People thought Corbyn and I would crash the pound; The real risk was Truss and her fanatics
We knew the markets would react sharply to us and were prepared for that. These free-market zealots had no plan at all
London’s Evening Standard newspaper, with the headline “Pound hits all-time low in backlash at Kwasi tax cuts” on display outside the Bank of England
Watching the events since the introduction of the “Not a Budget”, I have sat with my head in my hands. You could almost weep for the lasting consequences of this show of arrogance, ideological obstinacy and incompetence. People’s homes, pensions and the public services they rely upon are all now at serious risk. It’s hard to comprehend just how badly they misjudged the situation and how little they prepared for taking over the highest offices of state.
In his brilliant book The Great Crash, 1929, the economist JK Galbraith advises that to avoid a crash in the future you should put in place a vast range of institutional protections, but that the most important protection is memory.
My first Labour party conference was in 1976 in Blackpool, when the Labour chancellor, Denis Healey, burst into conference amid boos and cheers to announce the acceptance of an IMF loan to prop up the government after a run on sterling. The conditions of the loan were interest rate hikes, cuts in public spending and wage controls. The effect was to see support for the Callaghan Labour government drain away, over the next three years, heralding the Thatcher era.
That experience was burned into my psyche. So, when I became shadow chancellor, I made it clear that I would plan for every option – including a run on the pound – if we were elected. At the time I was accused of making a serious faux pas, but I wanted the markets to know that we had a serious plan for our economy whatever was thrown at us.
Although I thought there would be some initial turbulence in the markets, I didn’t believe that there would be a run. I toured the City intensively to gauge what the true reaction to the election of the Labour party would be. Meeting numerous asset managers and financial advisers, I explained that there were many things in our programme that they may not like, including some renationalisations and tax rises on the wealthiest, for instance; but they were going to happen and there was so much more on investment that would give them real investment opportunities.
The response I got was that although they definitely didn’t like some of our policies, as long as there was certainty and predictability they could live with it. They could price in our policies into their calculations and we would be able to establish a working relationship. As long as there were no major surprises, they could understand our sense of general direction and would not sabotage our programme.
I had a team of advisers from the City and with experience of working with me to plan our steps into government and our ongoing relationship with the market. We received a weekly briefing from a respected investment consultancy in the City.
John McDonnell has been the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington since 1997. He was shadow chancellor from 2015 to 2020