Saturday 15 February 2020 / 6:00 PM Jeremy Corbyn

Full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in Bristol


Thank you for that welcome, it’s a privilege to be invited to address the South West Regional Conference.

I’d like to start by congratulating Marvin on the launch of his campaign for re-election as Mayor of Bristol.

Marvin has shown how a city can be run by Labour in the face of continuing austerity and a Tory government determined to put the interests of the richest first: building homes, keeping the libraries and the children’s centres open, and making public transport a priority for the future with a new underground system to ease Bristol’s congestion.

I hope everyone here gets out to help Marvin campaign in the coming months. Let’s make Bristol a living wage city, a sustainable city, with new schools and better care for our older people.

And I know that all of you will be campaigning hard in the local elections in May in Exeter, Plymouth, Swindon, Gloucester, and here in Bristol.

These are important elections. We need to pick ourselves up, to stand up for our communities and defend them from Boris Johnson and his callous Tory government.

And the key to that is you. The Labour Party membership. Now nearly 600,000 strong. Bigger than it has ever been.

We need to get the message out about what Conservative rule means in reality on the ground to counter the media hype and empty Tory promises.

Nowhere is that reality more clearly shown than in local government. What it means is your local services are at risk of still more and deeper cuts.

Local government faces an £8 billion funding gap by 2025.

Far from ending austerity as they claim, the Tories have baked it into their plans – while prioritising handouts to their wealthy backers.

Libraries, youth centres and Sure Start centres are closing. Child protection services are creaking and homelessness is rising.

It’s Labour councils that are leading the way in standing up for the local services that people rely on.

Boris Johnson made a lot of promises in the general election. Many people are going to be very disappointed when he fails to deliver. The truth is, you cannot trust Boris Johnson – just ask Sajid Javid, he’ll give you chapter and verse.

Years of under-investment and neglect by the Tories have left too many parts of the South West stuck with underpaid jobs, low productivity and slow growth.

The South West has some of the lowest paid areas in our country with 700,000 workers earning less than £10 an hour.

And this region desperately needs money putting into transport – including the electrification of the Great Western Rail Bristol line, and investment in the Penzance-Plymouth-London line.

We wanted to change all that in the general election. But we failed to get the result we wanted. It was a desperate disappointment not only for the Labour Party but for millions of people who depend on a Labour government to defend them and change their lives for the better.

To each and every one of you who campaigned so tirelessly: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You bear none of the responsibility for the defeat. As the Leader, I take responsibility for it.

I was very sad we lost David Drew in Stroud.

We did better in Bristol, Plymouth and Exeter, but failed to win the seats we were targeting in Cornwall, Swindon and elsewhere.

But does that mean we give up? Does that mean we say “it’s just too hard”? No. We won’t be giving up.

We have no right to give up on people who are suffering from injustice. We have no right to give up on people who work all hours just to earn their poverty. And we have no right to give up on the next generation who will otherwise inherit a burning planet.

That issue – the climate emergency – is the biggest issue facing us all.

But in the general election we were a long way from making it the biggest issue in deciding people’s votes. Instead, it was Brexit that dominated the election.

While Brexit will have a major impact on the future of our country no one can seriously claim that the destruction of our climate isn’t more important. But election campaigns are not necessarily well suited to confronting a crisis such as the climate emergency.

People are understandably focused on schools, the NHS, jobs and housing. The problem never feels like it’s the most immediate concern. It’s always something that can be dealt with next time.

That attitude has to end.

We, Labour, together with environmental activists and movements, need to drive it to the top of the agenda and show how it is directly linked to people’s everyday concerns.

So today I want to focus on the climate crisis.

I’m very proud that on the May 1 last year Labour ensured the UK Parliament was the first in the world to declare a climate and environment emergency. But now we need action.

Boris Johnson thinks it’s enough to aim for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Not only is that too late, at the current rate, we won’t reach net zero until the end of the century.

By that time our grandchildren will be fighting for survival on a dying planet.

The heating up of our climate is contributing to the terrifying loss of animal and plant species. According to the WWF, humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.

Here in Britain animals that are part of our national culture are in frightening decline: the hedgehog, the natterjack toad and the red squirrel.

A recent global scientific review found that insects could become extinct within a century unless action is taken.

Our party’s ‘Plan for Nature’ published during the general election is a fantastic resource full of ideas for how to expand and restore our habitats, and create natural solutions to bring down emissions and allow wildlife to flourish.

The failure to make the climate and environment emergency a decisive issue at the election was not for want of trying. We put it front and centre in our manifesto. We had the most serious, radical and ambitious policies of any party – greener even than the Greens, according to Friends of the Earth.

I remain very proud of our plan for a Green Industrial Revolution developed by Becky Long-Bailey. Just like the Green New Deal being promoted by Bernie Sanders in the States it’s a plan to mobilise our resources to bring down our emissions, but to do it by creating vast numbers of good manufacturing and engineering jobs in every region.

For the South West, that means 80,000 new skilled, well-paid jobs.

I’m pleased that the Green Industrial Revolution has been embraced right across our party. We have built a policy consensus. We can see that in the way candidates in both leadership contests have expressed support for it.

But this can’t be just warm words.

The Green Industrial Revolution is a truly radical policy because it requires a complete change in how we run the economy. And that change isn’t going to happen by accident. It won’t happen if we leave it to the market.

It needs government intervention.

It requires us to step forward and overturn the failed economic thinking of the last four decades.

Because the hidden hand of the market is not going to save us.

If, as a party, we are truly committed to the Green Industrial Revolution then we should go into it eyes open. We should go into it knowing that it represents a fundamental challenge to the existing order – to the establishment.

And that means they will come for us. The hostility we’ve seen these last few years – that’s not going to end for as long as we stick to our principles. They will do everything to stop us. But we owe a duty to the next generation not to flinch.

We now know, as a country and as a world, what needs to be done. But we haven’t done it. Why not? As the inspirational thinker and activist Naomi Klein has written:

“We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”

The truth is there’s a fundamental conflict between what needs to be done and the 21st century capitalist order that drives our economies and shapes our politics.

Capitalism can’t cope with the climate emergency. It compels us to extract more, to consume more, to profit more.

“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” to quote Naomi again.

But if capitalism can’t cope that doesn’t mean we can’t act as people working together to transform our economy into one that doesn’t destroy our means of survival. People, acting collectively – not as self-interested individuals – can chart a new course based on the needs of the many, not the interests of the few.

We call that socialism.

You might think there’s something suspiciously convenient about a socialist saying the solution to the climate emergency is socialism. But it’s not a coincidence.

What socialism is fundamentally about is putting democracy in charge of the economy, rather than the other way round, so we can choose to use our immense collective economic power for good – to stop climate breakdown, to end poverty, to boost living standards.

Whereas the current dominant failed economic thinking – whether you call it Thatcherism or neoliberalism or deregulated capitalism – is all about making the corporate-controlled economy supreme over democracy, leaving people to the mercy of market forces.

Forty years of that has left people with a thirst to take control. If we’re going to escape climate catastrophe we, collectively, need to take control.

Our response has to be collective.

Too often people have been made to feel that the cost of saving the planet falls on them as individuals. Too many now think of green measures as just another way for companies or the government to get money out of them, while the super-rich fly about in private jets and heat their empty mansions.

Labour’s approach is very different. That’s the beauty of the Green Industrial Revolution.

We say people can have better jobs, better lifestyles, lower household bills, thanks to the very measures needed to cut harmful emissions and transform our economy.

We say that environmental destruction and inequality not only can but must be tackled at the same time.

Because this is a question of justice.

After all, it’s working class people who suffer most from the climate crisis. While the better off, who are responsible for most emissions, can pay their way out of trouble, here in the South West it’s working class people who can least afford to rebuild their lives after flooding or storm damage and who will be affected most by rising food prices.

In our cities it’s working class children who bear the worst effects of air pollution, reducing their lung capacity by up to 10%. Bristol and Exeter are among the most polluted parts of the country. More than 2.2 million people across the South West live in areas where air quality is illegally poor.

And on a global scale it’s poorer countries who are hit hardest by climate catastrophes … despite doing least to cause them. That fuels poverty and war, and creates refugees as people are forced to flee their homes.

Some of the 65 million refugees in the world right now are climate refugees. Those people are paying the price for emissions that overwhelmingly come from the richer Global North.

I am an internationalist. For me that means that the lives of all people, wherever they live, whatever their race, religion or gender are of equal value.

So when it comes to climate breakdown let’s listen to people at the sharp end. Let’s hear those voices from the Global South, as well as Indigenous Peoples in the Global North.

Recently you might have seen a photograph of five young climate activists taken in Davos, including Greta Thunberg.

Except that when the picture was published by the Associated Press there weren’t five people in the frame. One of them had been cropped out – and it just so happened to be the only black activist among them, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda.

Isn’t that a metaphor for how voices from the Global South, and Indigenous peoples and other groups in the Global Northm are cut out of the debate?

Let’s redress that just a little today by quoting Vanessa’s own words. She said: “You didn’t just erase a photo. You erased a continent. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis.”

In November this year the UK will host the big annual United Nations conference on climate change, called COP 26. At that conference voices like Vanessa’s, and those of movements and governments from the Global South, must be heard.

I want to see the UK, as host, do much more to support the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform at COP 26 to ensure the views of Indigenous Peoples shape the agenda too. But we have to be clear-eyed about what the United Nations climate conference will achieve.

I attended COP in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was reached. As significant as that was, it went nowhere near far enough. If every country meets its pledges under Paris temperatures will still rise by three degrees this century. At that point southern Europe, the horn of Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, will be in permanent drought.

So we must set the bar higher for COP 26 this year.

So often these conferences that bring together all the countries of the world descend towards the lowest common denominator and are incapable of agreeing the action that is needed. So the challenge for COP 26 is not to resolve on the lowest common denominator but to resolve on what is sustainable for our planet.

If we don’t show the leadership necessary now, we’ll still be talking about how we’re not doing enough 10 years after it’s too late.

We have no more time for false solutions.

We need policies like the Green Industrial Revolution scaled up to the global level – an international Green New Deal. And that will only happen if there’s massive pressure from below – from movements and peoples.

So I make this point: at COP 26 in Glasgow it is vital that protests are allowed.

It’s an outrage that Extinction Rebellion, along with other groups, has been placed on the counter-terrorism list. They are raising the alarm.

And I want to pay tribute to the 200 schoolchildren who brought traffic to a standstill in Stroud last year to protest the lack of action on climate – and the thousands more like them across the country who have helped push this issue up the agenda.

We have a choice. We can shut our eyes, cross our fingers and entrust our fate to a system that has already driven our planet to the brink of catastrophe. Or we can do everything possible to tackle the biggest threat we face.

An emergency does not have to be a catastrophe. We should be using it as an opportunity to rebuild our economy so that it works for the many, not the few.

The South West, naturally rich in solar, wind, marine and geothermal energy, could reap the benefits. But the Tories are not going to bring that about.

We suffered a bad defeat in December. But I am completely confident we will rebuild our support more quickly than many imagine.

The next election will not be a Brexit election. Boris Johnson’s government is already in chaos, and under the direction of its billionaire backers will fail to deliver on its promises to working class communities and, like all Tory government’s, put the interests of the rich and powerful first.

So we start building back our strength from today.

We go out and campaign to win in the local elections in May. We re-elect Marvin as Mayor of this wonderful City. And every day we stand alongside the people we seek to represent. We have their backs in the struggles they face.

And we do that over and over again, so that the Labour Party is rooted in every community and every workplace.

So that when the chance comes around to win the trust and support of people in every community, region and nation, we go into government at the next election and we go in as communities, together.

Thank you.