“This Is The New Politics”: John McDonnell’s Inspiring Speech to the Labour Party Conference Includes Announcement of Establishment of Powerful Left-Wing Economic Advisory Board

4.10.15

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in Brighton during the Labour Party Conference 2015 (photo from John's Twitter page).The last week has been so busy for me with developments relating to the announcement of the imminent release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, that I didn’t have time to cover the Labour Party Conference, and to express my delight at seeing Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Party and John McDonnell as the shadow chancellor delivering their message of hope and change — yes, really! — to the conference.

Jeremy’s election, by a landslide, came about because of his refreshing honesty and decency, something that I know about through following his work for many years — and that of John McDonnell, his closest Parliamentary colleague — and being involved with them in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer (John set up the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group last November, and Jeremy, as a member, visited Washington D.C. in May as part of a cross-party group of MPs calling for Shaker’s release). It is fair to say that everyone who cares about injustice — in issues of social justice, the unfettered greed of the banks and the housing market, the persecution of minorities, workers’ rights, and many more issues — will have discovered over the years that John and Jeremy have taken up their cause, along with another indefatigable opponent of injustice, Caroline Lucas, Britain’s sole Green MP.

It has been wonderfully refreshing to know that, everywhere I go, people I know and care about are delighted that Jeremy has been elected, and are also delighted that John is the shadow chancellor. 60,000 people have joined the Labour Party since Jeremy’s victory on 12 September, and his appeal to the young and the disenfranchised and those fed up with the greed and cynicism of most politicians means that he might well be able to draw in a significant number of the 15.7 million people in the UK who don’t vote. There are, I think it’s fair to say, millions of us in this country who care about all kinds of injustice that are firmly established in the political status quo, and finally we have elected representatives taking on the government and presenting an alternative view that is so refreshing that I can’t help reflecting regularly on the fact that there has been no robust opposition to the prevailing neo-liberal world view, with its focus on selfishness and enriching the rich, since before Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party over 20 years ago.

So what is it that we have been missing, in addition to the honesty and decency? In a word, socialism; essentially, the belief that everyone should be looked after, that society should be organised around the common good, rather then the insatiable greed of the few and the ever-increasing impoverishment of the many, which is the current model. Those gunning for Jeremy — within his own party, and in the media, which, for the most part, has been behaving appallingly since his election — reveal, by their actions, that, whether they self-identify as Tory, Labour or Liberal Democrat, they represent the selfish, self-interested elite who have come to dominate almost all political discourse over the last 18 years (since Tony Blair’s victory in 1997).

These are the richest 25% of society, who earn more than the average, and are an intrinsic part of the status quo, the modern British “establishment” as identified by Owen Jones in his best-selling book, The Establishment. Their comfort is based on the exploitation of others, whether directly, through, for example, profiting from an artificially sustained housing bubble, or indirectly, through investments in the corporate world, whose sole purpose is profit without any socially responsible angle. And we will continue to drift backwards in time, eventually ending up with some sort of modern twist on feudalism, and the kind of chasm between rich and poor that blights so much of the developing world, unless we take a stand and demand a political system that puts us, the people, before the unfettered profiteering of the few.

I was particularly delighted by John McDonnell’s speech to the Labour Party Conference, which typified this resurgent opposition to the greed and self-interest of the establishment politics that has stifled dissent for decades, and that pretends there is no alternative.

A video of John’s speech is posted below, via YouTube, and I’m also posting below the entire text of his speech, as made available by the Daily Mirror:

John spoke eloquently about austerity — and it is worth repeating that Jeremy was specifically elected as the only anti-austerity candidate — mentioning the case of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled 60-year old father of two, who killed himself after a corrupt assessment process, administered by an immoral corporation, found him fit for work and cut his benefits.

John stated bluntly, “Austerity is not an economic necessity, it’s a political choice,” and added, “The leadership of the Conservative Party made a conscious decision six years ago that the very richest would be protected and it wouldn’t be those who caused the economic crisis, who would pay for it. Although they said they were one nation Tories, they’ve demonstrated time and time again, they don’t represent one nation, they represent the 1 per cent.”

John also spoke about tacking corporate tax evasion and tax avoidance (mentioning, by name, Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon and Google), and the corporate welfare bill, recently estimated to be as much as £93bn a year. He also spoke of his opposition to tax cuts for the rich, and the recent scandal of the Tories cutting working tax credits for hard-working people, and promised a new social homebuilding programme, something that is urgently required to enable hard-working people to have a life beyond working to pay their landlord or their mortgage lender, and to puncture the outrageous house price inflation that, for the first time in my lifetime, is leading to an exodus of talented creative people and essential workers from London.

He also spoke about rail re-nationalisation — and, in future, will presumably speak about other nationalisations for the common good — breaking the establishment’s hypnotic lie that the public sector is somehow “bad” and the private sector “good,” and although he didn’t specifically mention the NHS, I know that both Jeremy and John want the NHS back at the heart of Britain, as the greatest example of a public service for all that is financed through general taxation. He also promised a review of the roles of the Bank of England and HMRC.

He also, in the key moment in his speech in terms of policy, announced that he had just established an Economic Advisory Committee “to advise us on the development and implementation of our economic strategy,” involving “the unchallengeable expertise of some of the world’s leading economic thinkers including Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Simon Wren Lewis, Ann Pettifor and former member of the Bank of England Monetary Committee, David Blanchflower and many, many others drawn in for their specialist knowledge.”

This, it must be stressed, is at the heart of Jeremy and John’s plan for what, later in his speech, John described as “the new politics,” and I find it reassuring that dozens of economists endorsed these economic plans during Jeremy’s campaign.

John McDonnell’s Speech to the Labour Party Conference, September 28, 2015

Comrades,

I warn you this is not my usual rant, they get me into trouble and I’ve promised Jeremy to behave myself.

Jeremy and I sat down at the beginning of his campaign for the Labour leadership to discuss what they call the strap line for his campaign leaflets and posters. We came up with the strapline you see now: Straight talking, honest politics. It just embodied for me what Jeremy Corbyn is all about. So, in the spirit of straight talking, honest politics, here’s some straight talking.

At the heart of Jeremy’s campaign, upon which he received such a huge mandate, was the rejection of austerity politics. But austerity is just a word, almost meaningless to many people. What does it actually mean?

Well, for Michael O’Sullivan austerity was more than a word. Michael suffered from severe mental illness. He was certified by his GP as unable to work, but, despite the evidence submitted by three doctors, he was assessed by the company given the contract for the work capability assessment as fit for work. Michael killed himself after his benefits were removed. The coroner concluded his death was a direct result of the decision in his case.

I don’t believe Michael’s case stands alone. I am grateful to Michael’s family for allowing me to mention him today. I send them, I am sure on behalf of all us here, our heartfelt sympathy and condolences. But also I want them to know that this party, when we return to Government, will end this brutal treatment of disabled people.

Austerity is also not just a word for the 100,000 children in homeless families who tonight will be going to bed not in a home of their own but in a bed and breakfast or temporary accommodation. On behalf of this party I give those children my solemn promise that when we return to government we will build you all a decent and secure home in which to live.

Austerity is not just a word for the women and families across the country being hit hardest by cuts to public services. Women still face an average 19.1 per cent pay gap at work. Labour will tackle the pay gap, oppose the cuts to our public services and end discrimination in our society.

Whenever we cite examples of what austerity really means the Conservatives always argue that no matter what the social cost of their austerity policies, they are necessary to rescue our economy.

Let’s be clear: Austerity is not an economic necessity, it’s a political choice.

The leadership of the Conservative Party made a conscious decision six years ago that the very richest would be protected and it wouldn’t be those who caused the economic crisis, who would pay for it. Although they said they were one nation Tories, they’ve demonstrated time and time again, they don’t represent one nation, they represent the 1 per cent. When we challenge their austerity programme, the Conservatives accuse us of being deficit deniers.

Let me make this absolutely clear: Of course we accept that there is a deficit but we will take no lessons from a chancellor who promised to wipe out the deficit in one Parliament but didn’t get through half, who promised to pay down the debt but has increased it by 50 per cent.

I tell you straight from here on in Labour will always ensure that this country lives within its means. We will tackle the deficit but this is the dividing line between Labour and Conservative. Unlike them, we will not tackle the deficit on the backs of middle and low earners and especially by attacking the poorest in our society. We have always prided ourselves on being a fair and compassionate people in this country and we are. We will tackle the deficit fairly and we can do it.

Here’s how: We will dynamically grow our economy. We will strategically invest in the key industries and sectors that will deliver the sustainable long term economic growth this country needs. Economic growth that will reach all sections, all regions and all nations of our country. And I mean it.

I was devastated by Labour’s losses in Scotland. The SNP has now voted against the living wage, against capping rent levels and just last week voted against fair taxes in Scotland to spend on schools. So here is my message to the people of Scotland: Labour is now the only anti-austerity party. Now’s the time to come home.

We will halt the Conservative tax cuts to the wealthy paid for by cuts to families income. Three weeks ago we saw one of the starkest examples of the difference between us and the Conservatives. The Conservatives cut tax credits to working families to pay for a multi billion pound cut in inheritance tax. Families who had done everything asked of them, working hard but dependent on tax credits to make up for low pay. They will have £1300 taken from them to pay for a tax cut to the wealthiest 4 per cent of the population.

The Conservatives argued that they’d introduced a so-called living wage to make up for the tax credit cut. But we all know that it was neither a living wage nor according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies did it make up for the amount families lost. I tell you now, when we return to office, we will introduce a real living wage.

Labour’s plan to balance the books will be aggressive. We will force people like Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon and Google and all the others to pay their fair share of taxes. Let me tell you also, there will be cuts to tackle the deficit but our cuts will not be the number of police officers on our streets or nurses in our hospitals or teachers in our classrooms.

There will be cuts to the corporate welfare system. There will be cuts to subsidies paid to companies that take the money and fail to provide the jobs. Cuts to the use of taxpayers’ money subsidising poverty paying bosses. Cuts to the billion pound tax breaks given to buy to let landlords for repairing their properties, whether they undertake the repairs or not. And cuts to the housing benefit bill when we build the homes we need and control exorbitant rents.

Where money needs to be raised it will be raised from fairer, more progressive taxation. We will be lifting the burden from middle and low-income earners paying for a crisis they did not cause.

If we inherit a deficit in 2020, fiscal policy will be used to pay down the debt and lower the deficit but at a speed that does not put into jeopardy sustainable economic growth. We’ll use active monetary policy to stimulate demand where necessary. We’ll also turn the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills into a powerful economic development department, in charge of public investment, infrastructure planning and setting new standards at work for all employees.

This is a radical departure not just from neoliberalism but from the way past administrations tried to run the economy.

Why? Well we just don’t think the current model can deliver. We don’t think that destroying industries and then subsidising a low pay economy through the tax system is a good idea. But our radicalism, it comes with a burden. We need to prove to the British people we can run the economy better than the rich elite that runs it now.

That’s why today I have established an Economic Advisory Committee to advise us on the development and implementation of our economic strategy.

We will draw on the unchallengeable expertise of some of the world’s leading economic thinkers including Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Simon Wren Lewis, Ann Pettifor and former member of the Bank of England Monetary Committee, David Blanchflower and many, many others drawn in for their specialist knowledge.

I give you this undertaking that every policy we propose and every economic instrument we consider for use will be rigorously tested to its extreme before we introduce it in government. And we will demand that the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England put their resources at our disposal to test, test and test again to demonstrate our plans are workable and affordable. These bodies are paid for by taxpayers and therefore should be accessible to all parties represented in Parliament. In government we will establish and abide by that convention.

The foundation stones of our economic policy are prosperity and social justice. We will create what Mariana Mazzucato describes as the entrepreneurial state. A strategic state works in partnership with businesses, entrepreneurs and workers to stimulate growth. Government’s role is to provide the opportunity for massive advances in technology, skills and organisational change that will drive up productivity, create new innovative products and new markets. That requires patient long term finance for investment in research from an effectively resourced and empowered national investment bank.

A successful and fair economy cannot be created without the full involvement of its workforce. That’s why restoring trade union rights and extending them to ensure workers are involved in determining the future of their companies is critical to securing the skills, development and innovation to compete in a globalised economy. We will promote modern alternative public, co-operative, worker controlled and genuinely mutual forms of ownership.

At this stage let me say that I found the Conservatives rant against Jeremy’s proposal to bring rail back into public ownership ironic when George Osborne was touring China selling off to the Chinese State Bank any British asset he could lay his hands on. It seems the state nationalising our assets is OK with the Tories as long as it’s the Chinese state or in the case of our railways the Dutch or French.

Institutional change has to reflect our policy change. I want us to stand back and review the major institutions that are charged with managing our economy to check that they are fit for purpose and how they can be made more effective. As a start I have invited Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, to bring together a team to review the operation of the Treasury itself. I will also be setting up a review of the Bank of England.

Let me be clear that we will guarantee the independence of the Bank of England. It is time though to open a debate on the Bank’s mandate that was set by Parliament 18 years ago. The mandate focuses on inflation, and even there the Bank regularly fails to meet its target. We will launch a debate on expanding that mandate to include new objectives for its Monetary Policy Committee including growth, employment and earnings.

We will review the operation and resourcing of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to ensure that HMRC is capable of addressing tax evasion and avoidance and modernising our tax collection system. This is how we will prepare for the future and the day we return to government.

Let me now return to today’s economy because to be frank, I am fearful for the present. George Osborne fought the last election on the myth that the slowest economic recovery from recession in a century has been some sort of economic success. In reality the Tories presided over the longest fall in workers’ pay since Queen Victoria sat on the throne. A recovery based upon rising house prices, growing consumer credit, and inadequate reform of the financial sector. An imbalanced economy overwhelmingly reliant on insecure jobs in the service sector.

Our balance of payments deficit, which is the gap between what we earn from the rest of the world and what we pay to the rest of the world, is at the highest levels it’s been since modern records began. I worry that the same pre-crash warning signs are reappearing. The UK economy is in recovery despite the Chancellor’s policies and not because of them.

You know the narrative George Osborne wanted to present of us this week. Deficit deniers risking the security of the nation etc. It was so obvious you could write it yourself blindfolded. He has brought forward his grandiose fiscal charter not as serious policy making but as a political stunt. A trap for us to fall into. We are not playing those games any more.

Let me explain the significance of what we are doing today. We are embarking on the immense task of changing the economic discourse in this country. Step by step:

First, we are throwing off that ridiculous charge that we are deficit deniers.

Second, we are saying tackling the deficit is important, but we are rejecting austerity as the means to do it.

Third, we are setting out an alternative based upon dynamically growing our economy, ending the tax cuts for the rich and addressing the scourge of tax evasion and avoidance.

Fourth, having cleared that debris from our path we are opening up a national discussion on the reality of the roles of deficits, surpluses, long-term investment, debt and monetary policy.

Fifth, we will develop a coherent, concrete alternative that grows a green, sustainable, prosperous economy for all.

We are moving on the economic debate in this country from puerile knockabout to an adult conversation. I believe the British people are fed up of being patronised and talked down to by politicians with little more than silly slogans and misleading analogies.

This is an immense task. That’s why we need to draw upon all the talents outside and inside the party. I admit that I was disappointed that after Jeremy’s election some refused to serve. In the spirit of solidarity upon which our movement was founded, I say: come back and help us succeed.

We are in an era of new politics. People will be encouraged to express their views in constructive debate. Don’t mistake debate for division. Don’t mistake democracy for disunity.

This is the new politics. Many still don’t understand its potential. As socialists we will display our competence with our compassion. Idealists, yes, but ours is a pragmatic idealism to get things done, to transform our society. We remain inspired by the belief and hope that another world is possible. This is our opportunity to prove it. Let’s seize it.

Solidarity.

Note: Please also see Jeremy’s speech on video, and the text of it, available on the website of the Daily Mirror — and the speech is also available on YouTube.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    I meant to post this days ago, but I was busy with Shaker Aamer and other Guantanamo stories – no offence intended to John and Jeremy!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s a reminder of Jeremy and John, with fellow Labour MP Andy Slaughter, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem John Leech (who lost his seat in the General Election), delivering a birthday card for Shaker Aamer to 10 Downing Street in December. Our “welcome home” message was ironic, and meant to embarrass both David Cameron and Barack Obama: http://westandwithshaker.org/post/105826415470/it-was-shaker-aamers-birthday-on-21-december-and

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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