Smear campaign against McDonnell

Submitted by AWL on 16 October, 2019 - 10:27 Author: Keith Road and Sacha Ismail

The Skwawkbox, a blog that frequently voices the opinions of the Labour leader’s most senior office staff, has started an attack on John McDonnell.

The start seems to have been a now-deleted post which included the entire letter of resignation from the Leader’s Office of Andrew Fisher, a former worker in McDonnell’s MP’s office.

The charge against McDonnell is that he is now attempting a coup, alongside the Labour right or so-called “centrists”, against Corbyn.

Fisher, in resigning, seemed obliquely to suggest hostility to the “four Ms” — Seumas Milne, Karie Murphy, Andrew Murray and Len McCluskey — said to dominate directly or indirectly in the Leader’s Office (LOTO).

In his actual letter, though, Fisher described only a single bad day, from which it is hard to discern much politically. The most telling thing was the story of a tweet due to be sent condemning Russian bombing of Syria which was doctored to condemn (non existent) US bombing. That twist would correlate with the views of Milne, an unreformed and unrepentant Stalinist.

The furore around McDonnell is really about Brexit. For a while McDonnell has tested the water for a number of policy ideas, floating ideas that are not (or not yet) the official position of Corbyn or the Shadow Cabinet. In recent months he has become the most senior figure in the Shadow Cabinet promoting a stronger anti-Brexit stance.

Since the Labour Party conference was pushed into voting through a fudge on the issue, outlets like Skwawkbox have gone into overdrive on the story of an attempted “coup” or plot by the Shadow Cabinet against Corbyn, spearheaded by McDonnell.

Evidence? The Leader’s Office chief of staff, Karie Murphy, being moved to another job, and an announced review of staffing.

Yet that review is commissioned by Corbyn himself.

Distrust of the Leader’s Office and the Stalinist influence in it is not right-wing. McDonnell’s push for a clearer line on Brexit is not right-wing. And nor is his clear statement that charges of antisemitism within the Labour Party are “not a smear”, but point to a real problem.

He has been condemned for an interview with Alastair Campbell in which McDonnell said that he opposed Campbell’s expulsion from the Labour Party.

George Galloway and other prominent Corbyn-supporting Twitter accounts have taken this as the equivalent of McDonnell bombing Iraq himself!

McDonnell also said that Corbyn and himself would step down if Corbyn loses the next election. That is hardly surprising. Corbyn would have lost two elections by that point — though from a starting point in 2015 which made winning difficult — and is likely to be 75 by the election after that, older than any Labour leader since George Lansbury.

McDonnell can maybe be said to have been unwise in his choice of interviewer, and more candid in his responses than the bunker mentality of much of the Labour Party. But the idea that (as Counterfire would have it) he is “flirting with the right” is absurd.

Both in his record over the decades, and in his current stance on the hot issues in the Labour Party, McDonnell stands on the left of the Labour leadership, not the right.

In his 11 October interview with Alastair Campbell for GQ magazine, John McDonnell argued that the next Labour leader after Corbyn must be a woman.

Campbell flagged up Emily Thornberry and Rebecca Long-Bailey as possibilities. McDonnell added Angela Rayner. Long-Bailey, in particular, seems long to have been boosted by the Leader’s Office as the successor.

Now that the Tories have had two women leaders, the pressure for a Labour woman leader following Corbyn will reasonably enough be great. But it does not follow that any woman recommended by Corbyn and McDonnell is politically adequate.

Neither Rayner nor Long-Bailey has any substantial radical left or class-struggle background. Neither is particularly more radical than Emily Thornberry. Their roles at and after the recent Labour conference show that.

Pretty much the same is true of Laura Pidcock, sometimes also mentioned as a potential leader. Like Rayner, Pidcock has written for the Morning Star (the MS website suggests Long-Bailey hasn’t).

All these supposedly-left candidates, in fact, have been notably worse than Thornberry on the crucial issues of Brexit and antisemitism. Thornberry in turn has not been left-wing other than allying with Corbyn since 2015, and her foreign policy statements have had woeful omissions on Syria, Iran and China.

Internationalist, class-struggle socialists may be faced by an unwelcome choice in the next Labour leadership election.
We should focus on pushing for a better grassroots left that can put real pressure on any leadership and, when the time comes, for a radical left leader who has taken the right stance on Brexit and other key issues.

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