Sebastian Payne

John McDonnell: Ukip is ‘an evil force within our society’

John McDonnell: Ukip is ‘an evil force within our society’
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John McDonnell spoke at a Momentum curry dinner in Oldham yesterday evening, following a day on the doorstep ahead of Thursday’s by-election. I was lurking at the back and there weren't many other journalists there.

The shadow chancellor raised expectations for Labour holding onto the seat, as well as telling Momentum activists that the party has to defeat Ukip, who are seen as the most likely challengers, because it is an ‘evil force within our society’:

WATCH 1/3 John McDonnell at Momentum curry dinner: #Ukip is "an evil force within our society"

— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) November 29, 2015

‘There are some within the party, and in the media in particular, who are trying to say "well this is the first test of Jeremy’s leadership" and hoping that in some way we would lose this by-election and then that would be a slap in face for Jeremy in first weeks and all the rest of it. ‘We’re going to demonstrate on Thursday not only that we have a brilliant candidate who won on the base of the respect within the community, but also we’ve won despite all the media abuse and all the rest of it. We’ve won despite everything that’s been thrown against Jeremy Corbyn as well.

‘This may well be, this may well be on Thursday, the start of demonstrating that we’re back after the general election as an electoral force again – that we can win elections and that we can mobilise people. And I think on Thursday we’ll get great a result. But actually, winning for Labour is important but beating Ukip is just as important as well.

'We can not allow what I think is an evil force within our society – that divides society often on the basis of race, often on the basis on some of the crudest policies that you can imagine any political party advocating. We cannot allow them to get any form  of toehold within our political system and that’s why it’s about defeating them but more importantly, defeating them — a clear contrast in terms of a sincere, local committed socialist candidate.’

McDonnell's remarks may disgruntle soft Labour voters in Oldham West and Royton, who are toying with backing Ukip on Thursday. Leaked polling in today's Sunday Telegraph suggests the race is going to be close: internal Ukip figures say the party is on 35 per cent, compared to 42 per cent for Labour. At the last election, Labour returned the seat with 55 per cent of the vote. His remarks have unsurprisingly not gone down well with Ukip, who have been attacking Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to national security. In response to McDonnell’s comments, Ukip leader Nigel Farage has told Coffee House:

‘John McDonnell is the true face of today's Labour — someone who jokes about a man who killed 45 million, a man who supported the IRA has the sheer brass neck to criticise others. It isn't Ukip, but Labour that is chasing a sectarian vote in Oldham. Economically illiterate we knew, now we can add moral illiteracy to his charge sheet. The people of Oldham from all communities, and all decent political persuasions have the opportunity on Thursday to reject his politics of division and hate by voting for John Bickley’.

During the dinner with Momentum activists — many of whom had been bused up to the seat from across the country — McDonnell also discussed the upcoming vote on Syria airstrikes and suggested it is likely to happen next week and Labour will be pushing David Cameron to give his party a free vote too:

WATCH 2/3 John McDonnell at Momentum curry dinner on Syria vote: "This last week has been a rough old week" — Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) November 29, 2015

‘When we come back together again, Cameron is likely to push the vote on Wednesday or Thursday. And when we come back together again as a Parliamentary Labour Party, Jeremy will be expressing the views of the consultation that have come on and it is highly likely that we come to that view — I don’t want to preempt anything now — it’s highly likely that we may well move towards a free vote. To be frank, we’ll also be asking David Cameron to allow his members to have a free vote as well because this is a conscience issue.’

Acknowledging that ‘last week has been a rough old week’ for Labour, McDonnell made an appeal to MPs in his party who disagree with the leadership's position:

WATCH 3/3 John McDonnell's warning for Labour MPs over Syria airstrikes: "don’t mistake democracy for division"

— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) November 29, 2015

'I’m hoping that people, particularly in the Parliamentary Labour Party, don’t mistake that for a lack of leadership or don’t mistake democracy for division. I think this is the best way forward for us all, I think it opens up the opportunity for more and more people coming towards our party...

'...the media will try to rip us apart on that basis, they will try to divide us. They’ll go to individual disgruntled MPs, who’ll be talking heads to condemn Jeremy or sow division within the party. We’ve just got to rise above that, we’ve got to rise above it to be frank. We’ve just got to be bigger than that.'

McDonnell also revealed there have been 70,000 responses so far to Corbyn's request for views on whether Labour should back bombing Syria. 'Overwhelmingly so far, the responses that we’ve had are sending a very straight forward message, which is don’t bomb Syria,' he said.