John McDonnell’s speech to Labour conference: what he said – and what he really meant

Our chief political commentator reads between the lines of the shadow chancellor’s speech

John Rentoul
Tuesday 25 September 2018 13:30 BST
John McDonnell calls for a general election due to Conservative 'failure' at securing Brexit deal

What John McDonnell said: Our friends in the media have attacked my friend, and they’ve attacked him because he stands up for the ideals and beliefs that we all have. I just want to say: Jeremy, I’m proud of you because of the dignity with which you have stood that vilification.

And what he really meant: Unite against our external enemies. Don’t believe all that stuff you read in the capitalist press about how I am plotting to replace you, my dear, dear friend.

What he said: The causes of the crash: greed, yes, and deregulation that turned the City into a casino.

What he meant: It was Gordon Brown’s fault.

What he said: In the sixth richest country in the world it cannot be right that 5,000 of our fellow citizens are sleeping on the street.

What he meant: So I will make sure we come about 10th or 11th in the wealth table of nations.

What he said: No wonder people voted for Brexit. It was an anti-establishment vote.

What he meant: Also, it was a vote to leave the European Union, and I agree with it.

What he said: One hundred years ago in 1918, the Labour Party adopted Clause IV as part of our constitution. “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry.” I say the Clause IV principles are as relevant today as they were back then.

What he meant: Especially the other bits that I didn’t read out, but which we all know: “The common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” Tony Blair abolished it; we’re bringing it back.

What he said: We will honour our late leader John Smith. A Labour government will introduce full employment rights from day one in work, whether full time or part time or temporary work.

What he meant: In alternate sentences I will pose as being in the mainstream Labour tradition, respecter of an old rightwinger such as Smith, and as a revolutionary Marxist itching to tear down capitalism.

What he said: Wages will be determined by sectoral collective bargaining.

What he meant: .. and in some sentences (for older members who remember the 1970s) I’ll be both.

Jeremy Corbyn pledges to push for a second EU referendum if Labour members vote for it

What he said: [Our new plans for industrial democracy will] transfer shares into an Inclusive Ownership Fund, administered collectively by workers.

What he meant: They’ll be your shares, but they’ll be administered for you by people who know better.

What he said: True industrial democracy is coming to this country. Over time this will mobilise billions that will be spent improving our hospitals, our schools and our social security system.

What he meant: The McDonnell Treasury will also take a cut.

What he said: Public ownership ... will not be a return to the past. Today Rebecca Long-Bailey and I are launching a public consultation on democracy in our public services.

What he meant: Proper socialism has never really been tried, but Long-Bailey and I are going to work it out shortly.

What he said: The message is clear. People have had enough of being ripped off by privatisation.

What he meant: The opinion polls and focus groups show that “privatisation” is a very bad word.

What he said: I was recently on a platform with Gordon Brown. I was announced as the shadow chancellor. Gordon said: “Actually he’s always been the shadow chancellor.” I’ve a lot of affection and respect for the man.

What he meant: Past Labour leaders. I’ve got a lot of time for them. Apart from the only one since 1966 who won sustainable parliamentary majorities.

What he said: This leads us on inevitably to the urgent question of Brexit.

What he meant: I mentioned it once and I think I got away with it, but I will have to deal with it head on.

What he said: We are keeping all the options for democratic engagement on the table.

What he meant: Apart from the one option that I ruled out this morning: a new referendum with “Remain” being one of the choices.

What he said: The greater the mess we inherit the more radical we will have to be.

What he meant: And the more excuses we will have for failing to deliver.

What he said: We will be proud to call that future “socialism”. Solidarity.

What he meant: No weaselly centrist-words such as “progressive” for us. Authentic, we are.

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