Planning Labour’s “war games”

Submitted by Matthew on 4 October, 2017 - 11:14

Richard Barbrook, named as John McDonnell’s adviser on “war-gaming” for a future Labour government, spoke to Solidarity


I’m in the process of doing the bureaucracy to go part-time in my university job and work part-time in the Labour leader’s office on role-plays for likely problems were we get into government.

The media have picked up on the phrase “war games” because it sounds more sexy, but really it’s role-plays.

John McDonnell in Brighton talked about a run on the pound as the thing we should role-play for. But it might not be that. With the mess the Tories are making, the pound might well go up on Labour taking office. Another possibility is another banking collapse like 2008.

I’ve drawn in friends who are Labour people but have set up role-play exercises for NATO, for the civil service, and so on. We’re having a Skype meeting tomorrow, with other role-play experts, to discuss plans.

We’re planning role-play exercises with the Foreign Office team about when British might intervene in a foreign country. Obviously a Labour government would be reluctant to do that, after what we saw under the last Labour government, but there are instances where it might be politically correct.

But we’re also planning training exercises for Labour activists on issues a Labour government may face — for example, a mega-game based on Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel A Very British Coup.*

The problem with Syriza in Greece is that they had no plan B, beyond maybe some vague thoughts about reintroducing the drachma. We want to have plan B, plan C, etc. — try out the different scenarios — get people to think about different possibilities.

The only thing that’s weird about that is that people think it’s weird.

It cannot be just a top-down exercise. We’re starting with role-plays with the Treasury team about a run on the pound, and things like that, because we’ve got to start somewhere, but we want to do the role-play exercises also with Labour Party members.

The discussion needs to be done with base. We need to get the membership to discuss the issues. I had a meeting with John McDonnell a couple of weeks ago when we discussed that.

We’re going to start on the role-plays before Christmas, and taking it out to the base as soon as possible. We’ve got maybe only 18 months before Labour is in government.

* A Very British Coup is a novel published in 1982 by Chris Mullin, a journalist who later became a Labour MP.

A Labour government under a leftwing leader, Harry Perkins, takes office in the early 90s. MI5 conspires with the City and the press barons against the government.

Aid comes from the US President and right-wing union leaders. Eventually Perkins is pushed into resigning, and the King appoints a Labour right-winger as prime minister in his place, over the protests of Labour’s National Executive.

In the novel, intervention by the rank and file of the labour movement is very limited.

“The news was received by dismay by Labour Party members throughout the country.

“There were a number of arrests for the daubing of anti-Royalist slogans. In Glasgow serious rioting occurred on successive nights. In London all police leave was cancelled and security was intensified in public buildings.”

But the resistance subsides quietly: it is a “very British” coup. Can we build the basis for a less “very British” outcome?