“My fear is that unless an incoming Labour government starts immediately on a large scale transformative programme that shows the compassion and provides the hope people need, then disillusionment will set in fairly quickly.”
This article is a published version of the speech given by John McDonnell MP, at the ‘What’s in & out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back‘ held on July 25th.
You can read John’s contribution or watch the discussion in full below:
It’s important we have a deeper understanding of what happened at the weekend in the National Policy Forum than just a blow by blow account of the manoeuvrings of the Labour First faction that now controls the Labour Party leadership, the Shadow Cabinet and bureaucracy.
The Labour party was founded out of compassion and hope.
Compassion for those whose lives and life chances are curtailed by the economic and political system that dominates our lives. Hope that change can be brought about that can transform people’s lives and futures.
Labour’s compassion and hope have always been grounded on practical programmes of policies that give people confidence that change can be brought about.
It is these policies and programmes that are welded together to form a vision of the society we aim to create. It’s that which inspires people not just to support us but also more importantly to participate in bringing about that change.
What we saw at the weekend was compassion in limited supply when it came to the dismissal of calls for the scrapping of the brutal 2 child limit; and a curtailment of the hope of transformative change, even with the watering down of the restoration of basic trade union rights.
The New Deal for Workers is possibly the most transformative programme we have seen for decades in that it would lay the foundations of that irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people that we have argued for since the 1980s.
Even though some in the Labour leadership seem intent on reducing almost daily the positive policy reasons for voting for Labour, the unpopularity of the Tories means that it is almost inevitable that we will see a Labour government elected in 14 months.
We can’t be sure of the size of its majority. The most significant psephological feature of recent by-elections is the Tory vote staying at home. Similarly with the polls.
Nevertheless I still think there will be a Labour majority government.
My fear is that unless an incoming Labour government starts immediately on a large scale transformative programme that shows the compassion and provides the hope people need, then disillusionment will set in fairly quickly.
The beneficiaries will not just be the Tories but the most extreme right wing of the Tories and the far right beyond the Conservative Party.
We can look across Europe to see what results when both compassion and hope are restricted.
The political threat potentially emerging in 2026 needs to be understood in the context of the extremely worrying rise of the far right across Europe.
In Germany, the AfD. In France, Marine Le Penn and her National Front. In Greece the victory for the right and far right in recent elections. In Italy the take over of a fascist government under Meloni. In Finland the high percentage poll for the right wing party called The Finns.
In Spain where it shows how serious the threat is from the right when we are breathing a collective sigh of relief that the right and fascist right won the greatest number of seats but not an overall majority.
How do we counter this dystopian possibility?
The Left has to mobilise to save the next Labour government from itself. There’s been lots of talk about missions. Well this is the Left’s mission. How do we do it ?
We maximise the mobilising link between the civil society organisations and campaigns that are campaigning issue by issue for change.
Whether it’s single issue campaigns like the campaign for free school meals, or child poverty programmes, or for tax justice, for a wealth tax or for a financial transaction tax on the city, or for trade union rights from day one, or the £15 an hour or a more rapid climate crisis programme of change.
There is a multiplicity of individual campaigns we have to get behind.
They are not Labour Party campaigns but all of them are capable of creating an unstoppable demand for change, and a climate of political opinion supporting change that permeates our society, that no government can ignore and survive.
There are 4 key stages of in the potential for exerting influence on the next Labour government.
First post NPF, this year’s party conference.It will inevitably be stage managed but still provides opportunities on the floor of conference and the fringe to demonstrate a progressive force still exists in our movement.
Second in the run up to the Clause 5 to determine the manifesto. We need to be lobbying, dialogue and pressing the prospective participants in this meeting for the commitments we want to see in the next manifesto.
Third in the drafting of the first Kings Speech from Labour in government. We need to be drafting now the King’s Speech we want to see that will enable the incoming Labour government to hit the deck running after the election.
Fourth and possibly the most significant period, after the first year of a Labour administration when the real world has intruded, when the issues facing our society have not gone away, and when the lack of serious effective action by the Labour government is causing frustration.
At that stage we have to be ready and campaigning for a radical turn to save Labour from itself and to prevent the build up of a dangerous disillusionment driving people not just to the right but also the far right.
That’s our mission over the next 3 years.
We need to recognise the role we have to play, move past complaining about how bad things are in the party and start the creative gearing up for us to be serious players once again.
- John McDonnell MP was speaking at “What’s in & out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Reportback” held on July 25th, 2023. You can watch the discussion in full or listen on the Arise Festival podcast.
- You can follow John McDonnell on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
- The NPF report-back discussion was hosted by Arise Festival, Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and Labour Hub.