If the right-wing press need to attack McDonnell, he must be onto something

A higher minimum wage; billions of borrowing to fund infrastructure; opposition to the transatlantic trade deal; initiatives to ease the plight of those left behind by globalisation. Is this taken from Donald Trump's manifesto? Or from Theresa May's Downing Street victory address?

Yes bits could have taken from either but actually the whole lot come from shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s Labour Party conference speech.

On top of that was something that could have been spoken by a Lib Dem - aiming to maintain access to the European single market post-Brexit.

So why the vitriolic action from the usual suspects: The Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph? Running through them was the idea that McDonnell wanted to take us back to the 1970s and even the Financial Times called it a leftwing prospectus.

How times have changed when raising the national living wage by £1 an hour can be seen as the reappearance of Marxist ideology. Admittedly his proposal to repeal the Trade Union Act that insists on a 50% turnout in strike ballots was a red rag to the redtop press but the proposals on employment also included welfare for the self-employed and sectoral collective bargaining. Overall the package can more easily be described as soft than hard left.

Could the reason for the hostility from the right wing media be that the package might actually be attractive to the parts of the electorate who had moved away from Labour because of the party’s failure - whether in government or opposition - to stand by those whose living standards and living and work conditions have actually got worse during the boom of the 2000s and the recent low-wage recovery under the Coalition?

Especially when it is equally likely that many of those people found a new home with UKIP and voted to quit the EU on the basis that they had nothing left to lose.

It is those people who could turn the tide against May’s government especially if the Brexit negotiations carried out by the three musketeers - Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson - fail to produce the dividends that were promised during the campaign. Both the Conservatives and the right-leaning press know that.

self-avowed Marxist MP still has a mountain to climb

Admittedly Jeremy Corbyn undermined the recalibration of economic policy by ruling out any limits on immigration and the actions of the leader continues to be a hindrance to Labour’s re-election hopes as Disclaimer has pointed out.

Nevertheless Labour has made some ground in pulling the economic debate back towards the centre ground and perhaps even towards the centre left.

The government climbed down on the particularly cruel disability welfare cuts before the referendum vote. Since the defenestration of George Osborne, Chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated the government will no longer aim to balance the budget by 2020, which will mean less austerity. His November Autumn Statement may find some money for tax cuts or higher spending. This would have been unthinkable six months ago.

But the self-avowed Marxist MP still has a mountain to climb. The latest YouGov poll found that 17% of voters thought Labour would be most likely to handle the general economy best, exactly half of the 34% who favoured the Conservatives. Almost one in 10 labour voters backed the Tories on that issue.

The possibility of an early election in 2017 and the mounting speculation of another financial crisis make it essential that Labour has a full-funded economic programme in place.

McDonnell seems halfway there with a string of initiatives aimed at reaching out to those voters left behind by both New Labour’s economic boom and the Tory-led Coalition’s debt-cutting economic reforms.

But the ultimate test will be whether he can sell his plans to “shift the tax burden more fairly”, away from those who earn wages and salaries and onto those who hold wealth as enabling the country to invest rather than being seen as a return to the politics of envy of the 1970s.

More about the author

About the author

Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.

Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.

He is the author of Brilliant Economics and The Great Economists.

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