Hundreds turn up to hear John McDonnell speak in Leeds

Hundreds crammed into the meeting hall at the Barnbow pub in Crossgates, East Leeds to hear Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speak at a meeting organised by left-wing Leeds East MP, Richard Burgon.

Iain Dalton, Socialist Party member in Leeds East constituency

Burgon opened the meeting with a short contribution, commenting that there was nowhere he would like to be more than in a room full of people wanting to change society. If anything, the discussion that followed whetted people’s appetite for more discussion and action to challenge the austerity agenda.

McDonnell started his contribution by recounting the now familiar story of how Corbyn’s campaign had suprised everyone, himself included, and won the Labour leadership election. He recounted how he had called a meeting of left MPs to select a candidate, but also to tell them they had no hope of getting on the ballot paper. Whilst he hoped they’d get 20 nominations, Corbyn was more optimistic in thinking they’d get 23!

In recounting the whirlwind process of the campaign, he also raised again many of the policies that had won Corbyn so much support, from free education to ‘reinstating trade union rights’, a mass council house building programme and ‘putting an end once and for all to privatisation in the NHS’, raising making it fully publicly owned and under democratic control.

Responding to the looming climate change catastrophe McDonnell, raised ‘making the energy companies pay for investing in renewables’. Yet the method suggested to deliver this was a windfall tax rather than a bold policy of nationalisation. But we have plenty of evidence to see how the energy sector is pushing for fracking or huge subsidies for nuclear power rather than investing in renewable energy.

Only on the basis of public ownership could existing workers be re-skilled in a green energy sector which was organised in a planned fashion to phase out carbon emitting energy sources in as practicable pace as is possible. The increasingly limited timetable to avoid the worst effective of climate change makes this even more important.

Corbyn has also previously raised that rather nationalise the railways immediately, he would instead wait for contracts to come up for renewal, which could mean up to seven more years of being ripped-off for rail travel where rail companies would try to maximise their profits by failing to invest in infrastructure leaving us to pick up an even bigger bill.

Whilst those proposals are signs that the ‘New Economics’ of McDonnell looks like a gradual keynesian approach, rather than a full socialist programme of nationalisation & workers control, these issues of how to acheive socialist change will undoubtedly be debated throughout the workers movement over the next period.

What may also concern those on the left is the unfortunate papering over of divisions in the Labour Party. McDonnell praised Ed Miliband as ‘doing the best job he could’ prior to the last election, but his claim that ‘a majority, in fact virtually all of the PLP have come to terms’ with Corbyn’s leadership seems a stretch to say the least.

Whilst many MPs opposed to Corbyn may be stayed from openly opposing him for the time being due to his large victory margin in the leadership poll, this will nto last forever. Many people, especially the youth, in Leeds have been outraged at the behaviour of Leeds Central MP over the Syria vote and there is a serious danger the same could happen again over Trident.

But, notwithstanding this, McDonnell & Corbyn’s leadership is a breath of fresh air for many workers compared to the neo-liberal orthodoxy that the Labour Party was previously beholden to.

Symbolic of this was the last two responses to questions McDonnell gave where he expressed his wish to see the Tories kicked out of office before 2020 and his pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with any trade union in resisting the (Anti-)Trade Union Bill, but also calling for the Labour Party to support any union targetted under the legislation if passed.

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