John McDonnell makes friendly overtures as his boss sets out 'transformational' agenda

Written by Tom Smithard on 4 August 2016 in Diary

The shadow chancellor said he will unite behind Owen Smith if he wins the leadership contest, while Jeremy Corbyn unveiled his policies to rebuild Britain.

He has a reputation as the aggressive, menacing power behind Jeremy Corbyn’s throne – but today John McDonnell gave a masterclass performance as reasonable statesman trying to hold Labour together.

His interview with Radio 4’s Today this morning was designed to trail Corbyn’s new plan to “rebuild and transform Britain” – but it will be remembered instead for his pitch to disaffected Labour moderates.

The shadow chancellor said that Owen Smith was a “friend” said that, as a “democrat” he would unite behind whoever wins the leadership contest, not look to split the party. He said:

“I think I’ve been in Labour Party longer than Owen has lived ... I’ve given my whole life to this party. There is no way I am ever going to allow this party to split. And it won’t. I know the parliamentary Labour party. They are good people, they have the same views as me, they will not split our party because they know the responsibility is on their shoulders to support the party in tackling the problems their constituents face.”

McDonnell said that he was not in favour of deselecting MPs but instead wanted to hold the party together. But he called upon Smith to “denounce” anyone agitating for a split:

“I look upon Owen Smith as a friend and what he can do now is say simply, if Jeremy wins the election I will serve under Jeremy, denounce the people who are trying to split the party. I think that would resolve the issue once and for all.”

And McDonnell laughed away accusations he told senior Labour moderates he would be prepared to split the party ‘if that’s what it takes’ to get Corbyn re-elected, claiming he could not “recall” making the comments.

Later this morning Corbyn gave a speech in Dagenham where he unveiled wide-ranging policy that will form the basis of a Labour manifesto for government under his leadership, including £500bn of public spending.

The figure - £300bn more than that proposed by Smith last month – would support 1m new jobs, with Corbyn also proposing stronger employment rights, an end to creeping NHS privatisation and renationalisation of the rail network.

Other policies include building a million new homes, half of which would be council homes, universal public childcare and the “progressive restoration” of free university education.

Later today Corbyn and Smith will come face-to-face in the first leadership hustings, being held in Cardiff.

The two are expected to clash less about policy and more about leadership credentials in the debate, from 7pm to 9.30pm, which will be broadcast on the Labour party website.

Picture by: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire/Press Association Images

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