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Tue, 22 September 2020

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John McDonnell says 'catastrophic' election defeat is 'on me' - but hits out at media 'smears'

John McDonnell says 'catastrophic' election defeat is 'on me' - but hits out at media 'smears'
4 min read

John McDonnell has taken personal blame for Labour's "catastrophic" election defeat - but accused the media of having "demonised" Jeremy Corbyn for years.


The Shadow Chancellor - who has made clear that he will quit the Shadow Cabinet once a new leader is in place in the new year - said he took responsibility for the result "full stop".

But he also turned his fire on the "media portrayal" of Jeremy Corbyn during the campaign, saying the leader had been subjected to "every smear" possible as he battled Boris Johnson.

Labour lost more than 50 seats on Thursday night, taking the party to is worst election result since 1935.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr, Mr McDonnell, a longstanding ally of Mr Corbyn, said the night had been "catastrophic" for Labour.

He added: "Let me make it clear... It's on me.

"It's on me. Let's take it on the chin. I own this disaster. So I apologise not just to all those wonderful Labour MPs who've lost their seats who worked so hard, I apologise to all our campaigners, but most of all I apologise to those people who desperately need a Labour government.

"And yes, if anyone's to blame, it is me - full stop."

The Shadow Chancellor said Labour had been "hammered" because of its stance on Brexit, which saw the party vow to hold a second referendum on the issue after negotiating an improved deal.

Acknowledging that Labour had been caught on the "horns of a dilemma" over the issue, Mr McDonnell said: "If we campaigned for Remain we would lose Leave voters.

"If we campaigned solely for Leave we'd lose Remain. Either way: we were going to be hammered. But what we tried to do is bring both sides together and we failed. It just: the tactic, the strategy, whatever you call it, didn't work."

But the Labour frontbencher also hit out at the treatment of Mr Corbyn by the press, saying the media "did a number on Jeremy for four years solid, every day".

He said: "Every attack, every smear was going on. And they transposed someone who I know is a man of honesty and principle into someone demonised in a way no other politician on this scale has been done before. And I deeply regret that."

'PROVEN LIAR'

Continuing his attack on the media, Mr McDonnell contrasted the treatment of the Labour leader with the scrutiny faced by Boris Johnson in the run-up to Thursday's vote.

"Here we have Boris Johnson who is a proven liar, who has been sacked from a couple of jobs for lying and yet contrast that with someone who is known for his honesty and principle.

"So why did people vote for one and not the other? I actually think it was largely the media portrayal. And I find in this whole discussion for the future we need to examine the nature of our politics."

Mr McDonnell urged Labour to have an "open discussion" about the role of the media as it came to terms with the scale of the election defeat, warning that other Labour leaders including Ed Miliband and Neil Kinnock had faced the same treatment.

"I think it's anyone who challenges the establishment [who] will be portrayed in this way. Why? Because the establishment own the media in this country.

"However, that doesn't mean that mistakes weren't made. And I'm sure that there's elements of my politics and my character that could be taken apart. I accept that.

"But I think if you look at anyone whose challenged the system, of course the system will through the kitchen sink at you and that's what happened."

The Shadow Chancellor apologised to supporters for the way Labour had, he said, failed "to articulate during the campaign how we could get through the Brexit dilemma" and said there may be questions to answer over the "communication of our politics".

"But also I think too not recognising that actually the scale of the attack that would come at us," he added.

"But you know, this is politics. These are campaigns. And those people who are leading these campaigns, you have to take responsibility. And I do."

Former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, who frequently clashed with allies of Mr Corbyn during his time in office, reacted to the interview by saying everyone in the party's top team needed to share the blame for the defeat.

"John is one of the most enigmatic characters I ever worked with," he said.

"We rowed but I admired his intellect and work ethic, which made him the stand out figure in his faction. The defeat is not ‘on him’ though. It is shared with the shadow cabinet and NEC, who supported the manifesto."

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