THE JOHN MCDONNELL COLUMN
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LEFT PLATFORM MEETING should not be underestimated. This was the first time over the last 25 years that all the main left organisations in the Labour Party joined together to sponsor an initiative. The aim was to bring the Labour left together and lay the political foundations for future concerted action and strategy making.
About 200 people attended. There were a mixture of policy experts, grassroots activists, trade unionists and MPs, MSPs, MEPs and several PPCs. We also brought in a number of the campaigns we have been working with and who are looking to the Labour left to help shift Labour policy to address their issues, including DPAC, Defend Council Housing and Keep the NHS Public.
The agenda for the day was split into three sections. First a discussion on how we develop an anti-austerity economic programme. Second the role of public ownership and renationalisation in reclaiming our public services, and third the the significance of securing trade union rights and reversing the attacks on welfare. If the election produces a Labour small majority or minority government the left could play a critical role in setting some of the agenda for the incoming administration and also setting some of the parameters of its policies. If the Labour left in both Parliament and in the Party can agree an approach and hold together, we can both negotiate issues into the new government’s programme and also rein in any attempts by the neoliberals, who still exist in the Party, to impose an austerity lite economic policy agenda.
The overriding political direction that the left clearly wants an incoming Labour government to pursue is anti-austerity. That means ending the cuts planned by the Coalition and reversing many that have been forced through.
The deep seated inequality and the threat of deflation can readily be overcome by the immediate introduction of a Living Wage of £10 an hour, the ending of zero-hours contracts and the restoration of trade union rights. Our task is to bring hope to those that have suffered most under the Coalition. Scrapping the Work Capability Assessments, kicking out ATOS’ replacement Maximus and saving the Independent Living Fund will send a message to people with disabilities about whose side we are on.
The ending of the brutal sanctions regime and replacing it with a non – coercive job guarantee will give confidence to the unemployed that this will be a government committed to full employment. If a Labour government is to stand any chance of addressing the deficit, it has to halt the billions of taxpayers’ money pouring into the pockets of the corporations through privatisation, introduce a fair tax regime with wealth and Tobin taxes, and ruthlessly tackle the tax avoidance and evasion industry, largely based in the greatest tax haven of them all – the City of London.
Investment is the corner stone of our economic policy – investment in what our people need. That is homes, public services and alternative renewable energy sources that will create the new manufacturing base of our economy while tackling climate change. All of these policy proposals and many more were addressed at the Left Platform round table meeting. Despite time constraints, international and peace policies were not ignored, including the scrapping of Trident, opposition to TTIP and a new progressive role for Britain in the world.
What was reassuring about the Left Platform discussion was that it is absolutely clear that the left has a shared and detailed understanding of both the political and economic situation a Labour government would be facing if elected and also of the practical, radical programme it could implement. We also have the wide range of policy experts and analysts to draw upon in shaping and advising on the practical implementation of these policies.
Some were inevitably and understandably frustrated that we did not spend enough time at the meeting on determining a way forward. I completely appreciate this. However pushing people too far, too fast has always resulted in the past in the Labour left splitting apart. We needed time to regain the experience of co-operating and the confidence that we can play an effective political role in the coming period.
We need now to reproduce the left programme and get it out as widely as possible. It must represent the demands and expectations we have of an incoming Labour government and the issues we fight for in any post-election negotiations. We agreed we would reconvene the Left Platform in the week immediately after the election so we can have the opportunity of discussing and determining the strategy of the left in the light of the election results.
My message is simple. The Labour left is on the cusp of becoming an effective force politically again. All it needs is a willingness to work and stick together and be single-mindedly determined.
John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee