It’s not often you will find NM on location, but the opportunity to go to Westminster to interview shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is one that can’t be turned down.
Portcullis House and its glass-covered atrium is a far cry from Napo’s HQ in Clapham Junction. The airport-style security and swipe cards needed to pass from area to area only serves to remind you how important the visitors and people based there are. But it’s good to know that no matter how high up the ranks John McDonnell climbs, he still has time for Napo and its members.
The Labour stalwart and Napo go way back to when John was a backbencher and convenor of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. John stood with Napo warning everyone who would listen about the dangers of allowing the justice system to be exploited by private companies for financial gain.
A lot has happened since those days. The Tories pressed ahead with their aggressive privatisation agenda despite growing concern from various quarters; and John, now sits proudly on the frontbench alongside long-time friend and fellow socialist, Jeremy Corbyn.
The duo’s ideology has been a breath of fresh air for some but has left others nervous about a party heading more leftward than they were used to under the New Labour reign. For Napo members, regardless of where they sit on the political compass, a Labour government headed up by these two could spell the answer to the problems they have faced for the past few years.
Discussing the flawed and failing attempt to transform rehabilitation, the man who has held his seat in Hayes and Harlington for over two decades says: “Tragically, everything that the unions and we as MPs in the parliamentary group said has come true.”
The obvious solution would be to bring the service back into public ownership, but is it as simple as it seems? “It may be complicated, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done elsewhere or isn’t already happening,” he assures.
Apparently, it is not only in the UK that the debate about bringing services back into public control is gathering momentum. John is buoyed by the fact that a recent report reveals that over 800 services across Europe have been brought back into public ownership because “they have learned the same lesson as us”.
“Privatisation has resulted in poor service delivery, mismanagement, exploitation of staff, working conditions and wages being undermined. But in addition to that, money is spent on rewarding shareholders instead of investing in the service. It’s the short-term profiteering at a long-term cost to the community overall,” says John.
Political commentators and financial analysts have been whipping themselves into a frenzy trying to calculate the costs and feasibility of renationalising the services Labour detailed in their manifesto drawn up for the snap-election last year. John, and co. believe their sums are watertight, and that when it comes to probation it’s a no-brainer: “It’s the only way we are going to get back to having a service we can call safe and rehabilitative as we have done in the past.”
Promises of a publicly owned and unified probation service is not the only thing that makes a Labour government so appealing. The shadow chancellor was keen to stand by other manifesto pledges including repealing the Trade Union Act, installing a Ministry of Employment and tackling pay.
“We would scrap the pay cap,” he says, criticising the government for their “selective interventions” and not having a policy strong enough to enforce equal pay.
And as if the average British citizen didn’t already have enough to worry about, John warns of another potential Tory “hidden agenda” as Brexit looms closer. The current government has offered assurances that EU directives relating to employment will be automatically transferred into British law. John explains that the part they have not been so open about is the fact that ministers will then be able to vary them without parliamentary approval. “Instead of putting a law through parliament that varies the conditions that people apply in their workplaces, ministers would be able to introduce changes through delegated legislation. Delegated legislation is not voted on in parliament, and often not even debated.”
It’s hard to believe that despite being governed by a party so “ruthless”, and having employers hell-bent on maximising their profits often at the detriment of workers’ conditions and public safety, some will still chose not to join a union.
“The only way you can protect yourself is by joining a trade union. By joining a trade union you’ll have effective representation and access to legal advice, but in addition to that you will be joining a group of people who will be working with us to transform the system overall. That means when we go into government, it will be Napo’s advice that will be on our agenda and that will influence our manifesto and policies we introduce,” explains John, whose father was also heavily involved in the trade union movement.
A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn with John McDonnell in charge of the purse could have been seen as wishful thinking a few years ago, but opinion polls now have the parties almost neck and neck making it seem all the more achievable. But what exactly would John do once given the keys to Number 11?
“My job will be to ensure we have the resources to fund our public services and to ensure our economy is modernised,” he says.
A fair taxation system where the top 5% will pay a bit more in income tax and large companies pay their fair share is also on the list. “The Tories cut corporation tax to these large-scale corporations who haven’t used the money to invest. Instead, they have earned income of about £600bn that’s just being sat on.
“Corporation tax has just lined the pockets of CEOs who on average earn 180 times more than their average employees in some companies. More money is going to shareholders than is going to the workers who helped to create the wealth,” observes John.
As chancellor, John would also work with ministers from all departments to ensure there is enough funding for the priorities they have identified. Priorities for justice have already been identified with John saying: “We will be sorting out our prisons which are almost in meltdown in some instances. We will be making sure we have a proper probation service that is really rehabilitative and properly resourced under public ownership and control. We will also be making sure that we reinstate some of the cuts that we have experienced, for example in the police service we have lost 20,000 jobs. There are other issues with the courts, but we will look at those in more detail when we get in.”
It seemed a strange time to talk about how significant a change in political leadership would be for Napo members, when something closer to home – the general secretary elections – draws ever nearer.
John, who himself is no stranger to leadership bids was very complimentary of Napo’s current general secretary, describing Ian as “one of the most effective trade union leaders I have met and worked with.”
“I hope he will be able to continue with the work he has done. I think Ian has brought value in the way he speaks up on behalf of your members consistently arguing for their cause,” he continued.
Whatever the result in either leadership campaign, NM hopes the special relationship between John McDonnell, the Labour Party and Napo continues to thrive.