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Same old Jeremy, but now with a leader’s confidence

OPINION: 'He is the most unlikely Labour leader, but this week few mocked him when he told his party and the country that he is ready to enter Downing Street'

29 September, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at The World Transformed festival: ‘We have to have those debates and those discussions’

IT spoke volumes about Labour’s transformation that its leader this week prioritised a speech to young, left-wing activists in a nightclub over the traditional knees up with the party’s in-crowd and the Westminster press pack.

On Tuesday night, Jeremy Corbyn spoke at length to the young crowd gathered at The World Transformed, a festival of ideas organised by left-wing group Momentum that took place alongside the main Labour conference.

Mr Corbyn praised the “spirit, the verve, the inspiration” of the festival, telling the youthful crowd: “Above all, thank you for giving people the opportunity to come here and share their views, their vision, their ideas, ask difficult and searching questions and continue to inspire and debate, because that is really what politics is all about.”

It was only then that he went to the Daily Mirror party two doors down, the karaoke piss-up for MPs, Labour grandees and lobby journalists. It was striking how uninterested the Momentum types were in this event – it felt like the real action was taking place in their corner.

I remember sitting with a few trade unionists and Mr Corbyn in a council meeting room in Upper Street just over two years ago, listening to his analysis of the 2015 election result. Labour’s mistake was that it wasn’t anti-austerity enough, he said.

A leadership election was under way, and the left had not yet put forward a candidate. “Why don’t you stand?” a woman asked Mr Corbyn. He sort of dodged the question.

That evening, the Tribune broke the story that the veteran Islington North MP was standing for the leadership on a “clear, anti-austerity platform”. The rest of the story readers are familiar with.

Indeed, he is the most unlikely Labour leader, but this week few mocked him when he told his party and the country that he is ready to enter Downing Street.

Mr Corbyn presides over a party transformed. His grip on its structures has tightened, and his leadership is unassailable.

What a difference the June election result – Labour lost but vastly outperformed expectations and deprived Theresa May of her majority – has made. And how it has vindicated Mr Corbyn and his followers, to come within reach of power on a radical, unapologetically socialist platform.

In Brighton this week, last year’s civil wars had given way to a genuine sense of unity. Mr Corbyn cut a relaxed, confident and determined figure.

Same old Jeremy, but a leader sitting atop a now well-oiled machine, in charge of his party, and enjoying the support of the vast majority of Labour’s massive membership and the youthful Momentum movement.

He told the Tribune: “This conference is the biggest ever – united, determined to challenge the pay cap, challenge the underfunding of public services and provide real hope for the people of this country. It’s been an amazing atmosphere, and I’m very proud to be here.”

Still, some have accused Labour – again, it lost the election – of triumphalism, complacency even, at this conference.

But Mr Corbyn told the crowd to reach out – as the next election could be just around the corner – underlining the sense of just how important Momentum was at the election just past, and will be in the next.

“Because when we look for an election, maybe next year, maybe the year after, I can’t predict exactly when it will be. I have no idea what plans Theresa May has to walk in the Welsh hills,” he said

“We have to have those debates and those discussions and I look to the spirit of The World Transformed and the work Momentum and others are doing to make sure that we widen those discussions out – and lead to a profound change in thinking.”

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