John McDonnell's new plan is certainly radical – to smash up the country as badly as possible

The shadow chancellor is right that the world will be looking to Labour, but for laughs not leadership

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Monday 24 September 2018 17:15
John McDonnell calls for a general election due to Conservative 'failure' at securing Brexit deal

According to two recent polls, 86 per cent of Labour members are in favour of a second EU referendum, and 90 per cent are in favour of remaining in the European Union. So when John McDonnell turned up on the BBC’s Today program at eight o'clock on Monday morning to announce that the party was now in favour of a second referendum, but it would not offer the option of remaining in the EU, it’s fair to surmise an equally large percentage of party members might have been a touch baffled.

To the shadow chancellor’s credit however, by lunchtime he’d made sure everything made sense.

“The greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be;” he said in his speech to party conference to customarily rapturous applause.“The greater the need for change, the greater the opportunity we have to create that change, and we will.”

Until then, Labour’s brand new position, to vote down whatever deal Theresa May brings back from Brussels then campaign for a referendum in which they would vote “no deal” so that everything would be so bad it would bring down the government, had looked a touch deranged.

But Corbyn and McDonnell are certainly not afraid of saying they are prepared to do things radically, and this new idea could certainly not be described in any other way.

Traditionally, in the politics game, successes by one government are claimed by the previous one, because of the “favourable economic situation” they inherited. And when a government fails to deliver on all the things it promises to do, or, for example, raises tuition fees having publicly signed a very large pledge saying it would never ever do so, it likes to blame the economic mess it was left by the last lot.

. The worse things are, the better we’ll make them. It is the kind of oratory that takes the orator hostage, not least as it makes no sense whatsoever. If you publish a manifesto, win an election, then try and implement your policy aims, quite how the task will be made easier if the country is a basket case when you take it over is not immediately clear.

As a pretext for actively campaigning to make people’s lives worse, in other words a no deal Brexit, so that you can ride in claiming to make it better, well there is some common sense there, though it marks a fresh new low point, in these low times, of wild recklessness, denuded shamelessness, and everything other heinous thing that has come to characterise our politics in what has come to feel like a lifetime in just two and a bit years.

One or two other passages leap out. Naturally, he began his speech by attacking the media, because, you know, anything Trump can do, Labour can do better. The audience stood and cheered at Jeremy Corbyn’s dignity in the face of “relentless attacks” from the media, again not realising that even their very cheering undermines their leader's best efforts to deal with an antisemitism crisis he has admitted is real.

He praised the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has recently criticised zero hours contracts. “Just a few words of advice though Archbishop, when they get round to calling you a Marxist, I’ll give you some tips on how to handle it,” McDonnell said, laughing. It is boring but necessary to have to repeat the incident he refers to is when a newspaper published a video of John McDonnell, standing on stage, holding a microphone, saying, “I’m a Marxist.” Textbook Trump.

At one point, McDonnell praised Gordon Brown, and his concern, expressed a few weeks ago, that the ramping up of global tensions would render the world incapable of coming together and sorting out its problems in the event of a global financial crisis.

Who knows if Gordon Brown watches these things on television anymore, but we can only imagine what might have been the man’s reaction to the idea that here, standing on stage in Liverpool, was the man to sort all that out. Should the global economic system find itself under threat, there would be John McDonnell to put it right, a chap who lists his hobbies in Who’s Who as “generally fomenting the overthrow of capitalism”, and said the same as recently as July of this year.

Two weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn spent the tenth anniversary of the global financial crisis releasing videos about the size of bonuses at Morgan Stanley, and at a fringe event yesterday, repeated his warnings that “the bankers are right to be scared” because “we are coming for them.”

These are not the people the world will be wanting to sort out its problems. A party that wants its country to break as badly as possible so that it can be rebuild it. Well, the global community will certainly be looking to them – but for laughs, not leadership.

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