John McDonnell: Jeremy Corbyn's relaunch was 'pretty good'

Posted On: 
15th January 2017

John McDonnell has said Jeremy Corbyn’s relaunch formed the centrepiece of a “pretty good” week for Labour. 

Jeremy Corbyn making his speech on Brexit on Tuesday
Credit: 
PA Images

Mr Corbyn made a speech on Tuesday defining the party’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, but the day was overshadowed by confusion over his position on free movement and his comments about introducing a cap on top pay.

Briefed extracts had said Mr Corbyn would announce that Labour is “not wedded” to the principle of free movement but – after saying he did not think immigration was too high and would not stop anybody from coming to the UK – the Labour leader’s final message was refined to: “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”

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Confusion over Jeremy Corbyn's free movement stance

Mr Corbyn himself admitted today that that line would not be featuring on a Labour poster, while the Shadow Foreign Secretary said the party would not “die in a ditch” to support free movement.

Despite the confusion, Mr McDonnell said the relaunch had been a success.

“I thought this week was pretty good,” the Shadow Chancellor told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme.

“On the issues that we wanted to get across on the day, the issue around pay was raised and he answered honestly in the authentic way he always does. That dominated the media for two days and we drew people into a debate that they’d never had before – well, certainly not for a long time – and we drew them in on our own terms as well.

“We opened up the discussion around free movement and our relationship with Europe. That discussion will go on and I think it will be incredibly creative.”

'WE ARE NOT GOING TO DIE IN A DITCH FOR FREE MOVEMENT'

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was asked on ITV’s Peston on Sunday to provide clarity on Labour’s immigration message.

She said: “We are not going to die in a ditch for the sake of freedom of movement...

“It’s up to negotiation, but Labour’s principle has always been that the economy is the most important thing. The first priority of any government is the safety and security of its citizens, and the second most important priority is the economy.”

Asked whether Labour wanted more control over who comes into the UK, she said: “We’ve always been in favour of fair rules, and properly managed migration. That’s always been Labour’s policy. So of course we’re likely to have a new policy on migration if we leave the European Union.”

THORNBERRY ‘NOT FUSSED’ BY HUNT QUITTING

The week also saw Tristram Hunt announce he was quitting as a Labour MP to take up a role at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

But Ms Thornberry brushed off the importance of the former Shadow Cabinet member’s departure.

She said: “I personally think that being a Member of Parliament is the best possible job in the whole world. It’s such an honour, it’s hard work, but it is such an honour. Tristram has made another choice, it’s up to him, I’m not really fussed.”

Mr Hunt’s Stoke-on-Trent Central seat is one of two upcoming parliamentary by-elections where Labour is looking to see off challenges from the Conservatives and Ukip.

National opinion polls also show the Opposition trailing the Tories by a significant margin, but both Mr McDonnell and Ms Thornberry said today that the polls would turn before the next general election.

“It’s not going to be the situation before the next election,” he said, while Ms Thornberry added that Theresa May was still enjoying a “honeymoon period”.

‘AN OPPORTUNITY, NOT A PROBLEM’

Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, said he was looking forward to the two upcoming by-elections – and denied that his job was on the line.

“No [I am not finished if Labour loses the by-elections],” he told the Andrew Marr Show.  

“Our party is going to fight very hard in those elections, as we are in the local elections...

“You’re making the assumption that everything is a problem; it’s an opportunity: it’s an opportunity to challenge the Government on the NHS, it’s an opportunity to challenge them on the chaos of Brexit, it’s an opportunity to challenge them on the housing shortage, it’s an opportunity to challenge them on zero-hours contract. That’s what we’re going to be doing.”

The Conservatives have said today’s interviews show that Labour will not “deliver the will of the people” to bring down immigration.

Tory MP Nus Ghani said: “Labour don't want to get control of our borders and are completely out of touch with ordinary working people. They do not speak for the concerns and aspirations of people in our country.

“Only the Conservative party can be trusted to get control of immigration and deliver the will of the people by making a success of leaving the EU.”