John McDonnell praised terrorists and defended violent protest. His leadership ambitions are nothing
Why is Britain’s hard Left so entertaining? Ever since Robert Lindsay starred as the eponymous “Citizen Smith” in the 1970s, the paper-selling, beret-sporting, oh-so-worthy activists have been the butt of countless jokes and endless derision, almost of it entirely deserved.
Maybe it’s because our various Trotskyite groups have been so marginalised by this good-humoured scorn down the decades that they’ve become far less threatening than they might wish. Certainly they’re not taken remotely seriously by voters, who are sensible enough never to knowingly elect them. Which is why the sport of entryism became so popular back in the ’70s and ’80s: if we can’t get elected on our own platform, the Trots reckoned, let’s get elected on somebody else’s.
That “somebody else”, of course, was the Labour Party.
For these 50 shades of red, mostly from Militant (now imaginatively rebranded as The Socialist Party) and Socialist Organiser, Labour was merely a vehicle, a means to an end. The hard Left had as much regard for the Labour Party as a tick has for a sheep.
It might seem discourteous to categorise the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, as a blood sucking, parasitic insect, except for the fact that he himself has declared his contempt for the beast on which he is currently riding: “I’m not in the Labour Party because I’m a believer of the Labour Party as some supreme body or something God-given or anything like that. It’s a tactic. It’s as simple as that. If it’s no longer a useful vehicle, move on,” he once said.
For the time being and for the foreseeable future, it’s proving a very useful vehicle indeed for him. For all the talk of Blairite coups against Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader is as at least vulnerable to assassination by his own side – specifically from Mr McDonnell – as by his party’s Right wing.
Consider what’s at stake for the Left: for the first time in history, they have taken control of one of Britain’s two main political parties. Such a prize wasn’t even considered possible until it landed in their lap with barely a fight last September.
They’re hardly likely to surrender that prize easily. And yet, even the most diehard Corbynista must be disappointed by their man’s performance. Yes, they still love him and are still grateful to him. But at least some of them see politics as about more than attending rallies and speaking really quietly at Prime Minister’s Questions. And at least a few of his supporters are discomfited by the anti-Semitism row Mr Corbyn has presided over.
Replacing Corbyn with Mr McDonnell might even spike the guns of the Labour Right, which has been consistent about the need to get rid of Corbyn but entirely split over who should replace him. Meanwhile, the Left is worryingly united about who it should support in the event of a vacancy: the shadow chancellor.
Mr McDonnell’s emergence as an alternative leader is best illustrated by a sea-change in his dealings with fellow Labour MPs. Many colleagues report that a man who spent the previous 18 years resolutely refusing to speak to them has recently become remarkably chatty. The embittered, scowling individual who expressed nothing but scorn for the Labour governments he was elected to serve in 1997 is suddenly Labour’s Pollyanna, sprinkling sunshine and pixie dust wherever he goes.
So congenial and gregarious is the new Mr McDonnell that the view has taken hold among many Labour MPs that he is “on manoeuvres”. And those MPs are absolutely right.
Consider the events of the last week, which have been dreadful for Labour and Mr Corbyn, but quite positive for Mr McDonnell. The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as the most uncompromising critic of the anti-Semitism that has tainted the party’s Left. Unlike his boss, he has been swift and resolute in his intolerance of intolerance, quickly dismissing his parliamentary aide, Naz Shah, when her Facebook transgressions came to light. It’s almost as if – heaven forfend! – that a deliberate contrast was being drawn between his sure-footed response and Corbyn’s hapless equivocation.
Surely this is the man, activists may conclude, to take the torch of socialism forward if the heroic Comrade Corbyn, 67 this month, feels he can walk no further?
The Conservative Party does not fear a McDonnell leadership. And that should tell you all you need to know about the prospects of a man who was sacked as chair of finance at Greater London Council because he was too Left-wing for Ken Livingstone’s liking. Who praised IRA terrorists (though naturally not describing them thus) for their “armed struggle” and believed they should be honoured. Who suggested that striking workers should spit in their bosses’ tea. Who defended a thug who almost killed a police officer by throwing a fire extinguisher from a rooftop during a student riot.
The Labour Party may have descended into farce under Jeremy Corbyn, but under John McDonnell there would be little to laugh about.
( Source )