By Cathy Cole
Tributes and plaudits to Jeremy Corbyn rightly flowed in after his last ever Prime Minister’s Questions, together with a few fatuous attacks (step forward Neil Coyle MP and Luke Akehurst). But we should also pay tribute to the work of John McDonnell, who gave his last speech to Parliament as Shadow Chancellor. It was a typical tour-de-force attack on the many ways in which the Tory government is betraying the interests of working people, the poor, the vulnerable and disabled people – at this critical time of national crisis. It is well worth reading in full. Millions of people could sleep more peacefully in their beds at night if John was in Number 11 Downing Street, although not greedy bosses like Tim Martin, Mike Ashley or Richard Branson.
In so many ways, McDonnell has won the argument. In Philip Hammond, he took on a Tory Chancellor who was determined to keep down public spending and continue with the austerity squeeze – whatever the social cost. But even before Coronavirus, the Tories ended up conceding the need for substantial state investment in key national infrastructure, and to address the serious imbalance in regional investment. Whilst far from the “socialist” package some on the left were too quick to celebrate, Rishi Sunak’s decision to offer to underwrite 80% of earnings of furloughed workers was further conclusive proof, were it to be needed, that free market ideology has nothing to offer in relation to meeting the social needs of our people.
Few if any politicians get everything right – and McDonnell’s embrace of a second vote on Brexit, at which Labour would campaign for Remaining in the EU, was a serious misjudgement. But there were no easy options. It was a serious mistake, but one made in good faith. It shouldn’t eclipse his role in burying the politics of austerity – in Labour, as well as on the opposition benches. Labour policy is light years ahead of that pursued by the bungling pair Ed Balls and Chris Leslie. Let’s hope whoever succeeds McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor doesn’t turn back the clock.
Let’s give McDonnell himself the last word, and it’s a familiar one which sums up his whole outlook:
“Some Members present will recall that when I address party meetings, I usually end with a single word. It is a word upon which the Labour and trade union movement was founded. It is based on a secret we discovered; one that working people learned in the fields and workshops of the early industrial revolution. It taught us, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, that unity is strength and an injury to one is an injury to all. That word is solidarity. It is solidarity that will see us through this crisis, protect our community, and on which we should build our society in the future. Madam Deputy Speaker, I end with solidarity.”