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Labour, like the UK, is facing up to change.

ONE of the most astounding aspects of Jeremy Corbyn's speech to the Labour conference is that he seemed as relaxed as if he was giving friends a tour of his garden.

If he had nerves they were not on display when he took the stage in Brighton. It was as if he was not that surprised to address one of the leading parties of Western democracy as its leader.

In winning the reins of Labour, he has achieved a victory that Tony Benn never achieved. The party was a battleground between hardliners and moderates in the 1980s but Mr Corbyn has jumped into the leadership position on the back of an astounding democratic mandate.

Labour has been spared destructive rancour. The question is whether that awaits.

Mr Corbyn is keen to transform the party but had warm words of appreciation for his former leadership rivals, particularly Liz Kendall - seen as the most "Blairite" of the candidates. He shows no sign of wanting an end to Labour as a broad church.

Striking at times a grandfatherly tone, he spoke of his desire to foster a "kinder politics". His call for an end to personal attacks and a return of the "people's values" into politics won loud applause from his audience.

Although Mr Corbyn may not seem overawed by the responsibility that has come his way, he recognises the scale of the significance of his election.

He used his speech to challenge the party to build a movement of the "modern left" which has the chance to change society. He may have a laid-back demeanour but the intensity and seriousness of his ambition should not be underestimated.

Mr Corbyn has become Leader of the Opposition at a time some left-wing politicians are enjoying a new connection with the public.

In 2013 Bill de Blasio surprised the US political establishment by winning the mayoralty of New York; Syriza have won successive elections in Greece; proud socialist Bernie Sanders threatens to derail Hillary Clinton's bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Labour's defeat in May will have demoralised many on the left in the UK. David Cameron's Conservatives, after half a decade in coalition, increased their number of MPs in Wales and won an outright majority in the House of Commons; seven out of 10 people who took part in the election did not vote for Labour.

The Brighton Labour conference could have been a postmortem by the sea. Sessions could have been defined by recrimination and self-flagellation.

But instead the seafront is packed with supporters of Mr Corbyn who are excited by the prospect of their party embracing an unashamedly socialist identity. Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith supported Andy Burnham in the leadership race but clearly relishes the prospect of working to defeat the Government's plans on welfare.

The UK is in the throes of change and so is Labour.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 30, 2015
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