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Labour has shown what unity can achieve

We must focus on our real enemies.

When we were 20 points behind, I said that the polls would narrow and that the more people saw of Jeremy Corbyn in the campaign, the more they would appreciate him as the decent, honest and principled leader our country needs.

I was disappointed that we did not achieve a majority Labour government. That is always my and Jeremy’s number-one aim. But thanks to the result, we are now closer to that goal. During the election, Labour became the mass movement that we envisaged when Jeremy first stood for leader. But much more still needs to be done.

A hung parliament means that no one won the general election. That is why I was clear the next morning that Labour is ready and waiting to serve our country.

We would form a minority government and put the policies from our highly popular manifesto before parliament. We won’t cut deals behind closed doors like the Tories are trying to do now with the DUP; we will be open and honest. We will put our policies before the public, and MPs can decide which way to vote.

How long Theresa May lasts as Prime Minister has become almost a moot point. She has had to beg her party to keep her on while they throw themselves at the whims of the DUP. Gone is any pretence that the Conservatives are acting on behalf of our country. Everything they are now doing is about self-preservation. The Prime Minister pretty much admitted this when she told her backbenchers that she will serve her party for as long as they want her to: not one mention of what her party needs to do for our country.

The Tories spent the whole of their negative campaign complaining about a “coalition of chaos”, and now they have had to erect one of their own. It wasn’t just their manifesto that couldn’t win a majority at Westminster but their record in government. That is why we need to see the junking of not only an unpopular programme but the past seven years of economic failure.

Following May’s meeting with the aptly named 1922 Committee, there was briefing that the Tories are now preparing to “end austerity”. Many journalists seemed to believe this, based on no actions other than some empty words said in private.

We have been here before. Only last summer, Philip Hammond talked of a “reset” to fiscal policy, which by the Autumn Statement proved to be a continuation of austerity. The true test will be whether the Tories plan to reverse their cuts to in-work benefits, as well as the raft of other cuts and the underfunding of our public services. We will judge them by their deeds, not their words.

The latest inflation figures highlight why the pernicious public-sector pay cap and the cut to in-work benefits are among the cruellest austerity measures of recent years. We will oppose these every step of the way in parliament, and I don’t believe there is a majority in the House of Commons for them.

One great success of Labour’s seat-winning campaign was that we won the party’s highest vote share since 2001 pledging to take an unapologetically different approach to the economy. We promised a redistributive tax system, in which our schools and hospitals would no longer be starved of funds, and we asked the top 5 per cent to contribute a little more. We promised to halt and begin to reverse cuts to disability benefits.

We promised to drive up living standards after years of wage stagnation, with a £10 “real living wage” and an industrial strategy that would rebalance the economy in the interests of those who have not shared in its growth.

We promised to put control of our economy back into the hands of the people, with publicly and democratically owned companies delivering our electricity, water, railways and post, reducing living costs and undoing Margaret Thatcher’s botched privatisations.

The election result last week demonstrated what the Labour Party can achieve when it stands together. We stood on a popular policy platform, with a campaign led by Jeremy, a straightforward, honest politician. It proved that hope over fear is not just a slogan. It can also be a political strategy.

Everyone in our party was grateful that those who have a platform in the media didn’t use it to attack the leadership during the election. If we now focus on who our real political enemies and opponents are, just think what we can achieve.

My goal, like that of every party member, is to have a truly transformative Labour government. We now have the chance to get one. Let’s not lose sight of that goal. 


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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