Corbyn's EU speech at the 'Ministry of Truth'

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright AFP/Getty

George Orwell based the Ministry of Truth in his novel 1984 in Senate House at the University of London. That was, as the Labour leader joked as he got to his feet, the venue for Jeremy Corbyn's speech today.

The imaginary Ministry of Truth was where the fictional language Newspeak was created. It was designed to limit freedom of expression, anything that might challenge the Party wisdom.

In that tongue, the word truth was taken to mean: 2 + 2 = 5.

Far be it from me to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn has had to contort his own true views to keep the peace with his colleagues in Westminster, who are overwhelming backers of the EU.

'Curious thing'

But maybe it takes some rather untraditional arithmetic to add together Jeremy Corbyn's criticism of the EU over the years and conclude that he really and truly does support staying in.

Over the years he's said its policies are "crazy", not "moral", he's accused the EU of taking power away from Parliament, and he's voted against it on multiple occasions.

Mr Corbyn can't escape his previous views, and today said he wouldn't "recant". As Orwell wrote, "the past is a curious thing. It's with you all the time".

Image caption George Orwell based the Ministry of Truth at the building where Jeremy Corbyn made his EU speech

But confronting accusations that he has stayed too silent on the topic, Mr Corbyn has today given his clear backing to the campaign for Remain.

For Labour MPs who have doubted him, that is what matters. His speech today was though a summary of some of the subjects he cares passionately about and how the power of the EU might help, rather than a full-throated roar of support for the institution.

Migration question

On the environment, on workers' rights, cracking down on tax avoiders - action taken by countries working together is more effective than working alone, he said.

He also tried out a new argument that was slightly more unusual - that leaving the EU would leave the UK in the clutches of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage creating some kind of free-for-all for the free market, seeming to suggest that a Brexit would somehow make it more likely there would be Conservative governments in the future.

What could also be used by the Leave campaign was his contention that there has not been too much immigration from the EU.

He told me: "I don't think too many have come. I think that the issue has to be of wages and regulation which I included in my speech and it's employers that try to undercut industry-wide agreements in the construction industry and others that are the problem."

Grudging

There are plenty of Labour voters who wouldn't agree with that, plenty of constituencies where UKIP has nibbled away at the party's support. And for many members of the public, immigration from the EU is a big and real concern.

The importance of today though, is that Jeremy Corbyn has made this speech at all. As the party's leader it was, and will be, important in the next 10 weeks that he is on the record supporting the campaign to stay, and visibly doing so.

So far spats in the Conservative Party have dominated the conversations around our place in Europe. Labour might have lost the last election, but many of its nine million voters will look to the party for its position on the European Union.

And even though Mr Corbyn's support felt rather grudging, few of the high-profile figures are backing the institution with much affection.

Staying in is presented as the pragmatic, safer choice, rather than a source of pride and inspiration. He is not exactly alone in supporting the Remain campaign through slightly gritted teeth.

Perhaps that's one of the problems that in the coming weeks that the so-called Remainers would do well to address.

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