John McDonnell: Labour's 'mixed' fortunes will improve as public sees more of Corbyn
John McDonnell has described Labour’s local election performance as “mixed” and said more voters would be won over if they get to know Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour is down more than 100 seats so far, has lost majorities on three Welsh councils, and has been replaced by the Conservatives as the largest party on Cumbria council.
One councillor who lost his seat said people had told him that Mr Corbyn was “putting them off voting Labour”.
But Shadow Chancellor Mr McDonnell remained staunchly behind his ally – and said further exposure throughout the general election campaign would help people warm to the party.
“It has been tough, there’s no doubt about that, but it hasn’t been the wipe-out that some people predicted or the polls predicted... In areas it’s quite mixed,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m not underestimating the challenge that we face right the way across the country. But what I’m saying is, to try to be as objective as I possibly can, it isn’t the wipeout that many predicted, it is much better.”
He argued that Labour hanging on in Cardiff was proof that Mr Corbyn, who recently visited the area, was a hit with voters.
“What’s interesting about this is when we have a general election we get balanced airtime in the broadcast media. As a result of that, people can hear more about our policies and also more about our candidates and more about our leader...
“[The more they see,] I think the more they can make a fair judgement. And what we’re finding is what comes across is people like the policies and then they see Jeremy Corbyn is honest, decent but also principled and that’s the sort of leader many of them want, so the more airtime we get, the better.”
Philip Johnson, who lost his place on Warwickshire Council and is standing for Labour in the general election bellwether of Nuneaton, had said overnight that Mr Corbyn was not “coming across well with the public”.
Mr McDonnell blamed the media for this perception.
“I can understand Phil’s disappointment in that,” he continued.
“What he said was our policies are popular but at the moment people are finding is that the image that people have of Jeremy Corbyn in some instances is not lending them to vote Labour.
“What I’m saying is the unbalanced media reporting of Jeremy Corbyn for the last two years virtually has actually, I think, given a distorted view of what he is. I think the more people see of him, the more opportunity they get to think ‘this is the leader I want’.
“This is the difference between our two campaigns because the more he’s toured around, open meetings, meeting the general public the more people get to know of him and I think that demonstrates the support.”
Conservative minister Brandon Lewis pointed out that another are visited by the Mr Corbyn during the election trail, Harlow in Essex, had just ousted its Labour councillors in favour of the Tories.
“We’ve seen the outcome of his campaigning in Harlow: they’ve lost all their seats there,” he said.