lifelong Labour values – are taking their rightful place in the public realm.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th September 2015 07.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010