John McDonnell has argued that the left of the Labour Party needs to mobilise to “save” an incoming Labour government “from itself”, claiming that compassion was “in limited supply” at a meeting of the party’s policymaking body over the weekend.
Speaking at an event alongside left-wing attendees of Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) meeting, the former Shadow Chancellor said the commitments secured by the left at the summit “might seem insignificant to others” but were “major gains, given the climate that we’re in”.
The event – co-hosted by the Arise Festival, Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Hub and the Labour Assembly Against Austerity – included NPF representatives Mish Rahman, Jess Barnard, Jonathan Farr, Jack Ballingham and others, who reported back on their experience at the closed-door meeting.
Rahman – a member of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) – accused the party leadership of being “macho, culty, thin-skinned [and] control-freak”, which he claimed “became even more evident” during the NPF process.
Rahman, who also serves as vice-chair of Momentum, claimed that the “democratic process seemed really over before it began”, with many policies backed by the left “already ruled out”.
He attacked the party’s line on avoiding “unfunded” spending commitments, arguing that policies backed by the left such as public ownership could be funded “easily” by implementing wealth taxes. “Just like austerity was a political choice, it’s also a political choice not to spend this money,” he added.
But Rahman agreed with other speakers that there had been “some important wins”, highlighting his own success in getting “some language agreed in terms of defining the scale of GB Energy and its ambition”.
Farr, a member of Disability Labour’s executive committee, said the group had achieved “some significant commitments” during the meeting, though he argued that they had gone into the process “very much with our hands tied on what we could actually achieve”.
He said several commitments had been secured including on accessible transport, the use of the social model of disability and the co-production of policy across government departments.
Ballingham – an NPF representative for Yorkshire and the Humber Constituency Labour Parties – said the left had seen some success on international development policy, achieving a “bit of progress” on Global South debt cancellation.
He also claimed that it “wasn’t just left-wing voices” backing the left’s international development policy positions – which also included the reestablishment of a separate Department for International Development – arguing: “I think it really shows how out of touch the leadership really is with the party as a whole.
“The fact that there were people who were broadly supportive of the leadership in all other areas supporting these policies that the leadership wasn’t willing to.”
NEC member Jess Barnard said “some progress” was made on “recognising the failure of the private rental sector” and commitments were also secured in relation to “putting social and genuinely affordable homes at the heart of plans to fix the housing crisis”.
But she claimed that the proposals “failed to commit to any kind of meaningful figure” on social and council homes to be developed under the next Labour government and did not make spending commitments.
Barnard also expressed concern about the equalities section of the NPF document specifically in relation to trans people, claiming that the party’s commitments “fail to appropriately acknowledge and address the scale of transphobia that we’re seeing”.
She said some changes had been secured but that they had not been the “huge, vast improvements that we wanted to see”, arguing: “We need the Labour Party to be much clearer in its commitments to marginalised communities.”
Closing the event, McDonnell claimed that there had been a “curtailment of hope… of transformative change” at the NPF meeting. He expressed concern that “disillusionment could set in fairly quickly” unless an incoming Labour government “starts immediately on a large-scale transformative programme”.
The MP for Hayes and Harlington argued: “The left has to mobilise to save the Labour government – incoming Labour government – from itself almost.”
He said the left needs to “move past… discussing how bad things are in the party” and begin “the creative gearing up and the gathering of the forces” to create an “overall climate of opinion that actually will dominate the political agenda over the next three years and particularly when Labour goes into government”.
“I think that’s when the left becomes serious players once again in shaping the future – not just of the Labour Party, but the future of our country,” the Labour backbencher added.