Jeremy Corbyn has set out a programme of “socialism for the 21st century” as he urged his fractured party to unite to take on the Conservatives in a general election he said could come as early as next year.
Following pointed warnings from senior Labour figures Sadiq Khan and Tom Watson of the need to focus on winning power, Mr Corbyn used his keynote speech to the party’s conference in Liverpool to insist his strategy was not merely a politics of protest but a plan to enter government and “rebuild and transform Britain”.
Days after being emphatically confirmed as leader with a 62%-38% victory over challenger Owen Smith, he acknowledged the need to reach out beyond Labour’s core support to win over groups including middle-income earners, the self-employed and those concerned about the impact of migration.
He risked stoking differences over immigration within his own ranks after making clear he will not make cutting numbers of migrants an objective despite calls from MPs including Andy Burnham – who announced his resignation as shadow home secretary – to respond to concerns expressed by voters in the EU referendum.
After a first year in office bedevilled by allegations of anti-Semitism and online abuse among his supporters, the Labour leader also pledged “firm action” against intimidation and vowed to fight against “prejudice and hatred of Jewish people”.
Mr Corbyn confirmed plans for a £500 billion National Investment Bank to support infrastructure projects and a £50 million Migrant Impact Fund to support areas under pressure from new arrivals.
He hailed shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s plan for a “real living wage” of £10 an hour or more and confirmed Labour would scrap “punitive” benefit sanctions including the “degrading” work capability assessment.
He said business would pay for Labour’s proposed National Education Service – including through a 1.5% hike in corporation tax for allowances and grants for college and university students.
He confirmed plans for a £160 million arts pupil premium to allow every child in England and Wales to learn a musical instrument. He also promised a review of tax and social security rights for self-employed people.
A Labour government would lift a cap preventing local authorities from borrowing against their housing stock, which he said would allow them to build an extra 12,000 council homes a year.
Mr Corbyn said the pledges were “not the Ten Commandments” and would be open to further consultation.
But he said they showed “the direction of change we are determined to take – and the outline of a programme to rebuild and transform Britain”, and offer “greater equality of wealth and income, but also of power”.
Mr Corbyn said: “We know how great this country could be for all its people with a new political and economic settlement, with new forms of democratic public ownership, driven by investment in the technology and industries of the future, with decent jobs, education and housing for all, with local services run by and for people, not outsourced to faceless corporations.
“That’s not backward-looking – it’s the very opposite. It’s the socialism of the 21st century.”
Urging Labour’s feuding factions to “end the trench warfare”, he said: “Our party is about campaigning and it’s about protest too, but most of all it’s about winning power in local and national government to deliver the real change our country so desperately needs.
“That’s why the central task of the whole Labour Party must be to rebuild trust and support to win the next general election and form the next government.
“That is the government I am determined to lead to win power to change Britain for the benefit of working people.”
Mr Corbyn told delegates: “Let’s be frank, no-one will be convinced of a vision promoted by a divided party.
“We all agree on that, so I ask each and every one of you, accept the decision of the members, end the trench warfare and work together to take on the Tories.”
The hour-long speech, delivered to a packed crowd who greeted him with chants of “Jez we can”, won a warm reception from unions.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey described it as “a genuine programme to halt rampaging inequality” while Dave Ward, leader of the Communication Workers Union, said: “Today he looked and sounded like a leader.”
Businesses were more wary as Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said many would “be concerned that Jeremy Corbyn is already reaching for the tax lever by asking businesses to pay for his education plans”.
Conservative chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin said Labour were offering to “spend, borrow and tax even more than they did last time (and) support unlimited immigration”.
Mr Corbyn dismissed Prime Minister Theresa May’s claim to be fighting the “inequalities and burning injustices” of modern Britain, insisting: “Even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk”
The May regime was “David Cameron’s government, repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit”, he said.
In his hour-long speech, Mr Corbyn made little reference to Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, which provided one of the main bust-ups of the four-day conference, when shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis’s speech was rewritten to remove a statement that Labour would not ditch its policy of supporting renewal. Aides later confirmed that Mr Corbyn remains personally committed to unilateral disarmament.
He promised a foreign policy that would be “based on peace, justice and human rights”, including a commitment to suspend UK arms sales to any country where there are credible reports of human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen.
However, he provoked a walkout by a former adviser of Tony Blair when he told the conference he was “right” to apologise for Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.
John McTernan later said he walked out “in disgust (at) the attack on the most successful Labour leader in history”.