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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Britain's most unlikely PM tells conference: I'm on the brink of power

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was greeted with ovation after ovation during a 75 minute speech at his party's conference

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 27, 2017
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 27, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-left Labour MP who could one day be Britain’s most unlikely prime minister, wrapped up his party's annual conference in the southern seaside town of Brighton on Wednesday with a speech of two halves.

The 75-minute address will have given succour to both his critics and his most ardent supporters, showcasing as it did the two sides of his personality and appeal — or, to some extent, lack of it.

For the first half of the speech — preceded as it had been by scenes of utter adulation when Mr Corbyn was cheered, chanted and foot-stamped to the podium — the Labour Party leader provided the audience with a barnstormer of the ilk he specialised in during the 2017 general election campaign. Delegates in the hall couldn’t get enough of it, rising to their feet for ovation after ovation and literally punching the air with delight.

Mr Corbyn mercilessly flayed his Conservative Party counterpart, prime minister Theresa May, for her misguided decision to hold a general election that resulted in her party losing its majority in Parliament. He told jokes that were genuinely funny, turning slogans from the general election that had been deployed against him by Conservative opponents into barbs attacking them.

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Read more:

How Jeremy Corbyn went from zero to hero in the space of a year

Brexit is exposing Theresa May's worst traits

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A section of his speech attacking the media inspired pantomime boos and sustained applause as he singled out the Daily Mail newspaper's negative coverage of his party — begging to have worse at future elections as it had been so successful the first time round. And he expressed a seemingly genuine righteous fury at the Grenfell Tower fire disaster which drew cries of "shame".

But when Corbyn the populist gave way to his natural wonkish tendency to expound on policy, the speech lost its way. Without any rabbits to pull out of his hat by that point, Mr Corbyn was reduced to regurgitating the policy announcements his shadow cabinet had been making during the week.

On Brexit, where he could have seized the national agenda with a surprise plan, he merely repeated platitudes as meaningless as those delivered by Mrs May in a speech in Florence last week. And his delivery, so passionate for 40 minutes, became laboured as he stumbled through the hour mark. Even the true believers in the hall were flagging by then, the outbreaks of applause becoming more sporadic.

He picked up for the speech's conclusion, however, and afterwards was rewarded with a two-and-a-half minute standing ovation, near identical to that which had greeted him. But despite the enthusiasm it was a case of "job done’ in the hall, where the crowd would mostly likely have lapped up even a reading of the Labour Party’s constitution.

The speech over, Mr Corbyn now awaits the country’s verdict.