The response of John McDonnell, and in fact the response of Labour as a whole, to Hammond Autumn Statement yesterday did not work as I can only assume was intended. That isn’t newsworthy in and of itself – this is the new way of things. Labour are ineffective, hey ho. But what is sad is that there was a ready made response to the Statement that Labour didn’t take.
Let’s examine first what we did get from Labour and McDonnell. The “chaotic” Brexit line again, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great, mostly because no one is convinced that Labour would handle Brexit any better and the party isn’t anti-Brexit either (McDonnell himself saying it offered “wonderful opportunities”). “The figures speak for themselves: growth down, wage growth down, business investment down, and their own deficit target failed.” This line didn’t work because what McDonnell should have said is that the Tories have abandoned austerity all of a sudden and are now basically agreeing with what Labour have said for six years, namely that the aim of running surpluses in the name of fiscal responsibility was supposedly a mistake, one the Tories have only just realised. McDonnell could then have pointed out all of the pain of austerity over that six years and asked “what was it all for then, if once Osborne was out the door it was all to be abandoned? Why did all those people on low incomes need to suffer? So it was all in vain?”
This would have at least challenged the heart of the Tories’ image as being better handlers of the economy than Labour. Instead, John McDonnell acted yesterday as if the Conservative Party haven’t rolled back on everything they used to stand for in the way of economic policy, and didn’t acknowledge at all that the only plausible explanations for most of the content of the Autumn Statement is either a). the Conservatives figured out they were wrong all the time and are passively admitting a mistake or b). because of Brexit, with Hammond owning up to the fact that it will have a huge financial cost attached to it. All while other members of the government still go on about any negative prognosis of Brexit being a “whinge-a-thon”.
As usual, loads for Labour to attack there, but instead we received waffle. Hammond got off lightly, as we all expected him to. I don’t mind – it’s not really Phil’s fault, this whole shitshow, and he’s dealing with it as well as anyone else would. Just, it would be nice to have an opposition again. Perhaps some day we will.