Henry Newman

John McDonnell’s mask is slipping

One of the more interesting developments over the last year is the attempted transformation of John McDonnell from a hard-left activist who joked about “lynching” a female Conservative MP, towards a softer, more jovial, chancellor-in-waiting. It seemed to be going quite well. I appeared with McDonnell on Politics Live last year and he laughed heartily as I teased him about coveting the Labour leadership. SW1’s water-cooler chat is that McDonnell is a far more effective advocate of a Corbynite Labour position than Jeremy Corbyn himself, particularly because the Labour leader often looks so irritated at being asked relatively normal questions on television. But could that be about to change?

The sheep’s clothing did seem to be pretty well strapped to the shadow chancellor’s body – all part of his calculated strategy of being a media-friendly face for Corbynite Labour. Yes, the Westminster Bubble knew about his wolf-like views but it wasn’t clear that these were affecting his new affable public image. Might his callous and chilling comments about the predicament of Luciana Berger MP, and his clumsy critique of Winston Churchill yesterday challenge his careful construct? 

Last Friday, McDonnell was interviewed on the Today Programme. The interview began with questions on Brexit, as the shadow chancellor chuckled away, joking happily with the presenter. Labour spinners must have been pleased. Good approachable image: tick. Sort of guy with whom you would like to grab a pint: tick tick. Potential successor to Corbyn (given the hit the Labour leader’s popularity has taken recently): tick tick tick. But things got worse.

Towards the end of the interview, McDonnell was challenged about Labour’s ongoing anti-Semitism crisis. In particular, he was asked what his message was to the members of Luciana Berger’s constituency Labour party who were attempting to oust their MP.

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