LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn described his own election Tuesday as a “political earthquake” that had ended politics as usual, but crucial sections of his first major speech as Labour Party leader have been revealed as reheated rhetoric written for a previous failed leader.
Corbyn seized control of the Labour Party by convincing activists that he was the kind of unspun, authentic politician who would provide a breath of fresh air in Westminster. Passages laying out his core principles in his first major address, however, were lifted wholesale from a blog post called “A Collection of Zingers.”
The “zingers” were submitted in 2011 to Ed Miliband, the last Labour leader, who was routed in May, but the author said his offering was ignored. Instead, Richard Heller posted them on his blog, where they lay undisturbed for four years.
In the three weeks since Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership race, it seems there was insufficient time to craft an entirely new keynote speech.
“Since the dawn of history, in virtually every human society there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing,” said Corbyn. “Some people have property and power, class and capital, status and clout which are denied to the many.”
Within two hours, Alex Massie had spotted a similar passage online. In fact, just five words had been changed. The same was true of several further paragraphs.
Heller insisted that this was not a case of “plagiarism” and said he had recently posted his words to the Corbyn team. Permission may have been granted but it is hugely embarrassing for this beacon of authenticity to have been relying on rhetoric rejected by Labour’s least successful leader in a generation.
The most combative words in Corbyn’s speech were reserved for the right-wing British newspaper journalists who will be sharpening their knives for a new attack on his borrowed beliefs.
Corbyn opened his address by mocking the media’s doomsday predictions about what would happen if he won the race to be Labour leader.
Referring to himself in the third person, and dispensing with the adage that a politician should never repeat the allegations made against him, he said: “According to one headline ‘Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity.’ Now, asteroids are pretty controversial. It’s not the kind of policy I’d want this party to adopt without a full debate in conference. So can we have the debate later in the week!
“Another newspaper went even further and printed a ‘mini-novel’ that predicted how life would look if I were Prime Minister. It’s pretty scary I have to tell you.”
Hardcore party activists in the convention hall laughed along. Next he slammed “tawdry media attacks” and then went after the political pundits. “No. Sorry commentariat: this is grown up, real politics where real people debate real issues.”
In a speech that most leaders would have used to try to bridge divides or reach out to a new audience, Corbyn wasn’t done there.
His next targets were his own members of Parliament—virtually all of whom did not want him to win. He told them that he had been granted a mandate by party activists in support of his view that Britain should unilaterally scrap its nuclear deterrent.
Most of Labour’s senior MPs have already refused to serve in the Shadow Cabinet under Corbyn, many of those who did accept appointments have previously stated they would resign over a policy to scrap Britain’s nuclear weapons.
“I’ve made my own position on one issue clear. And I believe I have a mandate from my election on it,” he said. “I don’t believe £100 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons taking up a quarter of our defense budget is the right way forward.”
The Labour Party conference had already voted against a debate on the renewal of the Trident nuclear program but that didn’t stop the party’s new leader. Corbyn, who was chair of the Stop the War campaign until last week, said he wanted Britain to “lead in making progress on international nuclear disarmament.”
The vocal online Corbynistas cheered his every word, and activists in the room got to their feet for several standing ovations. It remains to be seen if the new Labour leader can stop alienating people and start winning friends.