Storms over the most trivial and far-fetched issues have quickly become the order of the day in Corbyn’s Britain – and an “exasperated” MP is the reporter’s best friend.
Faux outrage is a selective art. Take Kevan Jones, the shadow defence minister who rightly took offence when Ken Livingstone said he needed “psychiatric treatment”, but was happy to suggest opponents of programme motions (part of parliamentary procedure) “should be taken out to the nearest lunatic asylum” in 2010. And when it comes to bans from the Labour Party conference, it’s hard to remember anyone getting annoyed when building giant Carillion was kicked out in 2013 over its complicity in a blacklist of trade unions. However, of course, the leader at the time was not Jeremy Corbyn.
But there is something else at play in McFlurrygate. Streeting and his supporters, such as Independent columnist John Rentoul, speak of McDonald’s as if it’s a national institution. And perhaps it is. But their apparent outrage at Labour daring to insult the chain smacked of the time Tory minister Grant Shapps tried to get “hardworking people” on side through the offer of “beer and bingo”. Class politics has undoubtedly returned to the Labour Party, but there’s clearly a long way to go when MPs see potential voters primarily as consumers expressing a preference for a particular type of burger, rather than workers who deserve rights and a living wage.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. A trade unionist I spoke to on Monday blasted McDonald’s for “creating the McJob” – but Labour MP Clive Betts once put down a motion in Parliament condemning the term as “derogatory”. It soon emerged McDonald’s had paid for his trip to see the World Cup in Germany.
To give Streeting his due, he ditched his snobbery critique after he was repeatedly confronted with the issue of workers rights. He instead focused on the loss of income for Labour, and said the move smacked of “virtue signalling” – the latest term to erupt out of the world of cod academia. It means making worthy gestures without any effort or sacrifice. Like banning McDonalds from the Labour Party conference – which won’t actually change their working practices, so the argument goes.
The Bakers’ leader, Ronnie Draper, told me there was, in fact, an explicit industrial rationale behind the decision. He told a member of the ruling executive that McDonald’s should be out unless they agree to discuss recognition of the union: “McDonald’s is a serial abuser of working people, in particular young people, throughout the world. Why should we give credence to a company that behaves in such an abominable way against workers and give them airspace at a Labour Party conference, because it almost looks like we’re justifying the things they do. Why should we give them any breathing space until they start falling in line with what the best employers do?”
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