At the height of demonstration, and in the throws of revolution, it is a typical sight to see statues of demagogues toppled and pulled to the ground by the people.
When the Firdos Square statue of Saddam fell, many of us watched in awe.
Pulled by ropes, they dragged him down, the people set upon the statue with sandals, slapping his face – one of the greatest of insults in the East.
When the throng had dwindled, some stayed, the sounds of slapping sandals rang out across the square.
It was a beautifully symbolic moment, and we’ve seen similar today.
John McDonnell, by pledging to scrap PFI and buying out existing contracts, is willing to finally topple a monument to the neo-liberal capitalist system.
And then there was this:
“…Renationalise means renationalise, there won’t be somebody going to the press afterwards saying, ‘actually don’t worry about what conference says.’ Because I believe now, conference is sovereign, what we say goes!”
Rob Wotherspoon, a postal worker and delegate from Bristol West declares this to conference, punctuating the air with his finger – he is a powerful speaker and is met with rapturous applause.
Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn, relaxed and articulate, spoke to Andrew Marr:
You’re absolutely right to identify the whole way in which the world has developed – the diminution of power of democratic governments and the increase in largely unaccountable power from very large corporations.
Earlier today, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also addressed Conference, fired up, on the subject of PFI:
There will be no new PFI deals signed by us in government, but we’ll go further and I can tell you today, it’s what you’ve been calling for: We’ll be bringing existing PFI contracts back in house! We’re bringing them back!
Undemocratic and unaccountable political parties, multi-national corporations intertwined with government and their shameless profiteering from the public sector, are hallmarks of the neoliberal system.
In just its first day, Labour’s 2017 party Conference has stamped an expiry date on those principles, and smashed the status quo – expounding policies that, if implemented, truly would mean Britain was taking back control.
The ramifications of the pledge to scrap PFI are not just huge because of the democratic nature of how that pledge has come about – through conference – but because its significance with voters cannot be underestimated.
This action has broad appeal across a broad demographic of voters.
Private Finance Initiatives are funding public projects using private capital.
Construction firms put up the initial cost and resources to build the projects and then government usually pays them back – with vast interest of course – over a period of 25 years.
Private firms have already made an absolute killing from the loans, a scheme which were introduced by Thatcher, with their use was accelerated during the Blair and Brown years.
They appealed to previous governments because the loans required little capital expenditure in the immediate. However, there have been a catalogue of bad builds and horror stories – newly built Scottish schools falling down around their pupils.
Cowboy builders with runaway profits – literally in some cases – to offshore tax havens, have cut corners and left us picking up the tab.
It is true that the upfront cost of buying out these deals could be big. But we should consider this investment. The initial sum we will have to spend would undoubtedly be dwarfed by the cost over the long-term.
McDonnell’s proposal is new thinking, a long-term strategy for the future, and its return could be big.
In 2016 it was reported by The Independent that “the UK owes more than £222bn to banks and businesses as a result of Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs).”
When talking to members of the public on the high steet about PFI, it is often met with reactions of disgust, some even physically recoil at the mention of their use.
This move to scrap represents a huge shift in thinking, and a dramatic move away from even notions expressed by Labour leadership.
We did bring in private finance to build hospitals. Personally I think some of the deals weren’t the best deals, but overall I think it was the right thing to do.
This is in stark contrast to the sentiments expressed by Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott today, speaking at a fringe event in Brighton:
You borrow against an income flow. The biggest mistake was made when we said we’d extend it to health… In health they don’t have a money flow and what happens: anyone coming in wants to run the damn service and that’s what’s happening… I hope we’re getting away from that.
He went on to agree that Labour was wrong to use PFI for hospital building and that he argued with the then-chancellor Gordon Brown over it.
He described today’s announcement as a fundamental change, with the Labour leadership listening to the membership and forming a policy that McDonnell says will “shape a generation”.
Once more, Labour’s increasingly confident leadership have steered policy away from 25-years of failed neo-liberal ideology, and are now offering an extensive radical political agenda that provably resonates with the public.
Over the coming weeks and days we will see how the national press and the public reacts. The media will drag up Labour’s history, and they will tell us that it was under Labour that their use was so widespread.
The commentariat with also tell us that it’s unaffordable, talk of a “magic money tree” will be rife. The public will tell us otherwise – on the doorstep, on social media and in the street.
The scrapping of PFI truly would be a long-overdue break from neo-liberal ideology, and a genuine attempt at rectifying historic wrongs.
As a single policy, it has the potential to define our times, and could signal the beginning of a truly new political order in Britain.
Oh how sweet it is to hear the slapping of sandals.
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