This morning I heard Jeremy Corbyn's speech at the Labour Conference. Here is a section of that speech. Can anyone tell me what tense he is using and why? "Now is the time that government took a more active role in restructuring our economy. Now is the time that corporate boardrooms were held accountable for their actions, And now is the time that we developed a new model of economic management to replace the failed dogmas of neo-liberalism …" Is this a Britishism? (I am American.) Thanking your all in advance for any insights you can offer.

  • He's trying to avoid what sounds like "subjunctive" to his speechwriters and "errors" to his constituents, trying to sound like the "folks". – Xanne Sep 27 '17 at 18:00
  • I wouldn't vote for this. It sounds non-standard, a mix of usages. And I'm British. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 27 '17 at 18:46
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    @EdwinAshworth I'm US, and I find it wholly unremarkable. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 27 '17 at 19:27
  • @StoneyB Note that Mr Corbyn has not been voted in, in spite of the alternatives on offer. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 27 '17 at 19:34
  • Rhetorically, it is probably being used to suggest the relative remoteness of 'government' (compared to the speaker and audience, who are tight). I think he really ought to have switched to the present tense in the last sentence, though, because of the shift to we. – Phil Sweet Sep 27 '17 at 20:04

I am a US speaker—my native dialect is southern—and Mr. Corbyn employs this construction in the only way familiar to me, with the verb in its past form:

It's time we went home.
It's time we were going.

I cannot recall ever encountering this with a present-form verb, although a version with a marked infinitive is common:

It's time to go home.
It's time to be going.

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    But not 'now is the time we were going', surely? I don't know why 'now it is time we were going' works, but I think it is a different flavor of now. I can only use present tense in the here-and-now. – Phil Sweet Sep 27 '17 at 20:26

"It’s time + subject + past verb form" can be used to refer to the present moment, which is the case here I think.

  • Argument from analogy is rarely safe in English, and I don't think it is here. And you don't sound sure yourself. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 27 '17 at 19:15

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