What on earth is going on at the Labour conference? While the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and leaders from the business community suddenly howl over the prospect of a state raid on profits and stifling labour market restrictions, and a Labour MP calls for a General Strike to bring down the government, there’s actually very little in terms of precise policy that’s new – but the tone is deeply alarming.

Of course, John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, has rolled out an extraordinary plan for interference in the labour market. The most egregious element of this is not in fact the imposition of compulsory worker ownership on British companies (disruptive though this would be), but the siphoning of corporate profits directly to the Treasury.

The Shadow Chancellor points to voluntary co-operatives like John Lewis and talks of, “empowerment” of the labour force, seeking to portray his policy as pro-worker and anti-boss. However, this move to confiscate private share revenue represents a clear break with Britain’s private property-based economic consensus, setting up a new state of conflict not between labour and capital, but between business and government.

The damage this will do to Britain’s economy does not lie so much in the financial impact of the scheme (though this would be severe) as in the message it sends to business and investors that Britain is lurching towards a business-hostile, socialist new economic consensus. Businesses would be able, at least initially, to restructure to survive the bare-faced theft of profits, but the shift of principle – of fundamental belief about who is the proper owner of wealth, those who create it or the state – is potentially cataclysmic. Once the philosophical floodgates are open there is no reason to believe the Chancellor would draw the line here. With businesses already anxious about the impact of Brexit, it couldn’t come at a worse time.

The plan for mass nationalization of utilities and the scrapping of PFI are also yesterday’s news. On the specifics, once again the details are not the problem. The Conservatives in fact oversaw the breaking up of the PFI scheme at the behest of George Osborne and Jesse Norman, and only this year the Tories have presided over the collapse of outsourcing firm Carillion and nationalised the North East coast railway.

No, the alarming thing about McDonnell’s speech and the Labour conference more generally is the rhetoric. With tribalistic and emotive language, McDonnell slammed the “bankers and speculators”, “the establishment”, and even – with chilling echoes of Jeremy Corbyn’s conspiratorial view of America and Israel – “an international financial elite”.

The galvanizing of resentful crowds, seeking to blame their problems not on economic circumstances but on the deliberate collaboration of the wealthy and powerful, appeared positively Trumpian in aspect. In a further reflection of the US President’s solipsism, McDonnell refused outright to see wrong on the part of Labour leader over the anti-Semitism scandal, seeking instead to portray Jeremy Corbyn as the victim of a media hit job. In an absurd act of pseudo-historical posturing, McDonnell betrayed the zaniness of his worldview by portraying the Corbyn project as the heir to the Roundheads and the Suffragettes in a sweeping narrative of oppressor vs oppressed. Every phrase is infused with ideology, and every sentence is meant.

The demonisation of perceived enemies of the Labour movement throughout the conference had a deeply sinister feel. Time and again “the Tories” (noun) and “Tory” (adjective) are deployed as though they are swear words. In an indication of the indoctrination prevalent in parts of our state schools, this week a teacher claimed that if the government gets education right “there won’t be any more Tories because we’ll have raised our children properly.” Then a CLP delegate joked that his dad raised him to hate the Tories, but not to hate them enough, while GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny slammed neo-liberal “Blairites” and “Tory toffs” for causing Brexit and for hijacking it, respectively.

Clear differences of priority emerged when it came to the address of Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary on Tuesday. In spite of clear attempts by Labour spin doctors to maintain message control – the script was “we want a general election, and if not, a second referendum” – a gulf emerged between Starmer and the Shadow Chancellor over whether Remain should be an option on a future ballot. While Starmer talked of fairness, justice and equality with a focus on avoiding an EU departure that damages workers, McDonnell’s mid-20th Century ranting was absent, as was his Marxist economic jargon. In some respects the cerebral shadow minister Starmer cut a sad figure – the only grown-up in the room, desperately aware that the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Corbyn and McDonnell – known Brexiteers at heart – are walking a tight rope. The largest rounds of applause at Labour conference have come from the overwhelmingly Remain-supporting membership whenever an opportunity to thwart Brexit is mentioned. But Remain is not the ideological or rhetorical priority for the leadership. As McDonnell gave away, his conception of his own political destiny is far grander. In his mind, the Corbyn leadership represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-orientate Britain back towards socialism, putting an end to the Thatcherite nightmare for ever.

With their talk of “democratisation” of the labour market, wages set by collective bargaining, taking back control from the bosses and the grand sweep of history, the cabal that has taken over Labour have their own, much more threatening agenda. The policies we have seen so far are radical, but the true extent of the project is very much yet to be seen and widely understood.