Jeremy Corbyn used his first conference speech as Britain's Labour leader to send a message to voters: “You don’t have to take what you are given.”
Mr Corbyn rejected Conservative claims that there is “no alternative” to cuts in jobs, public services and the NHS, rising university fees and growing poverty, telling the party’s conference in Brighton: “Our Labour Party says No.”
Just two weeks after being elected party leader in a landslide vote, the Islington North MP – who was welcomed on stage by a standing ovation – declared that he would stand for “a kinder politics, a more caring society”.
And he dismissed Tory accusations that he represents a threat to Britain’s security, insisting it is the Government which threatens the security of tenants in insecure rented homes, carers losing local government support, young people locked out of the housing market, families losing benefits and 2.8 million households forced into debt by stagnant wages.
The veteran left-winger stuck to his guns on the renewal of Trident, declaring he did not believe that spending £100 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons was “the right way forward”. And he confirmed plans to take railway services back into public ownership as franchises come up for renewal.
But he insisted that the party’s policies will be subject to a comprehensive review, with Labour members having “the final say” on what they should be. Unlike predecessors such as Tony Blair, he vowed that neither he, his shadow cabinet or Labour MPs would “impose policy or have a veto” on what the membership decides.
After coming under attack for his failure to sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain commemoration, Mr Corbyn insisted that his political beliefs were driven by “shared majority British values” and his love of his country.
And he said he wanted to harness the “political earthquake” which brought him into office this summer to build “a society for the majority” in Britain.
Mr Corbyn said Britain's Conservative Government existed “to protect the few and tell all the rest of us to accept what what we’re given”, offering tax breaks to the hedge funds which have lavished donations on the Tories since David Cameron became leader, while “cutting jobs ... slashing public services ... vandalising the NHS ... cutting junior doctors’ pay ... reducing care for the elderly ... destroying the hopes of young people for a college education or putting university graduates into massive debt ... putting half a million more people into poverty”.
“They want us to believe there is no alternative,” he said.
“They want the people of Britain to accept all of these things. They expect millions of people to work harder and longer for a lower quality of life.
“Our Labour Party says No.
“The British people never have to take what they are given. And certainly not when it comes from Cameron and Osborne.”
Mr Corbyn branded Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity programme as “the outdated and failed approach of the past”, which had left Britain “ill-prepared ... to face another crisis”.
Contrary to some predictions, Mr Corbyn did not use the speech to issue an apology for the Labour Party's role in taking Britain to war in Iraq under Tony Blair.
But he told the packed hall: “It didn’t help our national security when we went to war with Iraq in defiance of the United Nations and on a false prospectus.”
And he signalled his opposition to any Government attempt to secure Parliament’s support for military action in Syria, saying: “The answer to this complex and tragic conflict can’t simply be found in a few more bombs... Military strikes against Isil aren’t succeeding, not because we do not have enough high explosive but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy on Syria.”
Responding to claims that he would fail to support the armed forces as prime minister, Mr Corbyn said: “Britain does need strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe.”
But he added: “The best way to protect the British people against the threats we face to our safety at home and abroad is to work to resolve conflict ... There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe.”
Mr Corbyn made no direct reference to the upcoming referendum on Britain’s EU membership, but accused Mr Cameron of seeking to bargain away workers’ rights as part of his renegotiation with Brussels, and said he would “stand up for our vision of a social Europe”.
The Labour leader made a point of thanking his predecessor Ed Miliband for his “leadership ... courage and dignity”, as well as offering his thanks to Harriet Harman – who stood in as leader following the election – and his three rivals in the leadership election, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.
In an olive branch to critics who have refused to serve in his shadow cabinet, he said that rather than, splits and divisions, he wanted “grown-up politics ... where people put forward different views, we debate issues, we take a decision and we go forward together”.
He said: “On occasions we might agree to disagree. But whatever the outcome, we stand together, united as Labour, to put forward a better way to the misery on offer from the Conservatives.”
Attacking Tory claims that he would put economic and family security at risk, Mr Corbyn said: “How dare these people talk about security for families and people in Britain?”
He said: “There’s no security for the 2.8 million households in Britain forced into problem debt by stagnating wages and the Tory record of the longest fall in living standards since records began.
“And that’s the nub of it. Tory economic failure. An economy that works for the few, not for the many.”
Labour would fight child tax credit cuts “every inch of the way” and seek to expose Mr Osborne’s announcement of a £7.20-an-hour National Living Wage as an “absurd lie” which fell far short of a true living wage.
“I know there’s a big British majority for building a more equal society, for eliminating poverty and homelessness,” said the Labour leader.
“We are a rich country. These things are not necessary or inevitable. They can and must be changed.”
Conservatives had left the UK with an investment crisis and a £100 billion balance of payments deficit, said Mr Corbyn.
“It hasn’t been growing exports and a stronger manufacturing sector that have underpinned the feeble economic recovery,” he said. “It’s house price inflation, asset inflation, more private debt.
“Unbalanced. Unsustainable. Dangerous. The real risk to economic and family security.”
Labour’s economic policy would have “investment for the future” at its heart, with spending on new council housing, affordable homes, broadband links and renewable energy and a National Investment Bank to support infrastructure.“
“This is the only way to a strong economic future for Britain that’s sustainable, that turns round the terrible trade deficit, that supports high growth firms and businesses, that provides real economic security for our people,” he said.
Under his leadership, Labour will “challenge austerity” and be “unapologetic about reforming our economy to challenge inequality and protect workers better”.
His victory on September 12 was “a mandate for change” in the way politics operates and a “vote for political change in our party”, he said.
Contrary to claims that “socialist and social democratic parties were in decline (and) social democracy itself was... dead on its feet”, the election produced “a political earthquake”, he said, adding: “Something new and invigorating, popular and authentic has exploded.”
With more than 160,000 new members joining Labour over the summer – and 50,000 since his election – Mr Corbyn said he wanted to reinvigorate party activity in constituencies and in digital media. In apparent recognition of concerns about “trolling” by some so-called Corbynistas in social media, he declared he would personally avoid “personal abuse of any sort” and urged supporters to “cut out the personal attacks, the cyberbullying, and especially the misogynistic abuse online”.
He accused Conservatives of seeking to “gerrymander” upcoming elections by redrawing constituency boundaries and changing the rules on electoral registration, and vowed to lead a campaign to get people back onto the registers.
He promised to “learn the lessons” from the Scottish National Party’s overwhelming success in May’s general election and to make Labour a “great fighting force” north of the border once again, insisting that the party remains “the progressive voice for Scotland.”
In a speech that was light on policy detail, Mr Corbyn called for statutory maternity and paternity pay to be extended to the self-employed.
He said Labour would make housing “a top priority”, with a new “very large and very active” council house building programme, as well as policies to tackle land hoarding and land speculation.
He promised to make mental health a priority, to prevent selection in schools and ensure that they are accountable to local government and to deliver “the fully integrated publicly owned railway the British people want and need”.
To prolonged applause from delegates who rose to their feet, he concluded his speech by quoting “the last bearded man to lead the Labour Party”, Kier Hardie, who said his life’s work consisted of “trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong”.
And he told activists: “Don’t accept injustice, stand up against prejudice.
“Let us build a kinder politics, a more caring society together. Let us put our values, the people’s values back into politics.”
Mr Corbyn - who delivered his 59-minute speech dressed in a brown jacket, black trousers, white shirt and red tie - was given a standing ovation as he walked from the stage to join activists in the stalls.
The soul track Working On A Building Of Love by Chairmen of the Board played as a smiling Mr Corbyn shook hands, hugged supporters and returned their enthusiastic applause by clapping them.