Labour conferences are always good for a laugh, but this year it has taken on an especially bizarre shine. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s speech was no exception, illustrating at the same time why Labour cannot be elected and why it’s time to leave the country if they do.
McDonnell’s speech was like travelling back in time to the 70’s; a rehash of old, tried and failed ideas. But he does have lots of self-confidence. He wants to be an interventionist chancellor with a proper 70’s style industrial strategy. He believes he knows how to solve the UK economy’s problem with low productivity: more government investment to crowd out private investment. He, not industry, knows where to invest the money best. A new National Investment Bank will direct resources to where McDonnell thinks they are needed, not where business may think resources are applied most efficiently.
He will increase employee shareholding, through giving employees ‘first refusal on a proposal for worker ownership when their company faces a change of ownership’ and through cooperatives, which will be prioritized in public procurement. No detail on how the first point would work, but the second would obviously be good for the shareholding employees, though not so good for the taxpayer paying a higher price for procurements. McDonnell didn’t address that. People like him never think much of the people paying to the party.
Labour campaigned ‘hard’ to remain in the EU, McDonnell said, and he intends to make sure that Brexit doesn’t mean abandoning EU employee protection legislation. Typically, he sees the economy not as a free collaboration between parties engaging in voluntary exchange, but as a strife: ‘… until working people have proper protections at work, the labour market will always work against them’. He is a self-confessed Marxist, after all.
Showing total disdain for property rights, McDonnell went on to regurgitate the promise of a wealth tax last heard in 1974. The then Labour government in the end failed to introduce it, but it has been tried many an unsuccessful time elsewhere.
A telling moment came when McDonnell announced a rise in the minimum wage to a real Living Wage, written into law. He wants an independent body to determine the correct rate and the conference waited with bated breath as he announced that it was expected to be – drumroll – ABOVE £10 an hour. Thunderous applause! Really? Even if you happen to believe price fixing is a sound economic concept, surely it would be better if the salary needed to survive was lower, not higher… not in socialist la-la-land.
But it wasn’t all old-style socialism. In a nod to the environmentalists, and proving that he and Jeremy Corbyn are part of the metropolitan elite, fracking is to be banned – to the dismay of the GMB union, who rightly fear a big jobs cost for northern England (GMB backed Owen Smith in the recent Labour leadership race).
The speech was laughably ideological, economically illiterate and funny for the wrong reasons. But beware. People like McDonnell are dangerous if they should ever get near the levers of power. McDonnell didn’t beat about the bush. His vision is, he said, called Socialism. That’s clear! What is also clear is this: if Corbyn and his gang ever succeeds in getting elected, it is time to leave the UK. Last man turn off the lights.