The headlines just about write themselves. A hard-left Labour shadow chancellor flies off to Davos to preach revolution and socialism to the world’s most elite gathering of business leaders.
Surely that is a sign that Jeremy’s Corbyn’s Labour party is being taken seriously by the big wheels of global business. And a sign as well that the firebrands are readying themselves to reach an accommodation with the bankers and speculators of big capital once they are in power – or at the very least picking up a few business cards so they know who to call at Goldman Sachs when they need an emergency bail-out.
But in fact, there is no reason for anyone to be in the least surprised by the shadow chancellor’s decision to join the annual celebration of wealth and power in the Swiss Alps. In truth, Davos and McDonnell are perfect for one another. Neither have any interest in free-market capitalism. And they are both passionate believers in a global economy managed by small elite.
With sponsors such as Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Nestle, McKinsey and Credit Suisse, not to mention Donald Trump as the star speaker, it is hard, on the surface anyway, to imagine a more archly capitalist event than the World Economic Forum. You might think that McDonnell is the last person any of them would want to meet. Indeed, he is already portraying himself as the man to tell them some uncomfortable truths. ‘He will… explain Labour’s vision for an alternative economic approach to replace the current model of capitalism that has failed the many and led to an unsustainable concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few,’ according to a spokesman. Since the audience will be made up exclusively of ‘the few’ – or rather a ‘few of the few’, since the ordinary ‘few’ can’t afford the tickets – some fireworks seem likely.
Except, of course this is the kind of stuff the Davos crowd lap up. It is an organisation that is apologetic about capitalism, embarrassed by wealth creation, and interested mainly in coming up with new rules and regulations that entrench the grip of big corporations. It is just as in favour of a world run by a small, self-selecting elite as any Marxist, and possibly even more so. Of course, they might have a minor disagreement on who is in that elite. But they could probably sort that out very quickly. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine Davos luminaries such as the IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde fitting into McDonnell’s panel of financial experts, or whatever he chooses to call the committee that will plan the economy once he is in power.
But the Davos crowd has no interest in competition, entrepreneurship, or opening up markets. They believe in globally planned solutions imposed from the centre. And so does McDonnell. They should get on perfectly well. In fact, he will probably be pleasantly surprised by how close to his world view they already are – and if he tries to convert them, he will find it is not really necessary.