From working night-shifts in a bed factory to raising 10 children in a care home, McDonnell has been exposed to the rough edges in life. Who is the man promising to transform Britain’s economy?by Kevin Maguire / September 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
John McDonnell likes to recount a bittersweet story about visiting an office in his own West London backyard during a dispute over its future. “I’m going down there to tell management they’re not going to have their way with these workers, we’re going to protect their jobs, and if anything happens, we want guarantees against redundancies.”
The office housed the service records of British military personnel. McDonnell mentioned to the union rep that his father, Bob, had been a sergeant, serving in the Sherwood Foresters on what the Labour shadow chancellor calls “mopping up operations” towards the end of the Second World War. “So I go and meet the management and then halfway through, they come in and just pass me a file. It’s my dad’s old Army file, one of those browning paper folders.”
McDonnell is proud that his father, a Liverpudlian docker, served his country and was delighted that the staff took the time to dig out the file. “Everything was in,” continues McDonnell, “and the final remarks from a commanding officer were ‘he’s a smart soldier’ and ‘I would commend him to you’ and all that stuff.” Also buried inside was a note that McDonnell senior had been fined half a crown for damaging his motorbike. “Unfortunately my dad was dead by this time. I’d have loved to take it up with him.”
The sweetness of the tale lies in McDonnell’s pleasure in this snippet of family history and the consideration shown by the civil servants. The bitterness lies in what happened to the office next: “Bloody New Labour privatised the place.”
“Hello,” McDonnell recently greeted a businessman, “are you looking forward to having a Marxist in No 11?” You never know how seriously to take these kind of lines from McDonnell, but he certainly has a very Marxian interest in who owns the means of production. In early September, he made a splash with a radical scheme that would require companies to earmark part of their profits to purchase a chunk of their own shares for their workforce.
It is hard to imagine any of his recent predecessors coming up with that. Indeed, as the first Marxist sympathiser to hold the Treasury brief since Stafford Cripps did the job in Attlee’s post-war…