JOHN McDONNELL’S pledge to stand by workers “in Parliament and on the picket line” is demonstrated by the vote Labour is forcing on public-sector pay on Wednesday.
The party is forcing the Conservatives onto weak ground and sending a clear message to nurses, civil servants, firefighters, paramedics and others that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is on their side.
It forces Tory MPs in marginal seats — and there are a lot more of them than there were a few months ago — to consider whether their loyalty to a lame duck Prime Minister is worth the risk of stamping on the aspirations of public servants in their constituencies.
Corbyn and McDonnell have shown that it is possible to set the political agenda by focusing relentlessly on ordinary people’s concerns — poverty pay, rubbish jobs and the cost of living — and that by doing so Labour’s message can reach audiences the political class had long written off.
Angry rhetoric at Westminster would be just that were it not backed up by Labour’s consistent record of standing by workers taking industrial action, shown most recently in the party’s full-throated support for the McDonald’s staff who walked out at the start of the month and the bin workers back on strike because of Birmingham council’s failure to keep its promises.
What a contrast to the patronising, backward-looking drivel we were treated to by another former party leader on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday.
Unabashed by the fact that the Middle East is still burning 14 years after he helped a US president set it alight, or by the growing frequency of terror attacks on Britain itself as a result of the huge boost his wars gave to al-Qaida and its Islamic State offshoot, Blair still feels he can lecture the nation on its choices — while hinting he has been doing some unofficial negotiating of his own with key EU power brokers on our behalf.
The left should be absolutely clear that Blair’s proposals on Brexit amount to the worst of both worlds.
Whatever divisions there were over how to vote in the EU referendum last year, a decision was taken to leave and we are now in negotiations with Brussels about what that will mean.
For the left goals must include lifting the limits on public ownership outlined in the Lisbon Treaty and removing those aspects of competition law which prevent strategic investment in industry or the freedom to use public procurement to advance social and environmental goals.
They must entail Britain’s removal from European Court of Justice jurisdiction, given that court’s rulings in favour of bosses and against workers’ right to take industrial action.
What Blair proposes instead is that we strap ourselves in to the straitjacket of EU economic diktats in return for pandering to xenophobic sentiment — shared, he happily assures us, by many in France and Germany — and cutting access to benefits for immigrants.
This nightmare proposal would merely entrench a two-tier workforce in which non-citizens are unable to stand up for their rights and the terms and conditions of all workers are steadily eroded by a race to the bottom.
It would keep in place all the obstacles to implementing Labour’s overwhelmingly popular manifesto that exist in EU law.
As McDonnell retorts, if Blair thinks this would satisfy the aspirations of the public he has not been listening to the debate “in the pubs, the clubs and at the school gates.”
Delegates at this week’s TUC will discuss whether and how a Brexit that advances working people’s rights can be secured. They can be sure that Blair’s proposals have nothing to offer in that regard.