By Nick Clark
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Labour plan to challenge the state falls short

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Issue 2630
Labour doesn’t know how it will take on the power of the state, such as the GCHQ spy centre
Labour doesn’t know how it will take on the power of the state, such as the GCHQ spy centre (Pic: Defence Images )

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell laid out what he said were the Labour leadership’s plans for transforming the state at an event on Monday evening.

It was an attempt to explain what his answer would be to the challenges from big business and the state that a left wing Labour government would face.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Red Pepper magazine, McDonnell described that state as “a relationship with dominance, particularly dominance over working class people”.

This is “about how people have to behave to receive any support or benefits from the state,” he said.

“It’s about the parameters in which they operate or even the parameters in which they think to conform to the existing distribution of wealth and power within society.”

In contrast McDonnell said Labour’s plans were about “opening up the doors” of the state to more democratic participation and broader representation.

This would be done by filling elected and appointed positions with more people from campaigns and “communities”.

And it would involve reforms such as abolishing the House of Lords, setting up cooperatives and community land trusts, renationalisation and appointing workers to company boards.

He said that taken together those plans would “transform the whole nature of our society and the democratic engagement that people can have within our society”.

And he said everything Labour does now should be measured against the question, “Will the development of this policy transfer the power from the state, transform the relationship of the state to the individual?”

Yet Labour politicians are already preparing to make concessions to protect the power of the state.

Last week Labour’s shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said Labour would never accept support from the Scottish National Party if it meant scrapping Trident nuclear weapons.


Although Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, MPs and trade union leaders insist that a Labour government will keep Trident.

As Labour prepares for government its leaders come under increasing pressure to show they can protect the state they hope to manage. And they hope the rich who rely on the state to protect their interests will not undermine their government.

McDonnell said the best protection against that is to make sure Labour is “built into a movement that is clear in its ideas” and at the same time holds its officials accountable.

“I don’t think there’s any force out there that can in any way undermine or defeat us,” he said. “The biggest fear I have is our own lack of ambition and lack of mobilisation”.

Yet he recently promised City bosses Labour could change its plans “if you don’t like the policies we’re using to achieve our objectives”.

McDonnell’s plans to reform the state into something that can transform society have one flaw. The establishment won’t allow Labour to hold onto the state without it giving in to the power of big business, bankers and the city.

A movement that protects against that power has to go beyond transforming parts of the state and holding its representatives accountable.

It has to be based on struggle in workplaces and on the streets that can end the power of the state and the rich entirely.

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