The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 1:01 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:01 pm, 26th May 2016

As I said earlier, rather than invest, employers have tried to use cheap labour, and that has had an impact on wages and living conditions, which is unacceptable.

This Government have failed and will continue to fail on every measure they set themselves. They have failed in their target to reduce the debt, on their welfare cap target, and on their target to close the deficit. The Government have lost their way. Gone is the pretence of being the new “workers party”, as was trumpeted so loudly last summer. That disappeared when they started cutting in-work benefits. The Government wander around from crisis to crisis, looking for another U-turn to make. Cuts to personal independence payments were scrapped, as was forced academisation. Measures to address the tampon tax and cuts to renewables subsidies were abandoned. Only one policy directive seems to hold this sorry excuse for a Government together, and that is the policy—in defiance of all sound economic advice—to impose spending cuts of a viciousness not seen in this country for generations.

There is consensus across this House that a strong economy is the foundation on which all else can be built. This Government have not created a strong economy—strong on rhetoric perhaps, and strong on creative accountancy, as the last Budget revealed, but the Chancellor’s economy is a jerry-built structure that rests on a recovery built on sand. The Chancellor has had plenty of opportunities to “fix the roof when the sun was shining” —as he so memorably put it in happier times—but he has simply failed. That would have meant taking a different approach, and we all hope that once the referendum is out of the way, the economy will pick up. Without change, however, the trajectory for our economy is clear.

We are trapped in a low-wage, low-skill, low-investment and low-productivity economy. We need a Government who adopt a sensible and credible fiscal rule, enabling long-term and patient investment in our economy, and we need a Government who use record low interest rates to invest in the future. As a minimum, the Government should now invest in the infrastructure, skills and technology that can help to transform how this economy operates. We need a Government who clamp down on tax avoidance. They could go further and overhaul a tax system that is manifestly failing to levy fair rates on those who can pay the most.

We need a Government with an industrial policy who back the steel industry, and who work with our European partners to clamp down on the flooding of our markets with cheap subsidised Chinese steel. The Government could also seek to transform the institutions that govern our economy, from the Treasury to the great corporations, unlocking potential that is otherwise wasted when vested interests dominate decision-making. The Queen’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to accept that austerity has failed and to change course, but it was not taken. If the Government cannot write a speech for Her Majesty to undo the damage they have inflicted and set out a confident course for this country’s economy, it is clearly time for Labour to lead the way.

Let us be explicit: Labour rejects the failed and cruel austerity programme adopted by this Government. Instead, working in partnership with business, entrepreneurs and workers, Labour would create an entrepreneurial state to support innovation, create wealth, and drive growth, and we would share the proceeds of that growth fairly. By investing in our economy, Labour would lay the foundations of a new society that is radically fairer, more equal, and more democratic—an alternative based on a prosperous economy that is economically sound, environmentally sustainable, and where such prosperity is shared by all.