John McDonnell: Labour will not raise taxes for ordinary workers

Only the top 5 per cent will pay more. The left has the chance to build a majoritarian base for a radical programme. 

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We have reached a point in our society where children with special needs are being deprived of the essential educational support they need and children in care are being shipped around the land, far from their families and communities, as part of a cost-cutting procurement process. This represents a level of inhumanity nobody ever thought they would witness in our country and nobody with any claim to caring should tolerate.

It’s hardly surprising that the UN has despatched its special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to tour Britain to investigate the impact of austerity. The last United Nations investigation into the treatment of disabled people in the UK found a systematic violation of their human rights by this Tory government, which promptly dismissed the UN findings and then went on to inflict more harm with the imposition of Personal Independence Payments and Universal Credit.

However, there is cause for hope. After eight years of stagnant wages, intensifying pressures at work and cuts in public services, people, increasingly, have simply had enough and no longer believe in the myths of austerity. The neoliberal spell that has gripped the political economic narrative for so long has been broken.

Trickle-down economics – with its legacy of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and corporations, a “private good, public sector bad” philosophy, financial deregulation, zero-hours contracts, and powerlessness and insecurity at work – is no longer considered viable for the vast majority – the 95 per cent. And we will not increase taxes on ordinary workers, just the top 5 per cent.

Of course, austerity has been appallingly hard and brutal for those on low incomes, but the system has also created a degree of insecurity and reduced expectations for those in technical, managerial and professional occupations (including some higher-rate taxpayers), who in the past would largely have been protected. It is from this breadth of adverse reaction and frustration that political majorities are constructed.

As people challenge and reject what for years they have had drilled into them as common sense, we are at a historic moment of potential change, with the opportunity for the left to build a majoritarian base for the ideas and ideals that would take a Labour Party with a radical programme into government.

Despite Tory claims to be ending austerity, the bulk of welfare cuts have yet to be imposed and government departments are facing further spending reductions. Investment is stagnating and productivity remains critically behind other developed economies. The tax cuts for the rich and corporations continue. If the Conservatives remain in government until the end of this parliament (2022), they will have given away £110bn in tax cuts to corporations.

All this must lead to the conclusion that there is nothing more important than building the majority support we need to secure the election of a Labour government as soon as possible.

Nothing the party does now should hinder or delay that Labour government being elected. Quite the reverse: we all have a responsibility on our shoulders to do everything we can to gain victory.

Our aim remains to bring about an irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people. Redistributive policies should be targeted at those individuals, those institutions and those sectors that have the most and which have benefited the most from the financial crash and the neoliberal policy programme the Conservatives have so ruthlessly implemented.

Rooting our own policy programme in the principle of universalism is also a crucial way of creating the social solidarity needed to secure and maintain majoritarian support for our ideas both before and after the next election.

Where a universalist approach is not suitable, building majority and, wherever possible, consensual support should be a priority. We should avoid anything that unnecessarily divides or splits the majoritarian coalition that we are seeking to build and always take care to evade the traps set by our opponents in order to divide us.

Historically, these opponents have always recognised the power and strength of the many. That is why they have done and will continue to do all they can to divide us. As long as we keep it in our minds that Labour is for the many, not the few, we will prevail.
John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor

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

This article appears in the 14 November 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How the Brexiteers broke history

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