How John McDonnell proved his critics wrong - and put Labour back on track

The controversial appointment is paying dividends for Jeremy Corbyn, asserts Liam Young.

From the moment Jeremy Corbyn selected John McDonnell to be his shadow chancellor there have been many rumblings both inside and out of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The press lambasted him as even more left wing than the leader himself. Vocal members of the PLP had called on Jeremy to appoint Angela Eagle to the role so as to balance the shadow cabinet both politically and by gender. However the last week has vindicated Jeremy’s decision. McDonnell has not just outperformed expectations held over him by the naysayers, but he has also begun to establish a vision for a new British economy.

This run of form began on 18 January with the announcement of ‘the new economics tour’. The first talk took place last week alongside Mariana Mazzucato who is a member of McDonnell’s economic advisory board, also made up of heavyweight economists Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz. Not only did the announcement ensure some good news for Labour’s economic credibility by showing the party backed by respected economists, but it also showed some real direction. McDonnell’s speech at the Co-Operative conference confirmed this sense of direction. In proposing a ‘right to own’ the Shadow Chancellor, all too aware of Labour’s previous failure to form a coherent economic vision, began to stress core components of his new economic approach.

However it is McDonnell’s handling of the on-going Google tax fiasco that has proven his competence for the position not just of shadow Chancellor, but Chancellor of the Exchequer. A the weekend McDonnell published his tax return as he had promised and asked Osborne to do the same. I think it is rather unlikely that the millionaire Tory chancellor will agree to the request, but this only helps strengthen McDonnell’s point that the Tories are detached from the economic reality that the average taxpayer is faced with. Something that also supported this was the widely shared clip of George Osborne giving advice on how to avoid Taxes live on the Daily Politics on 15 May 2003. Dubbing him the ‘Banker’s Chancellor’ McDonnell has capitalised on the Chancellor’s disappearance in recent days. 

On the same day that the Tory bedroom tax was deemed illegal by court judges, the Tories were forced to defend their links with the Google deal. It was later revealed that ministers had been briefing European MEPs to vote so as to protect Google’s tax status in Bermuda. McDonnell put it best when he argued that the Tory mask ‘has finally slipped’. On one hand the Prime Minister was telling the British people that he wished to clamp down on tax avoidance, but on the other he was asking his MEPs to oppose plans that would have seen that happen.

The polls seem to show the British public backing the shadow chancellor on his stance. If Labour is ever to regain trust on the economy then this is exactly what it must do; align itself with public concern about tax evasion and avoidance. McDonnell was right to relate this to the personal. As many people rushed to have their tax returns completed, Google was resting assured of a greatly reduced rate and a government that was going to do nothing about it. McDonnell stated that George Osborne had spent the last week in hiding. The shadow chancellor has been doing the opposite. He has been out in the open, making the argument for a new economy that works in the interest of all. As Osborne hides, his image as the banker’s chancellor is only further entrenched. In his absence, John McDonnell is primed to emerge as the people’s chancellor, on the side of all hard-working individuals fighting for a level playing field on tax.

Liam Young, New Statesman 2nd February 2016


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