Thursday, 26 October 2017

An evening with John McDonnell

On Monday 2 October my political partner in crime, Peter Allen, and I went to see John McDonnell at Manchester Cathedral talking with Gary Younge on the theme of - 'An Economy That Works for All'. The event was part of a series of meetings and demos based around the Tory Party Conference. Predictably, the event was very well attended with an audience of several hundred people and began with the Dean welcoming McDonnell.

John McDonnell is an accomplished speaker who addresses the audience with respect. During the 'debate' he outlined Labour's plans for an expansion of democracy in the UK and spoke about Labour's economic plans. What follows is a summary of what John McDonnell said based on a recording Peter made:

"What we want is for people to come together in their communities to discuss the detailed implementation of our manifesto in their area….that is important to us….where are we going to build the homes that we need,….what sort of jobs do we want… how best to invest in our schools. We will all be going into government together so that change will become unstoppable and irreversible.we need to do work now to prepare for government. 

We will have a constitutional convention, based on a fair nationwide distribution of resources. People are pretty fair. They do want to work together, to cooperate to address inequality. Consensus building is central to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics.

The reason why the Tories are resorting to personal abuse is because they are losing the argument. They say they are defending the free market but what we have is a rigged market. We have ‘corporate capture’, where corporations have taken over the levers of government which is being run in the interests of the 1%. In response, we are calmly proposing alternative solutions. 

People are seeing through what the Tories are all about. They are recognizing that austerity wasn’t an economic necessity but a political choice. I million fewer adults are receiving care because of austerity. There are millions on housing waiting lists and 70,000 children are in temporary accommodation. In terms of political ideas, the Tory Party are bankrupt. As a political party, they are imploding. 

I have been talking to business about our investment strategy. Business is seeking opportunities for stable returns on their investment and we will be offering that. 
John McDonnell at Manchester Cathedral
We need a real living wage and strong trade unions, which offer the best means of protecting wages and conditions. We will restore and expand collective bargaining. Rising wages will lift people out of poverty and raise more taxes. It isn’t rocket science.

We recognise the contribution migrants have made to this country. We need to guarantee the rights of EU migrants living in this country.

Our opponents will always try to divide and rule. We need to bring people together on the basis of recognising injustices. We will clamp down on tax evasion/ avoidance which is on an industrial scale in this country and properly resourced HMRC. UKUNCUT have dragged tax avoidance to the top of the agenda by public protests and should be given credit for the role they have played in this.There should be greater tax transparency. Everyone earning over 1 million pounds and all leading politicians and public officials should be required to publish their tax returns.

From Thatcher onwards, neoliberalism became the dominant ‘hegemonic ‘ idea. After the crash, this dominant idea has been challenged. After 10 years, with the recession having supposedly ended but living standards still being cut more and more people are coming to the view that the current model will never work and I think we can convince a majority of people to accept a different narrative and support a different model.

We believe that education is a gift from one generation to another and not a commodity to be bought and sold. We want a National Education Service, free from the cradle to the grave. We will improve and expand provision in conjunction with service users.

We need to invest in new technology, as Germany has done. Business is not investing sufficiently and we will use public investment to encourage such investment. We will encourage workers co-operatives and worker representation on boards.

We need to prioritise addressing climate change. (loud applause). There will be no fracking. We intend that the UK will become world leader in decarbonizing the economy in its first five years of office."

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The so-called free market has failed we now need a democratically driven alternative

For the vast majority of people in the world, after more than 200 years of capitalism, the so-called 'free' market has delivered little but poverty. The 'free market' economy is meant to deliver investment, innovation, efficiency and a trickle-down prosperity. In reality, it has meant privatisation - where public services are asset stripped and suffer under profit-led management and deregulation - leaving the banks and finance sector free to gamble national economies into debt and exploitation.

In the twenty-first century, we have faced increased prices, cuts to our living standards, lack of housing, long hours and insecurity both in work and in retirement. Here in the UK, unions suffer the most restrictive laws in Western Europe. Prosperity is increasingly seen to be reserved for the unaccountable few, who face none of the pay restraints imposed on workers and none of the regulations and burdens placed on unions. 'Free' market capitalism has been a social, economic and environmental failure.
What the left has to do is nail the lie of the 'free' market - which means deregulation and privatisation that only benefit the rich - as we have seen. What we need is a fair market which workers can benefit from without the fruits of their labour being expropriated by capitalists. The right has expounded simplistic bullshit - like the 'free' market - which doesn't exist and never can - and got away with it because the left hasn't adequately exposed what a fraud it is. That is now beginning to change as the left uses social media and the internet more effectively.

The 'free' market right have also always said that we couldn't afford to re-nationalise utilities, railways etc. Having seen the vast sums invested in propping up the banks after the great recession, we all know that is not true.
 We need to show people that an alternative economy is not only possible but achievable. That alternative needs to be a mix of state ownership and mutualism - to give people a real stake in the economy and their future.

We need to build on explaining the benefits of public ownership as a fair market alternative to free market capitalism. Many people already accept this. Labour has made a very good start on this with their manifesto and more and more people understand they have been ill-served by the cam of privatisation. The events of the past decade, and in particular the last few months since the General Election has given us the opportunity to get that message across in a way that we haven't had for at least a generation.

One consequence of 'free' market neoliberalism is the backlash against the 1% leading to the rise of the far right and, potential break-up of the EU, as well as the beginning of the end of America as a dominant global economic and military force. The very people who wanted this to be the American Century - the neo-conservatives and neoliberals  - have brought their country down. This was very well summed up in an article by John Gray in the Observer. The geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting as I write this, and the American dream has become a nightmare.

Brighton Rocks!

Guest post from my comrade and Green Party member Peter Allen. Peter attended some events organised by The World Transformed at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton:

The Sunday night Compass meeting at the Labour Party Conference was called Alliance Building For A Progressive Future and was chaired by Francesca Klug. 

Like me, Francesca is a High Peak voter and witnessed the successful creation of a Progressive Alliance in the constituency. She recounted how it had involved not just Labour and the Green Party, who stood down to support the victorious Labour candidate, but also a non-party organisation called High Hopes for High Peak. HH4HP ran an effective campaign calling for an anti-Tory vote and focusing on the incumbent Tory MP’s voting record (he complained bitterly that this was unfair!). 

The result in High Peak demonstrated that anti-Tory alliances can extend beyond political parties to unite the progressive majority that exists in most constituencies. The refusal of the Liberal Democrats to participate in the alliance seriously backfired, their candidate obtaining a derisory vote.

Caroline Lucas told the meeting that election night had been bittersweet. The Conservatives had lost their majority which was “ a cause of much celebration “ and she “was immensely proud” of the contribution Greens had made to achieve this. However, it had been very sad that Labour had not been prepared to open the door even an inch to political cooperation, even where there had been a desire at local level. The Green Party had “paid a huge price for our principled commitment to doing politics differently”. Whilst politics had become hopeful again fair voting was urgently needed she said ,to loud applause from a room of Labour Party activists. 

Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy both expressed thanks and gratitude to Caroline and the Green Party. Clive said that 21st century socialism had to be plural. Politics needed to be done differently, with time running out and the world facing ecological catastrophe. Lisa stressed the need for creative thinking when talking about climate change, particularly in former mining areas, which should have been guaranteed a just transition to a new green economy. 

All three politicians made the point that no one party has a monopoly of political wisdom. Neal Lawson, Director of Compass, agreed and said that voters could no longer be taken for granted, “Deference is gone and it is a good thing “

Contributions from the audience were largely supportive of the need for Progressive Alliances to continue and for Labour to adopt Proportional Representation. The Labour Candidate on the Isle of Wight and an activist from Richmond Park were given a generally hostile reception when they defended their refusal to stand down for the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats respectively.  

Filled with a spirit of unity I then attended some of the meetings organized by Momentum as part of their The World Transformed Festival. I particularly enjoyed ‘ It was the Kids that Done it ‘ on Tuesday afternoon,  which had a panel of young confident women, including Mamel, a Londoner who lived near Grenfell Tower and was part of the local campaign for justice. The speakers recalled how they had successfully engaged young people during the general election campaign. Many more had voted than in previous elections, when they hadn’t been uninterested in politics but had felt that neither of the large parties had made them a decent offer. This had changed with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Cat Smith MP, a member of the Shadow Cabinet with responsibility for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, said that it been her fourth election campaign but the first one when nobody had said on the doorstep ‘You’re all the same’. She also stressed that Climate Change was a major issue for younger voters.

I had to leave the above meeting early in order to join the queue around the building for a meeting addressed by Naomi Klein. In front of me a group of  Labour activists, probably in their early 30’s, were reminiscing about their general election experiences. They e agreed that the Green Party were the unsung heroes of the campaign, having stood aside in several key places. Of course, there should be electoral reform they said, it was a no-brainer. 

Naomi was plugging the message (and her new book) that saying No was not enough. As well as resisting neoliberalism and the climate change deniers we had to say what the alternative was. It would involve a just transition to clean energy, funded by increasing taxation of rich individuals and large corporations. Earlier in the day she had spoken at the Labour Conference itself, arguing that “battling climate change is a once in a century chance to build a fairer, more sustainable economy for the many not the few”.

On Monday evening I had failed to arrive early enough to get into a meeting addressed by Paul Mason. I was able to read his Guardian column on Tuesday however, in which he declared 

“Many Labour people, including myself, want to see a strategic alliance of Labour, the progressive nationalists and the Greens in place, even if Labour were to win an overall majority “

I came away from Brighton more convinced than ever that there is a vital and vibrant role for the Green Party as part of an alliance on the left of British Politics,  trying to ensure that environmental justice is given the same priority as social justice. Talk of moving the Green Party to a position where it is equidistant from Labour and Conservatives is misguided and misplaced. 

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and appeal to voters of all parties. It does mean that the Green Party is very clear where it stands in the political spectrum and knows very well whose side it is on in the struggle between the many and the few.