The case for nominating John McDonnell as Labour leader


7:36 pm - May 18th 2010

by Don Paskini    


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John McDonnell represents a constituency which was Tory from 1983 to 1997. One of Labour’s key policies was massively unpopular in his constituency, involving hundreds of people losing their homes and the rest suffering a reduced quality of life.

Yet the Labour vote increased by more than 4,000 votes between 2005 and 2010, and he was re-elected with a majority of more than 10,000.

His campaign mobilised large numbers of volunteers, including many who weren’t members of the Labour Party.

He has a large personal vote in his constituency, and I’ve met people from other, neighbouring constituencies who have been helped by him when their own MP didn’t want to know.

His dad was a bus driver, he left school at 17, and after doing a variety of unskilled, low paid jobs, he helped run a care home for children before going into politics. His approach to local community campaigning is similar to the one which senior Labour ministers such as Liam Byrne are now calling for.

I don’t think that John McDonnell will be the next Labour leader. But I think Labour has got a lot to learn from him, and I hope that he gets enough nominations to be able to stand.

The evidence shows that he is an outstanding constituency MP, and if every Labour MP elected in 1997 had been as assiduous, Labour would probably still be in government. Since Labour is currently reviewing how it needs to change, it would be very interesting to see how the public react to McDonnell and the policies that he supports – I would guess that some of what he says would be very popular, and other bits less so.

There are ancillary benefits as well. McDonnell is an excellent debater and is an opponent of the Iraq war from a working-class family. He is transparently not part of the political elite, and has a strong populist message. It would be interesting to see how the Milibands and Ed Balls would do in debates against him, and it would get them out of their comfort zone.

A similar exercise in 2007 would have highlighted Gordon Brown’s weaknesses as a campaigner, rather than Labour getting to discover these after appointing him. Labour’s membership would increase, as well, as people who agree with McDonnell would join up to take part, including some of the millions who voted Labour in 1997 but stopped voting for us by 2010.

It would be good see a leadership contest which showcases the wide range of strengths, opinions and talents across the Labour Party.

It would be good for the choice to include, for example, a Eurosceptic West Midlands MP like Gisela Stuart, and a leftie feminist like Emily Thornberry, both of whom have good grassroots and campaigning experience and an ability to reach out and broaden Labour’s support.

But at the very least, since John is willing to stand, I hope he is able to do so. It will be Labour’s loss if he doesn’t.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Reader comments


If John was to become leader he would, I feel, shake the party up no end. He is, to me, the only candidate should he run, who would be worthwhile as leader, and it would mean that the final push for the death of the New Labour project would have begun.

I hope that MPs can see the benefits of having John as leader – though I feel hat they will be blinded by the PR that will follow the Miliband brothers.

2. Nick Cohen is a Tory

Also John is not the, mad leftie that the right wing press likes to portray him. his only crime seems to wonder about Labour’s direction.
Also I would like to Gisella Stuart, Caroline Flint and David Lammy to at least put their hats into the ring.

Shame about John Cruddas and Alan Johnson

Gisela Stuart has also built a personal vote. Had this been otherwise, she would have lost her seat this time.

She is also *genuinely* Eurosceptic, by which I mean that she questions some of what is done within the EU, but is in “show me” mode. Compare that with the screaming Europhobia of “Kamikaze” Carswell and his pal Dan, Dan the Oratory Man.

I doubt that she would want to run for leader, but the input of MPs like her, who have built a personal following, may be more than useful to Labour.

Michael Foot 2010?

I like Emily Thornberry, she is a great idea for a potential candidate.

Though my feeling is that because of the nature of nominations – not enough MPs are going to nominate her in the worry it may lose them favour with the eventual winners.

I don’t think John McDonnell has any hope of becoming PM. I think he’s a fantastic Labour MP but he’s far too left of the country. His job is to hold the party’s people to account.

I don’t think John McDonnell has any hope of becoming PM. I think he’s a fantastic Labour MP but he’s far too left of the country. His job is to hold the party’s people to account.

Spot-on. Which is why I haven’t quite warmed up to the idea of McDonnell as candidate. I think Cruddas would have been the perfect one.
Any way of getting him to change his mind, Sunny? :-)

I would like there to be somebody who wasn’t in the government and from somewhere broadly from the left in the campaign, for some of the reasons given in the post.

Although there was no election in 2007, which was a mistake, we did put on a Gordon Brown v John McDonnell v Michael Meacher public “hustings” debate on the Sunday night just before the nominations opened (and closed).

For those interested in how McDonnell would debate, this is the transcript!
http://www.fabians.org.uk/events/speeches/brown-tells-fabians-of-future-plans

That was the closest we got to a contest.

Yes. To all those saying McDonnell shouldn’t be leader because he’s too left-wing – that’s not what we’re talking about at this stage. We talking about getting someone nominated who can credibly talk about ditching PFI, adopting different approaches to immigration, civil liberties etc during the debate. Without McDonnell being nominated that won’t happen.

Having heard him speak on numerous occasions, I have to say he has a populist edge and knows how to play to audiences that aren’t far-left. He would surprise quite a few people if he got into the voting stage of the contest. But the important thing is to get him there so he can widen the debate.

2007 did us no favours, and if I was a potential leadership candidate I’d even think about asking some of my supporters to nominate McDonnell regardless of whether they then voted for him, to make sure I was viewed as having been elected properly in a contest where all sections of the party had been included.

Someone else had better stand, otherwise it’s three Oxford PPE graduates competing with each other.

Not good news for the “toff” line of attack.

“”It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA.”
“http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2003/may/30/northernireland.devolution

Yes, this is the man to lead Labour to victory crushing defeat

It’s a sad indictment of the Labour party that the next leader is more than likely to be either one of the Miliband brothers, or Ed Balls. It’s not just the dearth of talent, or of passion, or of charisma, that is to be lamented either – it’s the vision thing isn’t it?

None of the front runners has articulated a coherent vision for a progressive centre-left party. Why not I wonder? It’s not as if they probably hadn’t seen this day coming surely? I don’t the buy the “it’s too early, we need a period of introspection” argument either.

I’m not a party member, and not likely to be short of a clear out of Augean proportions, but I can honestly say I don’t envy those of you who are. So much expectation; so little prospect of the inspirational leadership the party needs.

@2 Nick

“Shame about John Cruddas and Alan Johnson”

Alan Johnson… really? You think? Someone who has “caretaker leader” stamped through him like a stick of rock, fit to take on a joke Mayor like Boris perhaps.. but fit to lead the Labour party..?

The Johnson’s of this world are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If I’d heard a more convincing “mea culpa” for the nauseating New Labour experiment from Johnson and his ilk, I might be more convinced, and yest wasn’t it Johnson I saw on the news last night continuing to promote New Labour policies? Have they no shame… or just no common sense?

Will all those white male Labourites who bleated about the “shocking lack of diversity” in the Coalition Government, now swing behind Diane Abbott’s candidacy?

Galen10,
can you e-mail me, please?

Interesting post. In 1992, John McDonnell lost the Hayes & Harlington seat by 54 votes. He immediately set up an office in Hayes town centre, at his own cost, and set about a grassroots campaign for the next election. In 1997 he turned the constituency back into a safe Labour seat with an astonishing 14 per cent swing. He’s maintained it by being a diligent and hardworking local MP (he’s helped my mum, who still lives there).
The thing is that a lot of the leftwing policies that once seemed quite extreme — on banking control, nationalisation of rail, militant opposition to PPP — actually sound quite reasonable now. And he’s certainly not a frothing-at-the-mouth extremist, he’s an entirely reasonable and plausible speaker.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. leebo

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  3. NORBET

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  4. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @libcon: The case for nominating John McDonnell as Labour leader http://bit.ly/9yFddP >I'd like to see McDonnell in the debate!

  5. Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » The case for nominating John McDonnell as Labour leader -- Topsy.com

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  6. Duncan Hall

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/18/the-case-for-nominating-john-mcdonnell-as-labour-leader/

  7. Duncan Hall

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/18/the-case-for-nominating-john-mcdonnell-as-labour-leader/

  8. earwicga

    RT @libcon http://bit.ly/aaw0Fg

  9. Joshua Fenton-Glynn

    THe case for nominating #john4leader http://bit.ly/ay2SQG lets have a debate, he won't and shouldn't win but he'd give us a debate

  10. Michaeljon

    @asboaaron i really hope so. The more i hear about John McDonnell the more i think he really needs to stand too. http://ow.ly/1N4Lf

  11. » Getting John McDonnell nominated for Labour leadership: we need your help | Liberal Conspiracy

    [...] we need your help by Sunny H     May 19, 2010 at 9:00 am Yesterday Don Paskini made a convincing case for Labour MP John McDonnell to be nominated for Labour leadership [...]

  12. violet

    The case for nominating John McDonnell (via @libcon) http://bit.ly/9yFddP #johnmcdonnell

  13. The McDonnell supremacy « Though Cowards Flinch

    [...] I never will, but I’ve no reason to doubt that the reports about his political integrity, his excellence as a proper campaigner, and his ‘leadership qualities’ are anything other than reliable.  The people doing the [...]

  14. Jon & John « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush

    [...] I am tempted to agree with Don Paskini’s argument that John McDonnell should be nominated for the [...]

  15. SOCIALIST UNITY » THE McDONNELL SUPREMACY

    [...] I never will, but I’ve no reason to doubt that the reports about his political integrity, his excellence as a proper campaigner, and his ‘leadership qualities’ are anything other than reliable.  The people doing the [...]

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    [...] At Liberal Conspiracy yesterday Don Paskini wrote a post saying he hoped that McDonnell would be on the ballot. His dad was a bus driver, he left school at 17, and after doing a variety of unskilled, low paid [...]





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