Although John McDonnell has been busy of late helping fight off the Labour coup, he was able to find time this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the rate-capping rebellion of the eighties. The Shadow Chancellor joined forces with Ted Knight — the former leader of Lambeth council who once warned ‘no compromise with the electorate’ — to reminisce about the patch of history which saw the group earn the tabloid title ‘the loony left’.
Speaking at Clapham library in front of a crowd of Momentum activists — who regularly referred to the Labour MPs behind the no confidence vote in Corbyn as the ‘172 Judas Iscariots’ — McDonnell talked about his time as the GLC’s finance committee chairman. Back then, he was one of several figures who retaliated to Thatcher imposing caps on town hall spending by rallying supporters to oppose the caps and carry on spending regardless.
Although his antics resulted in Ken Livingstone sacking him in 1985 so as to avoid financial ruin, it turns out that McDonnell sees that period of history as pretty rosy. He praised their ‘direct action’ and described his fellow rate-cap comrades as the ‘heroes and heroines of their time’:
‘I’m proud, extremely proud, of all my comrades in Lambeth and elsewhere who stood firm. I’m proud of the 11 in the GLC who stood firm. I think they were heroes and heroines of their time. We should be honoured to back them.’
What’s more, McDonnell reckons that there is a parallel to be drawn between the Thatcher government’s attempt to crackdown on him and his comrades back then and the… present Labour coup. The Shadow Chancellor claims that one of the lessons of the rate-cap rebellion is currently being ‘played out in the Parliamentary Labour Party at the moment’.
He says that although Labour party members overwhelmingly elected a leader who is a socialist, today’s establishment figures — much like Thatcher and the establishment in the eighties — cannot advocate a socialist Labour that has anti-austerity policies:
‘Much as Thatcher and the establishment then could not tolerate the resistance of Lambeth council or the GLC, neither do the members of the establishment advocate the leader of the Labour party having anti-austerity policies.’
This opposition to anti-austerity is apparently the real reason Labour MPs have staged a vote of no-confidence in Corbyn:
‘This is nothing to do with Jeremy and his personality, this is nothing to do with electability. He has a proven track record of electability — by-elections, mayoral, local government. This is an attack of what he stands for, and what he stands for is a socialist future for this country.
That’s why it’s important now this coup has failed, that we support him now in maintaining his leadership. Building a mass social movement in the Labour party to ensure that when we go into the next election we elect a Labour government with an anti-austerity agenda.’
Although McDonnell claims the coup is over, Mr S suspects that his comments are likely to be just one of several reasons that Monday’s PLP is shaping up to be very lively indeed. Viva la Revolution!