John McDonnell’s talk in Peterborough

John McDonnell spoke at  the Momentum rally in Peterborough 21st January 2016

John McDonnell

John McDonnell

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell attended the Momentum North Cambs Rally on 21st Jan 2016 as main speaker. Other speakers were Ron Graves, President of Peterborough Trades Union Council, Jocelynn Scutt, Barrister & Human Rights Lawyer, Writer & Critic,  Steve Jansky from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jo Rust from Unison and George Welch from the RMT on Renationalising our Railways.

As Dave Baigent said in his tweet, John’s was a fantastic speech in which John reaffirmed basic Labour values of fairness, solidarity and socialism.

John described how the shortlisting process for the new Labour leader went on in Westminster after Ed Miliband resigned the day after the general election.

We needed the support of 35 MPs to get Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot, and at the last minute Andrew Smith and Gordon Masters came in to make the number of MPs 35. Jeremy had not run for leader before while Diane Abbott and I had, so we asked him to stand which he did reluctantly. He is a good example of the kind of leader who doesn’t want the job but takes it on as it needs to be done.

“Ambition must not override principle and judgement ie remain authentic and congruent to your mission.”

As with leftist groups for the last half century, Corbyn supporters booked halls with 100 seats for meetings to gain support. The first meeting had 500 attend. The next meeting hall was a 500 seater and 1000 turned up. Memorably at the last rally there were so many people in Camden that Jeremy had to climb on the back of a fire engine to speak to all the supporters who couldn’t get into the hall.

Then Jeremy Corbyn won by 60% of the vote in all three sections of the party – members, affiliates and supporters. Membership went up 50,000 on the day after the general election, and then doubled since Corbyn was elected leader. Unprecedented wave of enthusiasm.

Labour is now supporting Trade Unions. I went on a picket line with Junior Doctors, the first time a shadow minister has done that in a generation. We are now entering alliance with non-party groups – Greens, women’s groups, internationalist groups. There is a new atmosphere of solidarity. And a new democratic process. Discussions in and outside the party about the direction of policies, feeding bottom up to the shadow cabinet not top down from the leader. We are demystifying politics. A young person pointed out that they didn’t want to graduate with £50,000 of debt. So we will abolish tuition fees. It is very simple.

“Education is a gift from one generation to the next – it is not a commodity to be sold as it’s priceless.”

Clement Attlee’s government aimed for free lifelong education. We had lost that; we will aim to retrieve it.

Housing is the worst for four generations. In West London families are living in sheds and garages, and a shanty town is growing in my constituency. Average rents round there are £1200-£1600 a month, the money going mainly to private Buy to Let landlords. We must build council houses again. We will reintroduce fair rents. There are 700,000 empty properties, nearly half empty for over six months. We will enable Councils to rehouse people there.

The greed of bankers helps to lead to the decline in TU membership. We used to have 2/3 of the workforce in collective bargaining. Now it is under ¼. And this month for the first time the proportion of wages and salaries in the nation’s wealth fell to under 50%. The crash of 2008 stemming from sub-prime mortgages and bank deregulation caused housing and job catastrophes. And now quantitative easing pays the banks not the people they impoverished. George Osborne is now deregulating the banks all over again. We have to regulate banks. We need a state investment bank, and to control spiralling credit costs. We need fairness.

We are not about increasing taxes. We just say to corporations and the very wealthy – pay your taxes.

“Austerity is not an economic necessity – it’s a political choice made by few people to the detriment of many.”

 

Momentum is a grassroots movement to campaign from here on in – not just for Labour Party members, for all supporters and allies. It aims to develop policies, campaign on issues, achieve victories. In May 2016 there will be hard elections for Councils and mayors. But these are exciting times when anything can happen. After all we have a socialist leader of the Labour Party! Whatever the polls say, we have showed in recent Council elections and the Oldham By-election that we can increase our vote. We must mobilise now to do the same in May.

We need three qualities to succeed – courage, determination and solidarity.

Huntingdon District Councillor Patrick Kadewere with Shaodw Chancellor John McDonnell

Peterborough 21st January 2016

Questions from the floor

Universal Basic Income?

The People’s Parliament suggested it. We will develop the idea, which works in Nordic countries. It will take a while as people think it is “something for nothing”. We have to expose the £1800 cuts that George Osborne tried to make to tax credits, which we stopped, and is now making through Universal Credit. At the same time as he did this he lowered Corporation Tax to 18%, the lowest in Europe and most of the world. And cut Inheritance Tax for the 60,000 wealthiest people in Britain. To add to the problem, companies do not invest in productive projects, but are sitting on £60million of assets which they do not use to develop new economic potential.

Nurses meeting wanted to reintroduce free training – why wasn’t the Shadow Health Minster there?

She was there – 4 rows back. Unlike the Tories we don’t always sit in hierarchical rows.

Reversing Tory laws?

We are developing policy but some things we can already commit to – reversing the current TU bill. We had 12.5 million Unionists, now only 6.5 million, but we can reverse this trend too if Unions are seen to be effective. And we are committed to unpicking PFIs and ensuring no more privatisation under Labour.

Brexit and TTIP?

TTIP gives corporations a free hand to overcome democratic decisions in Europe. It is bad for sustainability and the environment, bad for health and safety food standards and much more. We will ensure that democracy is maintained in these areas. We will not tolerate Chinese dumping of low-price steel leading to closure of Tata and other steel plants. We will do as the Italians did and subsidise steel whatever the EU regulations say. We will maintain our infrastructure. The OECD says 3.4% of GDP is a minimum to spend on infrastructure. Osborne has cut it to 1.4%, which is why flood defences were so poor this winter.

We are now the financial centre of Europe, we need to be the green technology centre. R&D funding is key. Google and other big American tech companies got started with government grants, contrary to the unbridled free market image of the USA. Government killed off the UK solar industry just now – short term lunacy. We will go for the long term. Socialism is about planning. We need local and national economic plans.

Being tougher at Prime Minister’s Questions?

The Tories public schoolboy antics and personal attacks are not for us. We are winning public approval for an adult and measured approach to PMQs. And Cameron is too scared to actually answer questions because they expose his weaknesses.

Focus on Food Banks as a vote-winning issue?

Yes, a major one

Labour Council’s should refuse to set a budget? Borrow and use reserves to keep up spending? Break the law, don’t break the poor.

At the GLC the Labour Group were split over Rate capping, but our refusal was successful in some ways. Later the Tories got more cunning and now Council Officers can set budgets and Council Tax if elected members refuse to do so in view of the cuts. Councils can borrow prudentially and draw on reserves but there too they are handicapped as auditors can insist officers stop use of reserves if below a certain percentage. And the Treasury can weigh in and limit borrowing. So chances for Councils to resist as in Clay Cross are much diminished. Some councils like Islington and Preston have managed to keep on building homes – others need to follow their example.

People need to realise that it is central, not local government that makes the cuts. Labour Councils need to campaign against cuts. Build alliances with TUs and communities to resist cuts. The TUC, the major Labour-affiliated and left unions are now working actively with Labour for the first time and more and more TUs are working with each other, co-ordinating action – now also with the Labour leadership.

John McDonnell’s talk in Peterborough ended with a call for courage, determination, solidarity.

reported by Rob Leach for Huntingdon CLP www.huntingdonlabourparty.org.uk

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