John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer – Speech to Conference 2019
10 March 2019
John McDonnell MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Speech to Conference
Thank you for inviting me up again.
It’s great to be back in Dundee again.
A great city that has always been at the forefront of our great Labour and trade union movement.
A city that I know has had a couple of blows recently with the closure of McGills and plans to close Michelin.
Let me say to those workers and any other workers facing closures and difficulties in the workplace Labour stands beside you and always will.
And it’s great to be speaking and working alongside Richard Leonard again.
I’ve known Richard for years and I am absolutely proud to call him a friend and a comrade.
Someone who will not run away from a tough fight or back down in the face of criticism from Tories, Nationalists or any of their friends in high places.
Let’s get straight to the issues facing us.
Over the next few days there is nothing more urgent than making sure the extremists on the Conservative backbenches don’t get to fulfil their terrifying dream of a No Deal Brexit.
Their motivation is not about respecting the referendum decision.
They might proclaim it’s about sovereignty and democracy, but the reality is it’s about fulfilling the full blooded neoliberal dream that they have harboured for the last 4 decades.
A fantasy of turning our country into a tax haven off the coast of Europe.
With workers’ rights and environmental protections torn up in their deregulated Britain post-Brexit.
We know what a catastrophe that would be for the jobs and livelihoods of our people.
So let me tell you that this week in Westminster Labour will be doing everything we possibly can to make sure this never comes to pass.
The reason we are facing this potential cliff edge is because we have a Prime Minister who has bungled the negotiations and is left with only one desperate strategy of running down the clock.
And we have a spineless Chancellor, who is too weak to challenge her and more interested in saving his job than saving the country.
The Government’s meaningful vote is only a matter of days away.
We needed a Chancellor who will stand up to block the worst fantasies of the Tories’ backbench zealots becoming a reality.
But Hammond has gone missing.
He’s refused to force them to take the catastrophic No Deal Brexit off the table.
He’s refused to take on the Tory ministers who are threatening British manufacturers with a disastrous zero-tariffs regime.
And he’s failed to fix the fundamentals of the economy to prepare for the worst.
Philip Hammond will get up to deliver his Spring Statement on Wednesday the weakest Chancellor among his Cabinet peers that I can ever remember and possibly in Parliamentary history.
It’s difficult to find anyone with a similar disaster rating of Failing Grayling but Hammond is coming pretty close.
And if Theresa May chooses or is forced to sack Hammond, what will be his economic legacy?
The lowest growth in six years.
Manufacturing in recession.
Wages below where they were ten years ago.
A trade deficit over £10 billion last quarter.
The slowest recovery from a recession since the 1920s.
An austerity programme that has destroyed the fabric of our society and left public services at breaking point, with more cuts still to come.
A funding gap of £7.8 billion in English local government looming by 2025, and a funding gap of at least half a billion pounds already last year in Scotland.
Let me tell you what these stark economic statistics mean in real life terms.
In the 6th largest economy in the world infant mortality after decades of falling has started to rise again.
87 people a day die while waiting for social care in England.
Whilst in Scotland 300 people died last year in Scottish hospitals waiting to be discharged, often because a social care package had not been arranged.
People are living in poverty.
And it’s no wonder.
Household incomes are over 3 thousand pounds lower as a result of austerity.
Universal Credit causing further poverty and hardship wherever it is rolled out.
For many families because of the utterly abhorrent two-child limit.
We now have four and a half million children in poverty.
One in six of our pensioners are now living in poverty.
One million of those pensioners are in severe poverty.
No other UK government in history has been condemned by the UN like this one for pushing so many of its people into, and I quote, “destitution.”
And a UN rapporteur accusing it of the systematic abuse of the human rights of disabled people.
What do these stats look like in real life?
Behind every number there is a human being.
Pensioners going cold in the winter keeping warm in bed because they can’t afford soaring energy bills.
Isolated without regular contact with another human being because of the cuts in social care.
Children going hungry in the school holidays.
Mark Drakeford, our leader in Wales, told us the story of one of his ministers visiting a primary school where the children were having a lesson and being asked about where food comes from.
He almost crumpled when one of the children said “The food bank, Miss.”
I was here in Scotland a few months back and at one of our meetings heard about one Mum who hadn’t eaten for 3 days so that she could give what little food she had to her kids.
That’s the human reality behind the stats and that’s why we need a Labour Government.
What makes it worse in Scotland is that the SNP have the powers to shield Scotland against the Conservatives’ austerity programme but have not done so.
They have betrayed the Scottish people.
Last week the Scottish Government confirmed they wouldn’t be accepting full control of social security for disabled people until 2024.
So given the choice between helping the people of Scotland escape from the worst aspects of Tory welfare cuts, the Government in Holyrood is leaving powers in the hands of the Westminster Tories who have been responsible for so much human misery over the past nine years.
The SNP’s latest budget has also handed £230 million of cuts to core local government funding in Scotland.
The result is the prospect of higher charges for breakfast clubs in Dundee, charges for schools buses in Moray, and free lunchtime milk being removed from school lunches in Falkirk.
But the failure of the SNP over austerity is just the start of the story.
It’s not just current generations they have betrayed.
We face an existential threat to our planet if we don’t radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the next few years.
We know that and have known it for some time.
So it’s right that the Scottish Government has been criticised for the lack of ambition of its Climate Change Bill.
It fails to set the requirement for net zero emissions before 2050 –a target which UK Labour and Scottish Labour are both committed to.
But the bigger failure has been inadequate investment to secure Scotland’s rightful place as a renewable energy super power, with the good jobs to go with it.
Energy workers across Scotland are sick of the sound of SNP politicians promising green jobs but failing to deliver on their promises.
Not because those jobs don’t exist, but because they haven’t come to Scotland.
Because that would need what only Labour has: a real industrial strategy working with unions to plan our energy security for the future.
Look at companies like BiFab, that should be at the forefront of the Green Industrial Revolution – but that have laid workers off due to an uncertain order book.
Richard Leonard said it.
“It’s not enough to lurch from one defensive rescue to the next. We need forward planning, economic planning and also environmental planning to tackle humanity’s greatest challenge – climate change”
Politicians of all parties have talked about the fourth industrial revolution.
But let’s be absolutely clear that under Labour that fourth industrial revolution will be a Green Industrial Revolution.
The first industrial revolution dramatically changed how we work and how we live.
Just like it, the Green Industrial Revolution will change every part of our lives.
How we travel, how we spend our time and how our life essentials are produced.
And just as from the nineteenth century Scottish coal contributed so much to power the homes and workplaces both sides of the border.
And since 1980s the Scottish oil industry was at the heart of our energy sector.
So in the future, under Labour, Scotland will be at the heart of a Green Industrial Revolution in our energy sector that could save this planet.
Scottish hydro, Scottish wind, and Scottish wave power are essential to achieving the transition to the sustainable fuel sources that we need.
With Scottish gas continuing its important role in the mix.
This is not just to meet our international obligations but to help avert the climate catastrophe we face.
You know that already 60% of the UK’s onshore wind capacity is in Scotland.
Labour’s has developed ambitious plans for expanding onshore wind.
At least 60% of that new capacity will be here and could mean 20 thousand new jobs in Scotland.
With another 42 gigawatts of capacity under Labour from offshore wind, that could be another 15,000 jobs in Scotland.
And when we roll out our UK-wide home retrofitting programme that could be close to 15 thousand more jobs here in Scotland.
That’s a total of another 50,000 new, well-paid, unionised jobs as a result of our Green Industrial Revolution.
That is Jobs created through supporting industry here, unlike now where it’s simply disgraceful that despite all the warm words from some, sites in Fife like BiFab are losing out while Scottish wind farm components are shipping in from the United Arab Emirates and Spain.
Unite and GMB members have been campaigning tirelessly around this issue, and I want to pay tribute to them for their work.
Scotland will be at the heart not just of Labour’s programme to transform people’s lives, but also to ensuring that we have a planet to leave behind for future generations.
Nothing exemplifies the current failures more than the untapped potential of the Scottish energy sector.
This Government haven’t just left us unprepared for Brexit, they’ve done nothing to prepare us for the challenges that lie beyond Brexit.
The challenges of climate change and how to manage the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The trade union movement has led the way, with our members putting sustainable energy into people’s homes every hour of every day.
And with a joint statement in 2017 on how to move to a low-carbon economy in a way which protects workers’ livelihoods and creates a new industrial base.
As Jeremy Corbyn said last year: “We will only win support for the changes that are needed if we make sure that everyone shares in the benefits.
“In public hands, under democratic control, workforces and their unions will be the managers of this change, not its casualties.”
People have been talking for nearly twenty years about connecting the renewable energy sector on Scottish islands to the grid network.
But it still hasn’t happened.
It hasn’t happened because the grid is fragmented and in private hands.
Where the public sector would have built out the infrastructure, ushering in huge investments in generation, privatisation has left the islands stuck in limbo.
That’s where leaving vital infrastructure to the market and short termism gets you.
Even now, the financing of those connections is dependent on developers winning contracts from the meagre pot of subsidies made available by this government.
Thousands more jobs, huge amounts of wind and wave energy around the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland which could be harnessed if only it was somebody’s job to think for the long-term.
Only by putting control of our energy network in the hands of the public, with a mandate to cut through the short-sighted decision-making of the privateers, can we unlock the true potential of Scottish energy.
And put Scotland at the heart of our Green Industrial Revolution.
As Jeremy Corbyn pledged last year, Labour will guarantee that:
“Just as the US GI Bill gave education, housing and income support to every unemployed veteran returning from the Second World War, the next Labour Government will guarantee that all energy workers are offered retraining, a new job on equivalent terms and conditions, covered by collective agreements and fully supported in their housing and income needs through transition.”
And that’s what we’ll do with our energy in the hands of the many, not the few.
The current system isn’t just failing future generations, it’s failing us right now.
Our research has shown that dividends paid out by Scottish energy distribution and transmission company owners amounted to over 4 billion pounds between 2009 and 2018.
That’s equivalent to over a thousand seven hundred pounds for every household in Scotland.
Paid out to the shareholders of Scottish Power, headquartered, naturally, in Spain.
While natural resources go ignored here, we import American shale gas and Norwegian gas, and export profits to shareholders in Europe and the rest of the world.
Money pouring into the pockets of shareholders while Scottish wind and waves go unconnected to the millions of users that could benefit.
That’s why modern, democratic public ownership makes sense.
It makes sense for the sake of our planet.
It makes sense to ensure well-paid unionised jobs, including in areas that have never fully recovered from the damage inflicted by the last Tory government.
And it makes sense, where there are profits to be made, that they should be invested for the future or returned to the public rather than siphoned off to the fat cats.
I’ve mentioned the vital work that Rebecca Long-Bailey is doing to make this a reality under the next Labour government.
Rebecca will be in Lanarkshire soon to discuss how that reality will transform communities there.
Transforming our society with common sense, every-day practical socialist policies that improve the lives of the many across Scotland and the whole UK.
Our country’s tired of politicians who sacrifice the lives and wellbeing of our people for failed and outdated economic dogmas.
And we’re tired of those who claim to offer an alternative but when given the chance turn out to be the same as the Tories they criticise.
We know whose side we’re on.
Whether you’re in Dundee or Dunstable, Aberdeen or Abergavenny.
If you’re on the side of the many, not the few, you’re on our side.
If you’re standing up for the establishment, the powerful and the past, we’re coming for you.
Because that transformative vision will only become real with a Labour government.
A socialist Labour government in Holyrood, led by Richard Leonard, returning Scotland to the Labour heartland it was and will be again.
And a socialist Labour government in Westminster, led by Jeremy Corbyn, with Scottish MPs playing the vital role they have played in previous Labour governments over the years.
Delivering a Real Living Wage of ten pounds an hour.
A huge new programme of council house building.
An end to austerity.
Rebuilding Britain with our National Transformation Fund and National Investment Bank. Both will bring tens of billions of pounds of investment to Scotland to build the infrastructure Scotland needs, and will create a properly resourced industrial strategy that supports and develops industry.
An end to rip-off PFI and outsourcing.
A government that will deliver the biggest transfer of power into people’s hands that we have seen in generations.
And making that Green Industrial Revolution a reality, with Scotland leading the way in Britain, and Britain leading the way globally to preserve our planet for future generations.
That’s what socialism means to me, to Jeremy, to Richard, and to all of us.
And we’re going to make it happen together here in Scotland.