The least convincing thing said by Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell at the Labour party conference in Liverpool was ‘I believe we’ll be elected for a second term.’ In all his other remarks about plans for compulsory employee share schemes, workers on boards, higher corporate taxes, extended employment rights, attacks on the rich and below-market renationalisation of water utilities whose bosses he would fire, he talked about getting the programme done ‘within the life of a Labour government’ — with the clear implication that he thinks Tory turmoil might be about to give him a once-in-a-lifetime, one-term-only chance to make a reality of the recreation he lists in Who’s Who: ‘fermenting the overthrow of capitalism.’
Reaction from business was surprisingly muted, perhaps because no one in Britain’s boardrooms believes it could really happen, perhaps because the fat cats don’t want their names and addresses on McDonnell’s Stasi watch-list. The BBC helpfully found some positive vox pops and a Sheffield engineering firm with an employee share scheme that made it all sound quite plausible.
But imagine that Mrs May is forced to call an early general election and manages to lose it narrowly to Jeremy Corbyn, who is then shouldered aside by McDonnell and his Trotskyite clique. A stock market crash, a flight of gilt investors and a credit crisis would only be the start. I’m reminded of the veteran entrepreneur who sent me last year a list of topics then under discussion with his team in relation to just such a scenario: ‘Move personal as well as corporate assets overseas. Consider emigration to lower tax environment. Change strategy to make little or no profit in UK. Cancel all UK investment plans. Investigate sale of business or generally put business into hibernation.’
Amid the misadventures of current politics, no electoral outcome is too far-fetched to contemplate. Don’t listen to what the shadow chancellor says about ‘inclusive ownership’ and ‘unprecedented openness’: look at the glint in his eye. He’s a man on a mission to destroy the free-market economy as fast and as comprehensively as he can. The Tory party might one day be forgiven for making a pig’s ear of Brexit, but not for putting John McDonnell in power.