Jeremy Corbyn dazzles Labour conference and says “we are the mainstream now”
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Jeremy Corbyn is a divisive character – his supporters are feverish in their devotion towards him, his detractors warn he is a dangerous politician that would shift Britain back in time to the 1970s.
But the impact Mr Corbyn has had on his party and British politics overall is extraordinary. When Ed Miliband quit the Labour leadership no one could have predicted the earthquake about to strike the party – and the aftershocks are still reverberating.
And until this year's snap general election very few people thought Mr Corbyn had any chance of power. Current polling has Labour ahead of the Tories and the wind is definitely in their sails.
In his 73-minute speech to conference in Brighton Mr Corbyn claimed the centre of gravity in British politics had shifted to make Labour the party of the 'mainstream' voter.
He declared Labour was now ready for government and urged Theresa May to call another snap election to put him into Downing Street.
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Buoyed by loud chants of 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn' which delayed the start of his address, the Labour leader said that a 'new consensus' had emerged a decade after the financial crash of 2008, with voters ready for 'something different and better'.
It was a confident, defiant and triumphant address that had the crowd on their feet almost throughout. Mr Corbyn attacked Mrs May, Donald Trump and the media in a speech unlike anything delivered at a mainstream party conference in Britain in modern times.
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He said the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 80 in west London in June was the symbol of a 'degraded' political system which had dominated Britain for a generation, and which Labour was now ready to sweep away.
To fervent applause, he vowed to end the public sector pay cap, close the gender pay gap, tackle inequality, renationalise utilities, rebuild the NHS and invest in the economy.
After a four-day conference characterised by optimism Mr Corbyn said it was clear that Labour had achieved unity and 'left our own divisions behind'. In reality there have been spats over who would speak, Brexit and anti-Semitism at this conference – but Mr Corbyn has somehow risen above that. He is now more than the party he leads.
He told activists that Labour now needed to show that it had the 'credible and effective' plans and the competence needed to deliver 'socialism for the 21st century, for the many, not the few'.
And in a message to those who backed Labour on June 8, he said: 'We offered an antidote to apathy and despair. Let everyone understand – we will not let you down.
'Because we listen to you, because we believe in you. Labour can and will deliver a Britain for the many, not just the few.'
Rubbishing the government's 'bungling' of Brexit negotiations, Mr Corbyn claimed Mrs May and her ministers were 'hanging on by their fingertips', and mocked the prime minister's 'strong and stable' election slogan. This was unashamed rabble-rousing stuff, and it will have the government worried.
Outlining how he thinks politics has changed in Britain he added: 'Conference, it is often said that elections can only be won from the centre ground.
'And in a way that's not wrong - so long as it's clear that the political centre of gravity isn't fixed or unmovable, nor is it where the establishment pundits like to think it is. It shifts as people's expectations and experiences change and political space is opened up.
'Today's centre ground is certainly not where it was 20 or 30 years ago.
'A new consensus is emerging from the great economic crash and the years of austerity, when people started to find political voice for their hopes for something different and better.'
The Labour leader said that '2017 may be the year when politics finally caught up with the crash of 2008 - because we offered people a clear choice'.
He added: 'We need to build a still broader consensus around the priorities we set in the election, making the case for both compassion and collective aspiration.
'This is the real centre of gravity of British politics. We are now the political mainstream.'
But not everyone is a fan – Mr Corbyn's speech spooked business. Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, accused Labour of 'flirting' with fantasy economics.