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Mr McDonnell in Redcar with shadow business secretary Angela Eagle and constituency MP Anna Turley [Image: Ian Forsyth for the Mirror].

Mr McDonnell in Redcar with shadow business secretary Angela Eagle and constituency MP Anna Turley [Image: Ian Forsyth for the Mirror].

The shock and anger professed by some Labour MPs at shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s decision to oppose George Osborne’s Charter for Budget Responsibility – in line with Labour’s anti-austerity policy direction – defies belief.

Mr McDonnell has claimed his decision was triggered by a meeting with steel workers in Redcar, where the factory is to be closed down after the Conservative Government wouldn’t lift a finger to save it.

He said: “Originally what I said to people was, ‘This charter is a political stunt; it is a political trap by George Osborne; it is virtually meaningless; he ignores it himself time and time again.

“‘He never meets his targets, so this is just a stunt. Let’s ridicule it in the debate and vote for it because it’s a meaningless vote’.”

But then he went to Redcar. “I met the steelworkers and I had families in tears about what’s happened to them as a result of the Government failing to act, failing to intervene.

“I came back and I realised, as the consequence of the Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure, in skills, the cuts that are going to start coming now, I realised that people actually are going to suffer badly.

“It brought it home to me and I don’t want the Labour Party associated with this policy.”

This Blog has already reported that the change of heart was also prompted by the worldwide economic outlook. The Charter commits the government to balancing the books within three years, provided there is not another global crisis. Mr McDonnell announced in a letter to fellow Labour MPs: “In the last fortnight there have been a series of reports highlighting the economic challenges facing the global economy as a result of the slowdown in emerging markets.

“These have included warnings from the International Monetary Fund’s latest financial stability report, the Bank of England chief economist, Andy Haldane, and the former Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers.”

According to the BBC, former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie criticised the U-turn and said Labour should set out its own motion: “To go from one extreme to the other is wrong in economic terms but also it sends the wrong message to the general public as well.

“I think to be fair to John McDonnell this is a very difficult balancing act, it’s a very difficult topic, but it’s incredibly important that he is clear and consistent and explains fully not just what Labour’s position is but also why he backed George Osborne’s surplus a couple of weeks ago and is now against it apparently.”

But Mr McDonnell had already explained his reasoning in the letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party and, according to Paul Mason of Channel 4 News, he had indeed planned to move its own alternative to the charter, and to table amendments – but “both these possibilities have been ruled out by the clerks of the Commons.”

The Guardian reported the responses of Labour MPs John Mann and Mike Gapes: “In a comment piece written for the website Politics Home, Mann said “There has been no debate, nor any consultation within the Labour Party.”

But the new developments Mr McDonnell cites all happened within a very tight period. When was there time for a consultation or debate, prior to last night’s meeting?

Mann continues: “The reality is that to have voted with Osborne would have led to political meltdown in Scotland… New Corbyn supporters would have been bemused and demoralised. It would have been a political disaster with huge consequences.”

On one aspect of this, it seems likely he is correct. SNP supporters, ignoring the vacillation of their own party’s leader on this subject (she opposed it – and Labour – during the election campaign, then supported it after the Tories won. Now it seems she and her party are opposing it again) have leapt to the attack in any case, claiming – improbably – that it is Labour that has wavered, in denial of the fact that a new leadership has brought new policies with it.

New Corbyn supporters are anti-austerity, though. They will be delighted by Mr McDonnell’s decision.

The Graun continued: “Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South since 1992, took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to condemn his party’s state. ‘There is now no collective Shadow cabinet responsibility in our Party, no clarity on economic policy and no credible leadership,’ he wrote. Challenged by another user of the social media site to show loyalty to Corbyn, Gapes responded: ‘I will show loyalty in the same way as he was loyal to Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown, Beckett, Miliband and Harman. Ok?'”

No. How about showing loyalty to the majority of the party who support Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell and the policies they are promoting?

All in all, it seems the Labour leadership won’t be able to do right by these ‘rebels’ (if they can be called that) no matter what they choose to do. McDonnell was criticised on the pretext that supporting the CBR was against his anti-austerity beliefs (and never mind the fact that he explained his reasons for it) and now he’s being criticised for opposing it, in line with his anti-austerity beliefs.

Do these people – Messrs Leslie, Mann and Gapes – realise that they aren’t making sense?

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