Hit or Miss? Jeremy Corbyn's speech to the 2018 Labour Conference

Jeremy Corbyn addressed the Labour Conference today, taking to the stage with the now familiar chant of "ohhhh, Jeremy Corbyn" ringing in his ears.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses the 2018 Labour Conference but was his speech a hit or a miss? (pic credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images)
Jeremy Corbyn addresses the 2018 Labour Conference but was his speech a hit or a miss? (pic credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images)
Themes for the speech included the unity of the party, a rejection of anti-Semitism and attacking the Government’s record on the NHS and railways.

The Labour leader spoke softly during his hour-long speech, with little emphasis or even passion, except during a section on social justice.

He said he would demand a general election in the event of the Government failing to reach a good deal on Brexit and, if elected, the party would recognise the state of Palestine and create 400,000 skilled jobs in a new green economy.

Now, public affairs specialists give their verdict on whether they thought his speech was a hit or a miss. 

Hit (with existing supporters)

Mark Glover, chief executive, Newington

Jeremy could hardly go wrong with his speech within the conference hall, preaching to the true believers to rapturous applause. He is not a great conference speaker, although more polished than previous years. But his style remains honed in protest and his jokes can occasionally be clunky. One of his key issues is unity, yet the growing split between Momentum and the unions is perhaps this conference’s real political legacy. Jeremy attempts to tackle the thorny issue of Anti-Semitism satisfied the hall, but his real passion was saved for his later passage on the recognition of a Palestinian state. 

His speech was an attack on corporate greed and in particular private executive pay causing ripples of concern amongst entrepreneurs and investors thinking of putting their money in the UK. This was a socialist speech, attacking the Tories, capitalism and the human consequences of austerity, whilst promising new green jobs, free childcare and new homes - without perhaps a clear rationale for how these will be paid for. Next it was a commitment to green agenda. Lots of promises, including 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050, as well as the promise of 400,000 skilled jobs. But where and how will it be paid for and delivered? Who knows?

Brexit and an attack on negotiation process and May’s Government was an opportunity for a few digs but provided little clarity on Labour’s position, except that they will press for a General Election, with almost in a whisper, that failing that all options will remain on the table.

It was a speech aimed at the ‘Jeremy faithful’ but is it a speech for the voters? Many of whom remain highly sceptical of a Corbyn Premiership and will only engage with the speech through the medium of a ‘hostile’ press?


Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell

It’s time for a bit of honesty. Jeremy Corbyn is terrible at delivering speeches. Talking to and motivating large crowds of people, yes, but set-piece speeches, no. There has been improvement, a more relaxed approach, but from a low starting point. It is also true that when he delivers a speech to conference, it is largely the same speech every year. It focuses on what has gone wrong and how he would deliver the radical shift that the country is crying out for. Not simply a re-heated dose of capitalist gruel but would be so much more – more fairness, more growth, more equality. It also spends a lot of time considering global affairs.

Corbyn is often as critical of his own party and its record in government as much as he is of the Conservatives or the capitalist system. For him, Labour in government has been part of the problem. The party has spent the entire week trying to maintain an image of unity, but whilst Corbyn’s words on anti-Semitism will be welcome it will not address the damage done. His speech highlighted the continued divisions over Brexit. It generated loud applause for its rejection of Mrs May’s approach but he couldn't bring himself to talk of a possible second referendum. His relationship with business is particularly interesting. Whilst being hugely critical of its approach, behaviour and lack of ethics, his shiny new green policy relies on private sector investment. But being beaten with the stick of regulation, nationalisation, forced removal from office will have done little to enhance relations.

Business, of course, knows that Corbyn could be the next Prime Minister but the CBI’s reaction to McDonnell’s speech earlier in the week, whilst entirely over-the-top, shows that business remains unconvinced about the party’s plans. The CBI also simply played into the hands of Corbyn and his supporters. And that is what Corbyn and his conference speeches do – they motivate and talk to existing supporters. Instead of remembering that he is looking down to lens and trying to connect to potential voters, he speaks to the audience in the hall. That may not be enough to propel him into Number 10.

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