SHADOW chancellor John McDonnell’s decision to set out a different approach rather than simply different policies from those of George Osborne is a master stroke.
His insistence that “austerity is not an economic necessity. It’s a political choice” smashes Westminster orthodoxy and prepares the way for an economic alternative.
He and Jeremy Corbyn have a battle to persuade the electorate that reducing the deficit can be achieved without huge cuts to public expenditure.
Not surprising when the front-bench consensus throughout the last Parliament, backed up by all the daily media bar the Morning Star, was that economic recovery depended on kicking hell out of working people, including those on benefits.
Corbyn’s election campaign began as a modest desire to widen debate as his three “electable” opponents struggled to find something tangible to disagree over.
When his honest, unadorned and straight-talking contributions to televised hustings raised his profile and popularity, people began to believe that he could win and that he would not represent more of the same.
McDonnell and Corbyn are maligned by much of the media as back-bench irritants with little experience of real politics.
In reality, they are seasoned campaigners in Parliament and outside, speaking on many platforms, representing their constituents and understanding better than most how the system works — or, in reality, doesn’t.
Tens of thousands flocked to the Corbyn rallies and joined Labour to vote for him because they believed that another way was possible that didn’t include victimising those at the bottom of the heap.
McDonnell’s clear anti-austerity stance honours the commitments given in the election campaign.
It also presents Osborne with a problem in defending his economic record when, even by his own pledges of wiping out the deficit in one parliament and reducing national debt, it has been a colossal failure.
Osborne preens himself as an economic genius and this emperor’s new clothes mirage is applauded by the City, big business and the billionaire media, all of which are part of the 1 per cent that is doing very nicely, thank you.
The Chancellor’s trump card was always that his “opponents” in the New Labour economics team swallowed the fallacy that Labour in office had overspent on the public sector and that cuts in public expenditure were essential to recovery, even though they might nitpick about how deep those cuts should be.
Fighting the election on terrain chosen by Osborne and his wealthy backers ensured that Labour would be seen as lacking economic credibility.
McDonnell’s vision deprives Osborne of that comfort blanket and will force the Chancellor into defending his strategy of prioritising the interests of the plutocratic elite against Labour’s alternative.
The shadow chancellor’s highlighting of the Tories’ decision to deprive low-paid workers of £1,300 annually by cutting tax credits to finance an inheritance tax bonanza for the richest 4 per cent puts the difference between the two parties in stark relief.
The same applies to McDonnell’s battle cry to tackle corporate tax dodgers and spend a little less lavishly on state benefits for business.
And his pledge to invest strategically in key industrial sectors takes on added importance in light of the steel jobs slaughter in Redcar.
The cosseted elite will strive through censorship, ridicule and abuse to eradicate the idea of any possible alternative to neoliberalism, but the genie is out the bottle.
A left alternative to the austerity agenda is not only possible but viable and eminently capable of winning electoral success.