'Absolute defeatism': John McDonnell's scathing attack on Starmer's rule changes

22 September 2021, 12:02

By Tim Dodd

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell tells LBC Keir Starmer's proposals to change how the Labour leader is elected are "disastrous", "counterproductive", and "absolute defeatism" as they signal preparation for a leadership election.

It comes as Sir Keir Starmer looks set for a battle with Labour's left-wing over the plans which would see the one member, one vote system replaced with a return to the electoral college made up of the unions and affiliate organisations, MPs and party members.

Those on the left-wing see the proposals as an attempt to "de-Corbynise" the party, as they would reintroduce rules which gave MPs more say at the expense of party members.

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Theo Usherwood asked Mr McDonnell: "Why do you think Keir Starmer is doing it?"

Mr McDonnell replied: "I think there's some people around him who are advising him that this is some sort of show of strength of the leadership, he'll get publicity around that, but actually I just think it's disastrous.

"This is our first Labour party conference physically coming together, because of Covid, for the last year or two. This is the opportunity for Keir to set out the vision he has for the country.

"After this election, we could be within 18 months of a general election... Are we going to spend the first couple of days having a row, factional disputes about different elements of the rules of the Labour party? I just think it'll be a big turn off."

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On the idea that Keir Starmer's move could be to block a Jeremy Corbyn-style candidate, Mr McDonnell said "I think he's opening himself up to charges of dishonesty if he's not careful", and that such a move would "fly in the face of" everything Keir Starmer said when he was elected leader.

"I think this is not only unnecessary, it's really counterproductive," he said.

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"Why would you prepare for a leadership election?... That's absolute defeatism, what we should be doing now is focussing all our energies into holding the government to account."

"This is the wrong approach," Mr McDonnell said, as he explained that allowing no time for proper consultation on the changes opens Keir Starmer up to charges that they are "just a grubby political maneuver."

He continued: "When there is so much on the plate of ordinary working people, that's affecting their lives at the moment, why are we wasting time at the Labour Party conference on rule changes that are going to cause factional disputes?

"It won't be over in one or two days at the conference. People are very angry about this, this will spill over for the next six months."

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