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27 September 2018

Stuart Thomson on Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the 2018 Labour Conference

This article was first published in PR Week on 26 September 2018.

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

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 havedone 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.

This article was first published in PR Week on 26 September 2018.

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