John McDonnell's odd taste in trade unionists
I didn't quite get the level of anger involved in John McDonnell's outburst about the Heathrow third runway decision.
I can understand that many of his constituents are concerned about noise polution and about the demolition involved in clearing land for the new runway.
But there must be just as many Hayes & Harlington residents who actually earn their living at Heathrow and who have a huge vested interest in it being able to compete with other European airport hubs.
Even if, on balance, McDonnell was going to decide he opposed it, surely it would have been prudent for him to present a more balanced (in every sense of the word) response, showing that he cared about the jobs of his constituents as well as the environmental issues, and had weighed up the pros and cons before reaching his position of opposition, rather than just slamming the whole idea.
As it is his position may end up looking as electorally sensible as Albert Booth's opposition to Trident submarines when he was MP for submarine-building Barrow-in-Furness. It would be as though the MP for a mining seat was saying they were against coal-mining because of the environmental impact.
There are very sensible leftwing reasons for backing a third runway:
- it's difficult to have a Keynesian fiscal stimulus if you object to the largest and most job-creating public infrastructure schemes in that stimulus on environmental grounds
- and the major trade unions such as Unite and the GMB are pushing hard for the scheme on the basis of it preserving existing jobs
I find it strange that McDonnell has not listened to the powerful case being put forward by Unite's London region, Labour's largest regional affiliate, who estimate they have 50,000 members dependent on Heathrow.
Instead the unions McDonnell is spending time listening to are the mysterious Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (TUCG), which he serves as Parliamentary Convenor of, and which is launching at the Commons on 21 January. The TUCG consists of BFAWU, FBU, NAPO, NUJ, PCS, POA and RMT. Only BFAWU is affiliated to the Labour Party. FBU disaffiliated, RMT was chucked out for backing the Scottish Socialist Party, and the others have never been affiliated. All of them have very leftwing leaderships. the TUCG wants to give "unions a new and stronger representative voice in Parliament" - interesting wording as one reading of that phrase is i.e. not the Labour Party.
What is McDonnell up to acting as the parliamentary front man for a bunch of non-affiliated unions, and pretty much ignoring the large Labour-affiliated ones? Maybe Jon Cruddas was right to speculate at a recent IPPR event that McDonnell's LRC is a breakaway party in waiting, with its own union affiliates and conference?