When Jeremy Goes into Government, we all Go into Government
By John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and president of the LT_RC
Although the Tories have been in continuing disarray, I caution people that they are adept at clinging onto office. Nevertheless it is critical that Labour prepares for power. And that means the whole movement.
Enormous changes have taken place over the last decade in UK and internationally. It’s not long ago that the years of neo-liberalism were presented as “the end of history”. Even after the 2008 crisis, the system seemed stabilised with a neo-liberal government continuing with the Coalition, the left remaining marginalised and austerity economics dominating the debate.
The left had to fight every step of the way - winning the battle of ideas step by step. But the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, and the stunning general election result this year, have placed the issue of a left government firmly back on the table. The tide has now turned against austerity and against neo-liberalism. Just look at the support for nationalisation or for taxing the rich in poll after poll. Particularly for the young, the fundamental co-ordinates of neo-liberal economics are rejected.
And the mass movement that Labour has become, in alliance with the wider labour movement, means that the prospect of a government of the left is now a realistic one for the first time in generations. So in the coming period we have to make sure this Tory government doesn't last that long. We have to be prepared to step into government at any time.
That places an immense responsibility on all our shoulders. Do we have the arguments? Do we have the organisation? Do we have the strategy needed to implement the changes that are needed?
This is where the LRC and organisations on the left can play their part. The work we do and the arguments we present are an essential part of what is now needed. This is about more than just winning an election. The next Labour government should seek not just to win office, though this is fundamentally important. And not only to push through transformative policies like free university tuition, nationalisation of utilities and a real living wage.
We also need to think how we can change the fundamental parameters of politics in Britain. When Thatcher won in 1979, she didn’t just win that election. She won another three, and was able to set the parameters of politics in Britain for almost four decades. Those parameters became neo-liberalism - the rules of the game. An entire generation has grown up in the shadow of neo-liberalism. They’ve known nothing else.
But then, in the election this year, I think we were able to offer not just good policies, but a fundamentally different vision of society. One that is fairer, more humane, less self-centred and selfserving. That vision is what we have to win across the whole country.
That is our challenge - not just to win the election, but reset the parameters of politics, so they match our vision. We don’t need to live in a society where the tiny handful at the top write their own rules - pay whatever taxes they want and live lives of fantastic wealth and luxury.
The rest have to accept only what is given to them - insecure work, poor pay, inadequate housing, schools, colleges and hospitals underfunded.
So what the LRC and others do is so important because it provides the arguments we need to defeat neo-liberalism, and it provides the policies we need to start to pull together the alternative.
It’s part of what Gramsci called winning hegemony - winning the fundamental battle for ideas. It means winning the big arguments about inequality, the environment, and where power should lie in our society. It means showing the robust, carefully argued, fully costed case for the alternative.
It’s essential that we carry on winning these arguments now. Because it’s no good sitting in government isolated from the people. You need people on your side. So that when Labour goes into government, we all go into government.
This article appears in the December 2017 issue of 'Labour Briefing', the magazine of the LRC