GRENFELL TOWER, spiralling inequality, the public sector pay freeze, and a laughingly incompetent start to the Brexit negotiations: the conditions could not be more ideal for a Labour surge at the impending general election. And yet, Jeremy Corbyn and his party are yet to prove themselves as the credible government-in-waiting they are touted as. According to the polls, they’re still not quite able to convincingly leap ahead of the Tories. This is in part thanks to the Shadow Cabinet members they have presenting their manifesto on radio and television, many of whom are fresh-faced, untested, or simply incompetent.
The worst of these is Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Corbyn’s loyal ally is a deeply unpleasant man: an ideological purist, a Marxist bully, and a would-be violent revolutionary, McDonnell represents everything bad about Jeremy Corbyn’s new ‘hard-left’ Labour Party. Together with his co-belligerents in Momentum, he has helped to create a culture in which abuse is tolerated – if not actively encouraged – particularly towards women and Jewish people, so long as they are deemed insufficiently loyal or ideologically impure. Under his guidance, MPs such as Luciana Berger, Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna have been targeted, with ‘Red Tory’ and ‘Blairite’ among their favoured slurs.
McDonnell himself isn’t innocent of abuse. In 2015, he allegedly joked that Labour supporters in Wirral West should ‘lynch the bitch’, in reference to then-lolca MP Esther McVey. McDonnell’s Momentum protégés have evidently not been vetted for abusive views either: Jared O’Mara, the new MP for Sheffield Hallam was once a member of a band whose delightful lyrics included such lines as ‘I wish I were a misogynist/I’d smash her in her face,’ and was recently accused of calling a woman ‘ugly bitch’ outside a local nightclub. Although both naturally deny these claims, they nevertheless highlight a culture of sexist abuse that has been enabled by McDonnell and his allies.
His political views, too, raise concerns. McDonnell did himself no favours when he took Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book into a parliamentary confrontation with George Osborne. For the public, this hilarious stunt only served to cement his well-documented Marxist leanings. According to the Shadow Chancellor, we have ‘a lot to learn’ from Das Kapital. True or not, it hardly seems appropriate in 21st-century British political discourse, particularly with a public that felt that Ed Miliband took too sharp a move leftwards. Indeed, John McDonnell makes Miliband look conservative by comparison: in 2011, he tacitly approved of a Marxist pamphlet calling for an armed working class revolution; in his foreword to the publication he called for ‘a climate of resistance’ against the coalition government.
John McDonnell, like Jeremy Corbyn, has been unwavering in his sympathy for Irish Republicans.
Most people aren’t interested in Marxism from a philosophical or economic perspective, so John McDonnell’s regular appeals to far-left revolutionary rhetoric are, at best, out of place and inappropriate, especially in the aftermath of Grenfell Tower, when McDonnell echoed Friedrich Engels by labelling the disaster ‘social murder’. Does John McDonnell want a revolution? I don’t know, and frankly it doesn’t matter. His willingness to flirt with a dangerous ideology utterly out of step with the majority of the British public is a threat not only to Labour’s electoral success, but to ordinary members and voters with no desire to involve themselves in a left-wing ideological battle.
McDonnell, like Jeremy Corbyn, has been unwavering in his sympathy for Irish Republicans. The Shadow Chancellor, though, has taken this one step further than his leader’s simple naivety. He actively opposed the peace process, telling the IRA’s newspaper that ‘[a]n assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years[…] the settlement must be for a united Ireland.’ Even as recently as 2003, he said ‘[i]t’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle.’ Unlike Corbyn there is no equivocation and no obfuscation: McDonnell is an unapologetic sympathiser with armed terrorism. This support has come with his typically belligerent language: in 1988 he allegedly referred to Labour councillors boycotting a meeting with the political wing of the IRA in Lewisham as ‘gutless wimps’, adding that ‘kneecapping might help change their mind.’
It should be quite clear at this point that John McDonnell is a thoroughly menacing individual. His support for the IRA cannot be explained away as Corbyn’s can, and his far-left political viewpoints should turn off all but the most radical of Brits. It is no surprise, therefore, that his net personal approval is, according to YouGov, a rather dismal -25. This pales in comparison to the Boris Johnsons of this world, suggesting that even someone as unpleasant as McDonnell is sheltered by the cult of Corbyn. If Labour are to present themselves as an electable alternative, however, McDonnell must be the first to go. Without McDonnell, the Labour frontbench would suddenly become much more palatable, much more credible, and – honestly – much less dangerous. The question is, can Corbyn bear to part with someone so loyal and ideologically reliable as his Shadow Chancellor?