Thanks to the attention given to the antics of Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, the newly elevated Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has received much less scrutiny than he might have done. Of course, he had a tough time on the BBC’s Question Time last week, and there has been some coverage of his views but his emergence has, for the most part, been overshadowed by the mesmerising train crash that is the Corbyn leadership.
For this week’s edition of Financial News, I have focussed on McDonnell and examined his potential impact in the City and beyond. Even as a pro-market type, I’m a broad church sort of fellow. There is no monopoly on wisdom and even within the pro-market camp there is plenty of ideological dispute and diversity of views. Are the banks too big and powerful? Is more competition needed? Yep. Should government “trust-bust” to prevent crony corporatism?
In that spirit, I always thought that quite a bit of what Ed Miliband had to say as Labour leader on troubling concentrations of power was interesting, although his diagnosis was unfailingly statist rather than pro-market. Miliband, however, was reasonable in comparison to Corbyn and McDonnell is off the scale. His recent appointment stands as one of the most disgraceful hirings in modern politics. It is not just that McDonnell’s views on economics are exotic. He is a full-blown anti-capitalist who wants widescale nationalisation and the introduction of policies that have produced nothing but misery, poverty and coercion whenever they have been tried.
Worse than that has been the slippery way in which he has dealt with the question of his stance on the IRA. His apology on Question time for describing the IRA as brave and hailing its “armed struggle” was deeply unconvincing. His explanation that he was only trying to help the peace process was simply ludicrous. It is hard to avoid concluding that McDonnell and Corbyn were really several decades ago hard left “troops out” types who wanted the UK to lose when it was defending the rights of the population of Ulster to self-determination. Now they are in positions of power they will not admit it and instead use sophistry and spin to disguise it.
Yet, incredibly, unthinkably, this pair are the men who have taken over one of Britain’s great mainstream political parties.