Battle for Labour leadership starts as John McDonnell apologises

16 December 2019, 08:17

John McDonnell has apologised over Labour's election loss
John McDonnell has apologised over Labour's election loss. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

As the battle to succeed Jeremy Corbyn gets underway Labour's John McDonnell has apologised for the party's catastrophic election defeat.

The Shadow Chancellor said he owned "this disaster" after the party suffered its worst election defeat since 1935, losing 59 of their seats.

The Conservative Party took a Commons majority of 80 in Thursday's general election, the Tories biggest election win for 30 years, taking victory in many of Labour's in traditional heartlands.

The Labour leader wrote an open letter to the Mirror on Sunday newspaper, Mr Corbyn said: "I will make no bones about it. The result was a body blow for everyone who so desperately needs real change in our country.

"I'm sorry that we came up short and I take my responsibility for it."

But Mr Corbyn insisted he remained "proud" of the party's campaign, and that it had offered a message of "hope" in the election.

Who could be the next Labour leader?

Labour's John McDonnell has apologised following the General Election result
Labour's John McDonnell has apologised following the General Election result. Picture: PA

Mr McDonnell said "if anyone's to blame, it's me, full stop", but also cited Brexit and the media for having "demonised" the Labour leader ahead of the dismal defeat.

Mr Corbyn's key ally joined the leader in apologising on Sunday as the post-mortem examination was in full swing, with potential candidates to replace the leader setting out their stalls.

Key figures in the current leadership were tipping shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, but backbenchers Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips were testing the waters for a challenge.

Labour's general secretary Jennie Formby reportedly wrote to the party's ruling National Executive Committee recommending the contest starts on January 7, with the view of having a new leader by the end of March.

Mr McDonnell followed the outgoing leader in apologising for losing dozens of seats across the North and the Midlands to the Tories on Thursday, which saw Labour's worst result since 1935.

"It's on me, let's take it on the chin, I own this disaster so I apologise to all those wonderful Labour MPs who have lost their seats and who worked so hard," Mr McDonnell told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.

But he also said he does "blame the media" which he said "demonised" Mr Corbyn "for four years solid, every day".

The process to replace the Labour leader should be complete by the end of March
The process to replace the Labour leader should be complete by the end of March. Picture: PA

He predicted the leadership change will take place in eight to 10 weeks, tipping Ms Long-Bailey as having the ability to be "a brilliant leader".

Mr McDonnell also praised shadow cabinet ministers Angela Rayner, Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon, who himself was backing Ms Long-Bailey and said he is "considering" running as her deputy.

The shadow chancellor said he "prefers others" to Ms Phillips, before describing her as "really talented".

He said the next leader should be a woman - which would make her the first to lead the party - and said it was "most probably time for a non-metropolitan" candidate as he said "we need a northern voice".

Ms Phillips wrote a column in The Observer newspaper which was being seen as a potential pitch for a leadership challenge, though she is yet to throw her hat into the ring.

The MP for Birmingham Yardley, a Leave-backing constituency, said Labour was facing an "existential problem" that working-class voters do not believe the party is "better than the Tories".

"It's time to try something different," she wrote. "The truth is, there are corners of our party that have become too intolerant of challenge and debate."

Labour former minister Caroline Flint, who lost her seat in the former stronghold of Don Valley, said Mr Corbyn was not taking enough personal responsibility for the defeat.