Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The case for nominating John McDonnell

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.


At 7:48 pm , Blogger Jack said...

Great post. I lived in John's constituency for three years, and never heard a bad word said against him. I really hope he's given the opportunity to stand, as you say, it would be Labour's loss if he isn't!

At 10:58 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

Good post. All those MPs who said it's a shame Cruddas isn't standing because the debate needed his voice have really no excuse for not nominating McDonnell. The 2007 debacle showed that shirking a real contest with different points of view debated does more harm to the party than allowing a candidate who might embarrass the eventual winner once or twice during the contest.


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