John McDonnell – PCS Speech


“We aim for the socialist transformation of society”

John McDonnell MP, speaking at the PCS Conference, sets out the policies underpinning his bid for the Labour leadership.

Essentially the policy advocated by Clegg, Cameron, Miliband and Balls is that this economic crisis – which was caused by rapacious financiers, with the collusion of government ministers over 30 years – will be paid for not by those who caused it, but by me and you. And you know you’re in the front line of that attack when they call for public sector workers to be sacked. It will be paid for in cuts in public services, jobs, pensions, welfare benefits and conditions of employment.

If I’m blocked from the leadership campaign, and the debate about the future of the Labour Party is stifled, where do we go from here? Over the coming year, we should launch a campaign to explain the truth of how this crisis was brought about, who was really to blame and how it can be resolved.

I’m inviting you today to join in that campaign, where we tour around the country in small rooms, large rooms, in trade union offices, community centres, churches, gudwaras, mosques, and synagogues – wherever people will meet. To explain to everyone that we have an alternative, that it doesn’t have to be like this.

There doesn’t have to be an assault on public services. We can build resistance to this coalition of cuts pushed by the major leaders. This economic crisis is not our fault and we’re not paying for it. If you want to tackle the deficit you introduce a fair tax system, tackle tax evasion – anything between £90 and £150 billion a year according to the Tax Justice campaign. You make the corporate sector and the wealthiest of this country pay their fair share and get back to planning our economy in the long term by public ownership of the financial sector and also regulation. We‘ve got to control these banks and the market rather than be the servants of the market.

We invest in our public services and we end now the scandal of the privatisations, the outsourcing, the off-shoring – all done to cut the wages of our members, to undercut the provision of our services. I seem to be the only one of the candidates so far who is advocating Labour Party policy: to restore rail into public ownership and bring back the public utilities into public ownership so that we can plan the investment in our economy and essential services.

Clegg has made a speech on civil liberties and I support the abolition of ID cards and the right to protest – in fact I might need that right in the next few weeks. But I also support trade union rights, the basic right of a person to withdraw their labour – and in solidarity with others as well. And I support the right for trade unions to consult their members through ballots that are not interfered with by employers, whether it’s the cabin crew of Unite or whether its civil service members at the Royal Naval Museum.

I also support social rights: the right to have a decent home. That means we start building council housing and social housing once again. I support the right to free education and that means scrapping tuition fees. I support the right of people to live free from poverty and that means decent pensions restoring the link with earnings; a living wage, not a minimum wage; and child benefits that reflect the cost of bringing up a child.

And I support the right of people to live in peace. That means no more Iraqs, withdrawal from Afghanistan, scrapping Trident and all the other nuclear weapons. It means not having a Ministry of Defence but a Ministry of Peace that promotes peace in the world. And I want a criminal justice system which is aimed at preventing crime and rehabilitating rather than just locking people up.

I went to the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting last week and it was a bit like a car crash. There was a bizarre sort of euphoria that people had survived. And there was a discussion about why we lost, and one of the things said was, “We had an 18% drop in the C2s and it was because of immigration.” Well, I welcome people coming into this country. I stand proud of the United Kingdom and its role in offering asylum to those people desperately in need of asylum. I’m the grandson of an Irish migrant. We contribute to the economy of this country. We’ve built it and we’ve populated its public services. We make a major contribution.

Where there are divisions, it is not because of migration. It is because of the shortage of houses and jobs as a result of a mismanaged economy. Within fifty years we will have open borders across the world. You cannot build a fortress Europe or a fortress Britain and we should start preparing for that. And that does mean assistance to the developing world so that people aren’t forced out of their countries as a result of poverty. It does mean ending the arms trade where we contribute to the wars in the developing world.

When Labour lost in 1931, the socialist R H Tawney published a very interesting paper. He said that it isn’t just about policies: what a party needs is a creed. I suppose that’s what Gordon Brown meant when he talked about his moral compass. I had difficulty finding that moral compass at times. And what made it difficult were the voices of the children locked up in Yarlswood, meeting the families of some of those half a million Iraqis that died in the war, meeting the homeless families that come to my surgery on a weekly basis that can’t be housed because in 13 years we haven’t built the homes that they need.

That’s the real reason New Labour lost, because they lost the moral basis of the Labour Party as it was founded and campaigned for over generations by people who gave their lives to a cause they believed in: the creation of a fair, just, peaceful and equal society. What we used to sum up – but is never mentioned any more in New Labour – with one word: socialism.

Whether I get on the ballot paper over the next weeks for the Labour leadership or not, the campaign will go on for those principles that we established the labour and trade union movement on. What we aim for is the socialist transformation of our society so we can tackle issues like climate change, overcome poverty and create prosperity for all, not just a few. I’m urging you, and I’m urging Labour Party members as well, and trade unionists and others across all the social groups across all of our society: join me in that campaign to advance what I define as, and what you define as, socialism.

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