Back to the future?
Socialism is back people! Bigger, bolder, more determined and razor focused on tackling the challenges of the twenty first century than ever before. You heard it here first! This is a new era – new faces, new ideas and new optimism. A party renewed and united. A fairer Britain in a peaceful world awaits with a return to socialism and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Convinced? The delegates in the conference hall certainly were as they cheered, applauded and laughed their way through their leader’s speech.
But let’s face it, it’s not the people in the room that Mr Corbyn needs to convince; it’s the great British public. YouGov’s recent polling revealed the scale of the problem facing Labour under Mr Corbyn: more than seven in ten (71%) of the 2015 Labour voters said that they wouldn’t consider voting Labour again as they don’t think that Mr Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister. Indeed a majority of voters went further to say that they didn’t feel that the party represented their views. With Labour Party members and general Labour voters expressing polar opposites of support for the party leader, did his conference speech help bring the two a little closer together? In my opinion, probably not.
In a speech a little over an hour, Mr Corbyn covered a lot of ground. From thank yous to his mother’s influence, through to the Iraq war and the Conservatives’ failure always being “someone else’s fault”, to rampant inequality through to investment in infrastructure – both physical and intellectual – Mr Corbyn sought to regain control of his reputation, his party and the agenda. He positioned what he had to say as something new but grounded in true socialist principles. However with the announcement of every new initiative (some of which I would suggest are not really new) such as renationalisation of the railways and energy, house building, Education Maintenance Allowance, keeping bankers on the naughty step, the refrain that came to mind time and again was “how are you going to pay for it?”. And that refrain is nothing new.
The Labour Party is not trusted to run the economy efficiently and robustly. Time and again the electorate says this is the number one thing they need to tackle in order to regain power – which Mr Corbyn says will be theirs again as soon as 2017. Yet in his speech Mr Corbyn paid scant regard to this most fundamental challenge. His only refrain was to announce that the Labour Party will ask businesses to pay more in corporation tax and make tax avoidance a thing of the past. Call me a cynic but I think I have heard this all before. The thrust of his speech was probably well intentioned yet without a grounding in something akin to reality. This was back to the future for the Labour Party. At the end of a tumultuous few days at their annual jamboree, they are probably still as far away from convincing the public that they deserve the keys to Number Ten as they have ever been. If Mr Corbyn really wants to be in power, then he is going to have to do a lot better than the performance he just delivered.