John McDonnell – 2019 Speech at Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the 2019 Labour Party conference on 23 September 2019.

All the warmth of that welcome I take as a response to the hard work of my whole Shadow Treasury Team. I want to thank the often unsung heroes of my team.

Peter Dowd – Shadow Chief Secretary, and MP for what he describes as the small fishing village of Bootle. Jonathan Reynolds – our missionary we send into the city of London to preach socialism. Anneliese Dodds – masterminding brilliantly our programme to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, digging up that magic money tree in the Cayman Islands. Clive Lewis – always getting into one scrape or another in pressing through our radical green agenda. Lyn Brown – the conscience of our party in ensuring everything we do will secure social justice and equality And Thelma Walker, whose brings her skills as a former ex headteacher to ensure we all do our homework and deliver.

Finally, let me thank some other people here today. GMB members who work for Asda, who are being threatened with the sack for Christmas if they don’t sign up to worse contracts. By Walmart, one of the richest corporations in the world.

Comrades – we stand with you and support you all the way in standing up to the bullies.

Let me also thank my friend, who as leader of our party gives us his 100 per cent support. And what makes me so proud of him is that no matter what smears and personal attacks by the gutter press. He always continue to embody the kinder, gentler politics he advocates.

My fear, though, is that – as a result of the behaviour, language and cynical opportunism of some politicians on the Right. We have entered a period of profound insecurity and risk to our democratic system.

We have seen before in our history what kind of forces can be unleashed by politicians who have a total disregard for the truth in their ruthless pursuit of power for power’s sake.

Politicians who attack the very institutions and practices no matter how flawed that protect and uphold our democracy. Parliament, the courts and the rule of law. The best antidote to those who attack our democratic rules and institutions is more democracy itself.

That’s why we aim to trust the people in having the final say on Brexit. A Deal or Remain. Some of you will know I have said I will campaign for Remain. But let me make it clear that I profoundly respect those who support a genuine alternative.

In our debates today I want us to demonstrate in the respect we show each other and how we bring our party together just how we can also bring the country together again.

But I warn those who would revoke Article 50 without a democratic mandate. Ask yourselves what message that sends to our people.

An old professor of mine Bernard Crick was once asked to define socialism in one sentence.

He said socialism is the achievement of equality through democracy.

We can’t say to people “Labour wants you to share in the running of your workplace, your community and your environment, but we don’t trust you to have the final say over Brexit” Nothing would do more to undermine their faith in democracy in all its forms.

We would run the risk of losing the confidence we have built in people. In using democracy to change the world. The blossoming of hope and radical thought. The potential to turn that radicalism and that hope into transforming lives, increasing fulfilment and happiness for the many.

Transforming lives means – before everything else – having enough to get by. Not just to scrape by, but to live a rich and fulfilling life.

And millions today know how hard it is to do that. Worrying about getting to the end of the month.

Transforming people’s lives means ending the modern evil of in-work poverty. Labour has traditionally been committed to full employment. We have always believed that getting a job should be a means to lift yourself out of poverty. But under the Tories the link between work and escaping poverty has been broken.

So I commit today that within our first term of office Labour will end in-work poverty. That means completely transforming the way our economy works.

We’ll restore full trade union rights and workplace rights from day one. We’ll roll out collective bargaining to enable workers to get their fair share of what they produce. We’ll bring in a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour. We’ll end the barbaric roll-out of Universal Credit. We’ll cap rents and build a million new genuinely affordable homes, so young people in particular aren’t pouring away thousands of pounds from their wages to rip-off landlords.

But work isn’t just about wages. It’s about freedom from drudgery; having dignity, respect and a voice in the workplace.

That means a strong trade union movement and collective bargaining. But also, in the new public services we’re creating, it means management by workers and service users rather than by remote bureaucrats in Whitehall.

In large companies it means a third of directors being elected by workers and a tenth of shares being owned by those workers. It means doubling the size of our cooperative sector so wherever you work you will have a stake and a say.

And it’s not just about a fulfilling life at work. We should work to live, not live to work. Thanks to past Labour governments but mainly thanks to the trade union movement, the average full-time working week fell from nearly 65 hours in the 1860s to 43 hours in the 1970s.

As society got richer, we could spend fewer hours at work. But in recent decades progress has stalled. People in our country today work the longest average full-time hours in Europe apart from Greece and Austria. And since the 1980s the link between increasing productivity matched by expanding free time has been broken. It’s time to put that right.

So I can tell you today that the next Labour government will put in place the changes needed to reduce average full-time hours to 32 a week within the next decade. A shorter working week with no loss of pay

As a first step we’ll end the opt-out from the European Working Time Directive. As we roll out sectoral collective bargaining, we will include negotiations over working hours. We’ll require working hours to be included in the legally binding sectoral agreements. This will allow unions and employers to decide together how best to reduce hours for their sector.

And we’ll set up a Working Time Commission with the power to recommend to government on increasing statutory leave entitlements as quickly as possible without increasing unemployment.

But while millions are exhausted from overwork, there are too many others who can’t get the working hours they need, so we’ll also ban zero hour contracts to make sure every employee has a guaranteed number of hours a week too. And our Real Living Wage will make sure that people in work earn enough to live on. Because it’s not enough to give people power over their working lives. We believe in extending democracy across the board

We know one of most urgent tasks will be to rebuild local democracy. Rebuild those local council services decimated by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

My generation inherited a treasure of public parks, libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres. Free or affordable for all. But in too many cases they’re now gone. They’ve been privatised or have priced out the families they were built for. These public assets meant a better life for millions of us. And were part of the strong welfare state that our movement fought for and built. Providing free at the point of use the things that make lives worth living. As well as the essentials like health, education, even those have come under attack in recent years

But we mustn’t limit our ambition to repairing the damage caused by 9 years of Tory austerity. We must go much further. I’m launching today our document on Universal Basic Services. It lays out our belief that everyone has a right to a good life. That the state has responsibility to make good on that right.

By providing public services free at the point of use. These services are part of our shared experiences. Experiences that are too important to be left to the vagaries of the market. Whether a family can afford them or not.

As socialists we believe that people have the right to education, health, a home in a decent safe environment and, yes, access to culture and recreation. And I fervently believe the right to dignity in retirement is a part of that right to health and well being at any stage of life.

The truth is our social care system is a national scandal. Nearly £8bn taken from council budgets for social care since 2010. The result is one million people not getting the care they need. 87 people dying a day waiting for care. More than five million unpaid carers – most of them women – looking after loved ones. And overworked, underpaid care workers only being allowed ten-minute visits to those they care for. Because the current system won’t pay for more.

A report out last week demonstrated how, at the same time, many big care providers have developed highly complex corporate structures involving offshore tax havens. Sucking even more money out of the system.

So I can announce today that, after years of campaigning by trade unions and carers – as the first building block in our new National Care Service – the next Labour government will introduce personal care free at the point of use in England. Funded not through the Conservatives’ gimmicky insurance schemes. But, like the NHS and our other essentials, through general taxation.

And we’re publishing the first steps of our National Care Service vision today. Investing in the workforce and ensuring they are employed on local authority rates of the pay, working conditions and training to deliver high quality care, as Unison has advocated.

And over time, we will bring those services back into public ownership and democratic control. We will make sure that local councils have the necessary resources after years of savage cuts. Building up capacity in local government for both care homes and domiciliary care

So we’ll require all providers – public, private or charitable – to adhere to strict criteria on ethical standards. Because nothing is more important than dignity in retirement for those who have built our country and given younger generations the world we live in today. And I want to thank the hard work and leadership that Barbara Keeley has shown in driving forward our policy on this issue.

Of course, in Scotland, a Labour government has already introduced free personal care, so when we spend the billions needed to guarantee free personal care in England, there will be billions more for First Minister Richard Leonard when he takes office in 2021. A Labour government making millions of lives better across the UK, thanks to our transformative policies in Westminster, but also through the new resources for the Scottish and Welsh governments.

But of all the universal rights we hold dear, nothing is more important than the right to survival – survival of our planet.

I believe when historians write about 2019, the most important political event so far has not been replacing one useless Tory prime minister with another. It’s been the emergence on the national scene of climate change as amongst the most urgent political questions of the day.

Nobody has done more in Parliament than my colleagues Sue Hayman and Rebecca Long-Bailey. They paved the way for Parliament to declare a climate emergency in May this year.

And outside Parliament I want to pay tribute to the school strikers and Extinction Rebellion. I have been proud to march and demonstrate with them. They have shamed older generations of politicians into taking climate change seriously and with the urgency it needs. Now it’s essential that the Labour movement continues to join in solidarity with those young people to help lead that fight.

For my part, I will make sure the Treasury puts in whatever resources are necessary to meet our obligations. A Sustainable Investment Board, coordinating the Treasury, BEIS department and Bank of England. £250 billion of green government investment in a National Transformation Fund.

And £250 billion more of lending through our National Investment Bank, delivered at grassroots level by regional development banks and our new Post Bank.

And while the Labour government will need to take the lead, we’ll make whatever reforms are necessary to ensure the finance sector isn’t pushing the other way by investing in carbon-intensive sectors That means billions more raised through green bonds and support for a Europe wide green new deal programme so that we can bring forward significantly that 2050 target.

Mobilising financial resources on a scale not seen since post-War reconstruction to achieve the twin goals of a sustainable future and a better today.

In July, at our inaugural International Social Forum, I reiterated our support for socialist internationalism. We recognise that the First Industrial Revolution meant Britain was the first major contributor to climate change – something that left a lasting legacy for the Global South.

And to begin making some reparations for our colonial past, I pledge we will provide to the citizens of the Global South free or cheap access to the green technologies developed as part of our Green Industrial Revolution.

And we will work with other countries and social movements across the globe to reform the major international bodies to enable them to coordinate the global response to climate change.

There’s an old trade union saying that “the cause of labour is the hope of the world”. Here in Britain it’s the Labour Party carrying that hope. The hope of a world where the riches of our planet are shared. The hope of a world with the chance for everyone to fulfil their full potential.

We won’t build that world overnight. And let nobody tell you it will be easy. Or that we won’t face enormous resistance.But I believe our time is coming. Time to start work on our historic mission to lay the foundations of that new world.

When they ask you some time in the future:

“Where were you when people were left to sleep on our streets?
“When families queued at food banks to survive?
“When the Tories tried to sell out our country to Trump”
“When climate change threatened our planet and our very existence?”

I want you all to be able to say

“I built the homes and public services our people needed”
“I made sure everyone was fed and cared for.”
“With nobody forced to endure poverty
“I saved the planet by tackling climate change
“I helped lay the foundations of a new society
“Foundations so deeply rooted that the Tories can never break them up”

And when they ask “how did you do that?” You can tell them: “I supported Labour, I joined Labour, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn. That’s how.”