On Thursday 28 July I was part of a 150+ crowd in Halifax that listened to Rebecca Long-Bailey, who is the shadow chief secretary to Treasury, speak about Labour's economic policies. Halifax cannot be described as a radical town and therefore the attendance figures were impressive. However, the speaker was not. This is a view I believe the vast majority of those in attendance would not agree with.
The speaker gave a long speech and the main basis of which is that neoliberalism has been a disaster for many people. The speaker located neoliberalism as having started under Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
Not once during her speech did she mention the word capitalism and whilst she stated she was a socialist on a number of occasions she failed to outline what this meant to her. Her speech was very good on outlining how neoliberalism has attacked the poorest in society, the working class in general and led to a situation in which the vast majority of wealth is held by a tiny 1% of the population. However I feel the speech offered little in the way of solutions for the problems caused by neoliberalism or capitalism in general.
I was able to ask a question at the meeting.
I asked why she had wrongly stated that neoliberalism had started under Thatcher as this meant she failed to mention the bringing in of the IMF by James Callaghan's Labour government in 1977. I was suggesting that in truth there was little difference between Labour or Tory governments as both are dedicated to the maintenance of the capitalist system and take their policies from such an approach.
The speaker had mentioned that Labour was going to set up an investment fund consisting of many billions of £’s. I asked why should business borrow from this fund as after all many of them are currently awash with money but are not investing it as they are not confident of making an adequate rate of return on their investment.
I asked if some of these funds would be used for carbon capture and storage as this would make possible the bringing to the surface of millions of tons of coal, which could be used for power generation, thus creating many jobs in impoverished communities across the North. The speaker said that this was something that needed considering. I had persuaded a friend of mine to attend the meeting. It was his first political meeting. Afterwards he told me that his impression was that the speaker had responded to many questions by stating “this is something that should be considered.”
In response to my points about James Callaghan in 1977 the speaker said that she did not agree with the policies of many past Labour governments.
In response to my question on investment the speaker said that it would be necessary to ensure that those businesses who did borrow money from the fund did not make excess profits. To me this sounds like what she wants is a better managed PFI style projects in which the capitalist class is promised an above average rate of profit if they borrow money from the government whilst being prevented from making large-scale rates of profit. It certainly isn't radical.
The speaker was asked about the need for a minimum wage of £10 hour. She welcomed this but stated that she felt that some firms would not be in a position to pay it and may need business advice and financial support. I deduce from this that she is in favour of subsidies to companies or perhaps - and I feel this more likely - she favours the reintroduction of the working families tax credit system that was introduced by the Tony Blair government.
Not once during her speech did she outline a program of workers control of industry or even significant nationalisation - the railways being the exception - and as we know Labour is not really that committed to this anyway, as what Corbyn has committed to is to taking back the franchises line by line and that will mean a Corbyn government between 2020 and 2025 will renationalise only five out of the 16.
As we know John McDonnell has committed a future Labour government to running a balanced budget and certainly the speaker gave no indication that she disagreed with such a policy. This of course commits Labour to the current austerity agenda making it a party that is promising much that it will be unable to deliver as it does not want to challenge the power of capital.