Corbyn rejects Tory claims he is a threat to UK security
British Labour Party leader does not apologise for Iraq War in first conference speech
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn used his first conference speech to send a message to voters: “You don’t have to take what you are given.”
Mr Corbyn rejected Conservative claims that there is “no alternative” to cuts in jobs, public services and the NHS, rising university fees and growing poverty, telling the party’s conference in Brighton: “Our Labour Party says no.”
Just two weeks after being elected party leader in a landslide vote, the Islington North MP - who was welcomed on stage by a standing ovation - declared that he would stand for “a kinder politics, a more caring society”.
He dismissed Tory accusations that he represents a threat to Britain’s security, insisting it is the government which threatens the security of tenants in insecure rented homes, carers losing local government support, young people locked out of the housing market, families losing benefits and 2.8 million households forced into debt by stagnant wages.
The veteran left-winger stuck to his guns on the renewal of Trident, saying that he did not believe that spending billions on a new generation of nuclear weapons was “the right way forward”.
He confirmed plans to take railway services back into public ownership as franchises come up for renewal.
He said that the party’s policies will be subject to a comprehensive review, with Labour members having “the final say” on what they should be.
He said that, unlike predecessors such as Tony Blair, neither he, his shadow cabinet or Labour MPs would “impose policy or have a veto” on what the membership decides.
After coming under attack for his failure to sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain commemoration, Mr Corbyn insisted that his political beliefs were driven by “shared majority British values” and his love of his country.
He said that he wanted to harness the “political earthquake” which brought him into office this summer to build “a society for the majority” in Britain.
Mr Corbyn said the Conservative government existed “to protect the few and tell all the rest of us to accept what what we’re given”, offering tax breaks to the hedge funds which have lavished donations on the Tories since David Cameron became leader, while “cutting jobs . . . slashing public services . . . vandalising the NHS . . . cutting junior doctors’ pay . . . reducing care for the elderly . . . destroying the hopes of young people for a college education or putting university graduates into massive debt . . . putting half a million more people into poverty.
“They want us to believe there is no alternative,” he said.
“They want the people of Britain to accept all of these things. They expect millions of people to work harder and longer for a lower quality of life.
“Our Labour Party says no.
“The British people never have to take what they are given. And certainly not when it comes from Cameron and Osborne.”
Mr Corbyn branded chancellor George Osborne’s austerity programme as “the outdated and failed approach of the past”, which had left Britain “ill-prepared . . . to face another crisis”.
Mr Corbyn began his first conference speech as Labour leader by mocking the press over its coverage of him.
The Labour leader joked about reports that he backed the planet’s annihilation by an asteroid, a story claiming the prospect of him in Number 10 would result in the end of the Premier League and the description of his chosen mode of transport as a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle”.
Making light of the turbulent start to his leadership of the party, he said: “I’m delighted to be making this speech today, partly as it’s a change from the relaxing two weeks I’ve had, in which barely anything of note has happened to me at all.
“You may have noticed that some of our newspapers do seem to have taken a mild interest in me lately.
“Amongst the things I’ve found out about myself are that, according to one headline, ‘Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity’.”
Mr Corbyn, who has vowed to change the way Labour makes decisions, quipped: “Obviously I wouldn’t endorse this policy without getting the support of conference first, but I look forward to that debate.”
“Another newspaper printed a ‘mini novel’ that predicted how life would look if I were prime minister.
“It tells us football’s Premier League would collapse, which makes sense, because it’s difficult to see how the top teams would cope once an asteroid has wiped out humanity.
Mr Corbyn also referred to his predecessor Ed Miliband enduring “tawdry media attacks”.
Mr Corbyn also addressed the 2003 Iraq War, telling the conference that it did not help Britain’s national security.
But the Labour leader stopped short of an apology for his party’s involvement in the war under former prime minister Tony Blair.
Mr Corbyn had said during his leadership campaign that he planned to apologise for Labour’s role.
Mr Corbyn told activists: “We need to learn the lessons of the recent past. It didn’t help our national security that, at the same time I was protesting outside the Iraqi embassy about Saddam Hussein’s brutality, Tory ministers were secretly conniving with illegal arms sales to his regime.
“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.
“But there is a recent object lesson in how real leadership can resolve conflicts, prevent war and build real security.”
Mr Corbyn said the US president had offered “clever and difficult diplomacy” in reaching a deal with Iran over nuclear weapons.
He said the example “opens the way for new diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria”.
Ahead of an expected Commons vote on British bombing of Syria, Mr Corbyn said: “I yield to no one in my opposition to the foul and despicable crimes committed by Isil and the Assad government, including barrel bombs being dropped on civilian targets.
“We all want the atrocities to stop and the Syrian people free to determine their own destiny.
“But the answer to this complex and tragic conflict can’t simply be found in a few more bombs.
“I agree with Paddy Ashdown when he says the military strikes against Isil aren’t succeeding - not because we do not have enough high explosives but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy on Syria.
“That’s the challenge for leadership, for us, for David Cameron. The clever, patient diplomacy Britain needs to play a leading role in.
“That’s why Hilary Benn and I together are calling for a new United Nations Security Council resolution that can underpin a political solution to the crisis.
“I believe the UN can yet bring about a process that leads to an end to the violence in Syria. Yesterday’s meetings in New York were very important.”
Mr Corbyn also promised that Labour will learn the lessons of the past and claim its place as the “progressive voice for Scotland”.
Mr Corbyn said his party had lost its way north of the border and he backed calls from Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale for Scots to look again at the party as it seeks to rebuild its presence after a series of election drubbings.
“I know that people in Scotland have been disappointed by the Labour Party. I know you feel we lost our way.
“I agree with you.
“Kezia has asked people to take another look at the Labour Party. And that’s what I want people across Scotland to do.”
Mr Corbyn echoed the promise of Ms Dugdale earlier in the conference to do more than listen to critics of the party but to actually make changes.
Ms Dugdale is to overhaul her front bench team and run a campaign focused on education ahead of the Holyrood elections in May.
Mr Corbyn said: “We will learn the lessons of the past and we will make Labour the great fighting force you expect us to be.
“We need to be investing in skills, investing in our young people and not cutting student numbers, giving people real hope, real opportunity.
“Conference, we are the progressive voice for Scotland.”
Mr Corbyn also claimed that the Conservatives are trying to “gerrymander” elections in London and Wales next year by striking millions of people off the electoral register.
The Labour leader vowed to launch a nationwide campaign to sign voters back up to the electoral register in time for the elections.
Mr Corbyn said that Labour would continue to highlight the issue inside parliament.
The electoral register is being transferred from a household-based system to one where every voter is registered individually.
Mr Corbyn said: “Just before the summer, the Tories sneaked out a plan to strike millions of people off the electoral register this December - a year earlier than the advice of the independent electoral commission.
“It means two million or more people could lose their right to vote. It’s more than 400,000 people in London. It’s 70,000 people in Glasgow. Thousands in every town and city.
“That’s overwhelmingly students, people in insecure accommodation and short-stay private lets.
“We know why the Tories are doing it. They want to gerrymander next year’s mayoral election in London by denying hundreds of thousands of Londoners their right to vote.
“They want to do the same for the Assembly elections in Wales. And they want to gerrymander electoral boundaries across the country by ensuring new constituencies are decided on the basis of the missing registers when the Boundary Commission starts its work in April 2016. ”