Talk about red meat. John McDonnell used his big speech yesterday to promise that the next Labour government will not only stop using PFI schemes to fund future public investment but will bring the existing 719 PFI contracts back into public ownership, in addition to rail, mail and the utilities. “Labour vows more state control with £200bn raid” is the Times‘ splash, while “Labour’s plan for public ownership” is the i‘s. The Metro goes for “We’ll Take Them Back!”
Or will they? Many of the contracts come with punishing break clauses, which will only increase the cost of the pledge, perhaps beyond the point where even the most committed PFI critic decides it simply isn’t worth the candle. Far more likely Labour’s “review” of the contracts ends up unearthing a mere handful that haven’t been written in a way that makes getting out of them early financially exorbitant and the rest trundle on as they are.
As for Labour’s mooted suggestion that the United Kingdom might pay less to take back utilities where the company running them hasn’t been a model corporate citizen, it’s not entirely clear you can do that either through the law as it stands.
There’s a fairly significant but, though, which is that there is a very cheap way for Labour to keep its promise once the Conservatives have finished negotiating the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and the ECJ’s rules: to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, wait six months and announce that those break clauses no longer stand.
Post-Brexit, similar wriggle room emerges as far as the wider programme of renationalisation goes, too. ECHR withdrawal has more than enough support on the Conservative side of the House to make up for any Labour rebels – and don’t forget, either, that whatever happens at the next election, there will be more pukka Corbynites in the parliamentary Labour Party than there are today.
It would be amusing if after all the criticism he attracted for his role in the European referendum, Jeremy Corbyn succeeded in teaching Conservatives to love the ECHR.