Evergreen Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner hit the nail on the head yesterday in telling delegates under media interrogation over how to fund Labour’s economic policies what to reply.
“When the private sector expands, where do you think they get the money from? They borrow it,” he declared.
Skinner’s reference to post-war Labour health minister Aneurin Bevan’s similar response over financing the new NHS serves as a reminder that, after a gruelling six-year war and the economy in dire straits, Labour responded with a programme of housebuilding, a welfare state, a health service free at point of use and nationalisation of key industries.
Clement Attlee’s government borrowed to tackle the destruction caused by war and the legacy of the 1930s when the Tories and their allies presided over huge unemployment levels and treated jobless workers abominably.
Seven years of Tory/Liberal Democrat assaults on working-class living standards have been horrendous but nowhere near the level inflicted by their forebears 80 years ago.
The next Labour government has a choice of being “statesmanlike,” intoning sonorously the need for “shared sacrifices in the national interest” while carrying out a City of London-approved agenda or, as John McDonnell laid out, being radical and realistic.
Instead of explaining to conference delegates why, despite profound regrets, a Jeremy Corbyn-led administration couldn’t carry out policies that working people have stressed they want to see, the shadow chancellor answered their call.
Corbyn, McDonnell and their team have been consistent in maintaining that the neoliberals’ capitalist austerity cuts agenda was not an economic requirement.
It was a political choice and a choice now rejected by Labour. Holding down workers’ pay while shareholders’ dividends run riot and the value of inherited wealth mushrooms is not acceptable.
Workers need a pay rise and the Labour leadership will support trade unions in their goal of negotiating just increases.
Handing over profitable assets from the public sector to privateers has been one-way traffic since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, but this will finally change. This isn’t a matter of Labour forcing through an unpopular nationalisation obsession.
The party is responding to majority and growing public demand to end the profiteering, poor service and unaccountability of the private-sector vultures who have beset our rail, water and energy services, to say nothing of Royal Mail flogged for a song — off key at that — by Vince Cable.
Public-sector unions have long complained of the wastefulness of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), introduced by John Major and overused by Gordon Brown, that handed billions to private banks rather than being used for staff pay and service delivery.
McDonnell has given notice that there will be no more PFI deals and that he will seek to short-circuit existing contracts.
He plans an exciting economic future based on the government taking responsibility for encouraging investment in modern, green means of production and shifting the emphasis away from the private banks’ obsession with easy profits through property speculation and interest gouged from credit cards pressed on people too credit-poor to refuse them.
The shadow chancellor’s commitment to expand the high-speed rail network is not only a qualitative leap forward for connectivity across Britain but a vote of confidence in the greenest mode of mass transport.
McDonnell understands that, since state borrowing rates are currently all but interest-free, now is the time to invest. Anyone doubting this should seek Dennis Skinner’s face-to-face advice.