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The Spectator Podcast: John McDonnell vs the clueless Tories

28 September 2018

3:57 PM

28 September 2018

3:57 PM

As we head into Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May has never looked more alone. We talk to Iain Duncan Smith and James Forsyth about a Prime Minister abandoned. And while chaos reigns in the Conservative Party, Labour is gearing up, led by a pragmatic but radical Shadow Chancellor. Just who is John McDonnell? And last, why is Tesco’s new discount retailer so Brexity?


First, the Prime Minister may be celebrating her 62nd birthday at Conservative Party Conference with thousands of party members, but Theresa May has never seemed more alone. At home, neither Brexiteers or Remainers have any sympathy for her while they try to push their vision of Brexit; and on the continent, she is humiliated by leaders and negotiatiors. What’s more, while Brexit rumbles on, the Tories’ domestic agenda has been hopelessly weak. What can she do now, and is the party completely directionless? Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, talks to James Forsyth, our political editor, and Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Conservative Party. IDS complains that the Party has lost its narrative, but not because it doesn’t have ideas:

‘I have to tell you, there are tonnes of ideas. We’re not short of ideas. What we’re short of is determination to put them into a story, and to make them happen. I think at the conference, Theresa May has to sell a narrative about who we are in terms of the UK. Brexit is only part of that.’

Next, one party that is certainly not short of ideas is Labour. This week, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell unveiled the party’s economic manifesto, with proposals such as legislation to ensure 10% of a big business’s equity goes to the workers. The Shadow Chancellor was also the one doing damage control during Labour’s summer of anti-Semitism rows. Yet with policies no less radical than Corbyn’s, just who is John McDonnell, and is he more capable than Corbyn himself? Lewis Goodall, political correspondent for Sky News and author of Left for Dead? The Strange Death and Rebirth of Labour Britain joins the podcast with Paul Mason, journalist and Labour supporter. Paul has just returned from Labour conference, and tells us about the pragmatic John McDonnell he saw:

‘I saw John this week saying to businesses, “look, here are our goals. If you’re insistent that what we’re trying to do won’t work, we can tell you what we’re trying to achieve, please feel free to suggest other ways of achieving it. If you think the market can deliver what we think the state can, then let’s talk about it”… What I’ve been most impressed with McDonnell and in my interactions with him, is this preparedness to listen.’

Last, is Tesco’s new discount retailer a reaction to Brexit? Throughout the shop called Jack’s, Union Jacks are displayed next to production descriptions that so and so is completely produced in Britain. But is patriotism really a viable strategy for retailers? Olivia Potts argues not in this week’s magazine, and she tells the podcast that Jack’s strategy won’t work in the long run:

‘The latest YouGov poll suggests that people would prefer to buy British in Britain, but only if it’s not more expensive than other options.’ So when compared to Lidl and Aldi? ‘I can’t help but feel it’s a little shortsighted.’

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