There are lots of words I would use to describe John McDonnell.
On one hand, he is a careful, considered media performer. On some issues, his finger is on the pulse far more clearly than other Labour front-benchers; he has been readier to condemn anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and in wider society than others in his circle. You could not claim that he is shackled to partisan interests – his thinking has always been (thankfully) at the fringes of mainstream politics. Until now.
On the other hand – he can be nasty. His comments about Esther McVey were ugly, and typical of the kind of politics we’ve been living through since his cult moved to the top of the Labour Party. Often, he is misguided – and recent comments on Socialism in Venezuela (or lack thereof, according to John) were amongst his most erroneous.
According to McDonnell, Venezuela isn’t a real Socialist country. That’s a meme. Interviewed on Sunday Politics, McDonnell bemoans the end of Hugo Chavez tenure – and suggests under Maduro (who has just won a second term in what is widely accepted was a rigged election) Venezuela has taken a wrong turn. That isn’t the case. Venezuela took its first wrong turns long before Maduro came into power and has simply sunk lower and lower throughout his time as President. According to the Times Venezuela is experiencing the steepest recession in modern Latin American history, which has caused widespread shortages and led to millions leaving the country in search of a better life. Chávez’s economic policies, which included seizing thousands of private businesses, ridiculous unsupervised social spending and allowing corrupt officials to run riot left the economy dangerously exposed to a fall in the price of oil, the country’s only export.
Exposing the inconsistencies in McDonnell’s rhetoric isn’t hard. In 2006, he called for a clear-cut commitment from the Labour government to support the ‘Venezuelan revolution.’ He called Chavez’ ‘revolution’ ‘Socialism in action’ just in 2014. Since then, the revolution has led to a regime forced to hold illegitimate elections to cling on to power, and a recession so deep that one Venezuelan pensioner claimed his monthly state stipend was enough for just one frozen chicken. Now, he’s claiming it isn’t socialist.
In the same interview, McDonnell heavily hinted that Labour’s 2017 General Election manifesto was more limited and less radical than the next would be. That’s the 2017 Labour manifesto that was un-costed, called for wholesale renationalisation of services, and hikes on taxes for anybody earning over £80,000. The manifesto that waged war on private education and the option to have private healthcare. Written by a man, McDonnell, who cites his job description as ‘to overthrow Capitalism.’
If McDonnell was to be successful, this would be a disaster for taxpayers. When it comes to raising standards of living; lifting families out of poverty; opening up opportunities for innovation – Capitalism is the best system there is.
Between 1970 and 2006, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide declined by 80 percent. People living on less than a $1 per day fell from 26.8% of the global population in 1970, to 5.4% in 2006. Since shifting from a Communist state to a more market-based economy, China has gone from worrying poverty rates to being one of (if not the) most influential country in the world – with incredible statistics concerning lifting individuals out of poverty. Oxford University’s Martin Roeser notes that ‘it’s thanks to Capitalism that global poverty is at its lowest rate in history.’ Poverty worldwide included 94 percent of the world's population in 1820. In 2011, it was only 17 percent.
I recently wrote for CapX arguing that it’s the dead hand of the state – not capitalism – that is failing young people. That isn’t just true when discussing the intergenerational divide in the UK, but of countries like Venezuela – the answer is not ‘more Socialism’ or ‘a different kind of Socialism’ as McDonnell and co. would espouse – but rolling back the dead hand of state control.
The fact that McDonnell – cherry-picking the facts to support a failed agenda – could perhaps have the keys to the Treasury is nothing short of petrifying. These ideas have been proven time and again to be nothing more than fanciful and have failed every time they’ve been put into practice. If the UK were to adopt a socialist model; taxpayers will be the ones who have to carry the burden.