John McDonnell goes softly into lunch with Westminster lobby journalists

Written by David Singleton on 17 October 2018 in Diary

Jeremy Corbyn's right-hand man was even nice to one of the leader's most strident critics.

"The shadow chancellor’s tone has become more emollient,” wrote Matthew Parris in the wake of John McDonnell’s Labour conference speech last month.

He noted that McDonnell went out of his way to praise British business enterprise in his Liverpool and that he has also been happily engaging with big business in recent months. "I’ve noticed a mellowing of his tone, even his body language, even his body language, in the year since I watched him exude an air of bored insouciance at an event with the CBI’s director-general,” wrote Parris. 

And the softening of the shadow chancellor doesn’t stop there. For his next act, McDonnell has been feasting in parliament with lobby journalists - aka the dreaded MSM.

How did this happen? As he spoke to the press gallery over lunch today, McDonnell revealed that his local parish priest was behind the charm offensive: "He persuaded me to do this. He said you need to soften your image. So do Mumsnet and do this…. I’m trying to soften my image."

Quizzed repeatedly on Brexit, McDonnell told hacks that if there is no general election after a vote on the Brexit deal “there might well be a People’s Vote of some sort”. But the then refused to say if it would be in the Labour manifesto.

More controversially, he also told the press gallery: “I long for a united Ireland, but I recognise democracy.”

But perhaps the most shocking moment came when the shadow chancellor heaped praise on the work of one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most fierce opponents. 

He said: “We will not allow the government to inflict on our country something that will undermines jobs and the economy. And a fudge will do that just as much as a bad deal. Therefore the strong view is that we’ve got to press for a general election….

“I think that vast majority of Labour MPs are in that position. You saw Chris Leslie’s article in the Standard the other day which I thought was excellent, a really good article.”

But there are limits to the shadow chancellor’s new drive to win friends and influence people, it seems. After reminiscing about Labour’s performance in the 2015 election, McDonnell could not avoid a dig at his hosts. 

"Sometimes it's best not to remind journalists what they've written," he jibed.





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