A standing ovation in the hall, but the country?
Jeremy Corbyn is no Lloyd George. Orator he is not. But in the leadership contest his low key straight talking won him meeting after meeting and eventually the contest itself.
The big question yesterday was whether he could carry a televised conference with these qualities.
Despite delivering a lengthy, rambling checklist of a speech he won over the conference hall. They were delighted with his performance.
The warmth towards him was palpable and real and that was before he uttered a word. He got a standing ovation for just walking towards the lectern.
A heady mixture of ideology and personal modesty won the delegates to a repeat standing ovation at the end of the speech. It had gone down well in the hall and one guesses with the quarter a million members, many of them newly recruited that are now in the party.
Indeed he made a point of telling all who’d listen that 160,000 members had joined the party since the general election with 50,000 since he had become leader. A not very subtle reminder to his fellow Labour MPs that he had a mandate for change, which they’d veto at their peril.
It’s not the party or even his own MPs he has to win over but the country. Did the speech reach do this?
His tone was avuncular and non-threatening. His opponents have portrayed him as one of the most dangerous men in the country; his demeanour contradicted that viewpoint. Reassuring. He had even worn a jacket and tie and unusually for him he started by cracking a few jokes, mainly at the media’s expense. A move guaranteed to enlist a sympathetic response from Labour members.
In an hour long speech he covered a lot of ground, too much some might say. But there was little in terms of new policies that wait for another day.
What was centre stage were Corbyn’s values. “British values are internationalist and universal,” And Labour was “bringing real values back into politics.”
Back in, was the late Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy. He talked about the toxic legacy of the second Iraq war, but the expected apology was not forthcoming on this occasion. Like much else in the speech that awaits another day. But he was highly critical of the Saudis, Bahrain, the US, and the UK government in the way they conducted foreign policy. The Blairites in the audience shuffled uneasily in their seats. As many Labour MPs were complicit in many of the actions now being condemned by the leader.
Despite conference not allowing a debate on Trident he was unrepentant on the matter. He reiterated his opposition to Trident renewal.Renewing UK’s nuclear weapon system is “not the way forward.” A policy that is likely to create a real split between himself, his parliament party and even his chums in the trade union movement.
On safer ground with MPs were his plans to build more council houses, reversing cuts in tax credits and bringing a cheer to conference nationalizing the railways.
What about outside the hall?
All in all his speech would have won over the party faithful and even his talk of the new way of conducting policy might placade most of his parliamentary collegues but what of the public?
They’ll certainly see him as fresh and different, but a potential prime minister? Hmmm, a work in progress.
A more positive message is needed to reach out to these voters. And it needs to come sooner rather than later.
Miliband never recovered from the initial verdict of the voters that he was a loser. That big “L” dogged him throughout his tenure . Corbyn needs to define his leadership now to avoid the same fate.
Yesterday he won over his party but the jury of Joe Public are still to deliver a verdict.