The Shadow Chancellor would probably give a speech on Tory austerity every day if he couldby Alex Dean / March 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
John McDonnell’s speech this morning got off to something of an awkward start. In her introductory comments Labour’s Dawn Butler welcomed “John McDonald.” She carried on, hoping no one noticed. They did. We all did. (Sorry, Dawn.)
McDonald, however, wasn’t fazed. The subject of the speech today was home turf for the Shadow Chancellor: Tory austerity.
The location of One Great George Street, Westminster, probably made him feel a little less comfortable. Chandeliers and oil paintings made for an unusual setting for the self-declared revolutionary Marxist.
Still, he ploughed ahead passionately: “Labour are outlining our demand on this government to wake up,” he said. Cuts amount to a “national tragedy.”
McDonnell pointed out that UK growth is lower than in any other major economy and that real wages are still falling. “But these abstract national figures don’t show us the real impact of austerity and economic failure.”
That may well be true. It didn’t stop him listing them. There were numbers on productivity, infrastructure and more.
Still, on the whole it was a strong showing from McDonnell. In comparison with his counterpart “Spreadsheet Phil,” he can hold a room. It’s not a high bar to clear.
McDonnell would probably give a speech on Tory austerity every day if he could. Opposition to Conservative cuts is one area on which the Labour Party is united. Unlike on Europe—where, as I have written before, the leadership is forced to toe an awkward line—the Shadow Chancellor was on safe territory. The grassroots are united behind him.
Ultimately the demand was that Hammond use next week’s “Spring Statement” to loosen the purse strings.
I have some sympathy with this. This week, Britain reached a budget surplus on day-to-day spending. (You might have caught the self-congratulatory tweeting between David Cameron and George Osborne.) The extra leeway means there is now a real case for turning the spending taps on.
McDonnell insisted that the Chancellor use his statement to do just that. All the signs are that this will be a non-event, and “Spreadsheet Phil” will not allow McDonnell’s speech to change that.
In many ways this is a shame. But in 2018, a “non-event” doesn’t sound so bad. I’m tired, you see. So very tired. If McDonald offered a minibreak on the farm, I’d jump at the offer.