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14 June 2017

Labour has shown what unity can achieve

We must focus on our real enemies.

By John McDonnell

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.

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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. 

This article appears in the 14 Jun 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel