John McDonnell urges Labour MPs to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn after 'not unexpected' defeat in Copeland
John McDonnell has called on Labour MPs to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn as he blamed a range of factors for the party's shock defeat in Copeland.
The Shadow Chancellor issued a list of reasons for the loss - the first time a governing party has taken a seat off the opposition in a by-election since 1982.
He said there were "unique circumstances" in the Cumbria seat, and admitted Labour had failed to make clear its support for a new nuclear power station in the area.
But he also said the aftermath of the Brexit vote, last year's Labour leadership election, and recent criticisms by Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson had also contributed to the loss.
"There's really unique circumstances in Copeland, the Labour vote has been eroding over a number of elections now but this issue about the future of nuclear industry clearly dominated that election campaign,"he told BBC News.
"Although we campaigned very hard on the NHS and although we gave the community assurances about the future of nuclear in their area, a lot of the disinformation, misinformation put out by the Conservatives meant we couldn't convince people about that. Yes, I'm disappointed but it's not unexpected given the unique circumstances in Copeland itself."
He insisted the defeat did not bring Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the party into question and urged colleagues to rally round him.
“It’s not a matter of hanging on. The situation is this: you learn lessons from these things and one of the lessons you learn is people will not vote for a divided party. The last 18 months, 20 months, we’ve been involved in two leadership elections so understandably in a leadership election those divisions will come out," Mr McDonnell told ITV News.
"What’s interesting is that the overwhelming majority of the party is saying ‘unite’. We can’t have a situation like we did last week where Tony Blair comes out and attacks his own party, Peter Mandelson as well. So we’re saying to those people… unite because people will then see the real Labour party campaigning and we’ll win back places like Copeland.”
But a Labour MP told PoliticsHome that Mr Corbyn was directly responsible for the party's poor performance.
"Claims disunity was responsible for this are utter garbage - what came up on the doorstep again and again was Corbyn and hard leftism, not disunity.
"How long will [Unite leader] Len McCluskey and others keep avoiding blame and making excuses?"
The Labour MP for neighbouring Barrow-in-Furness, John Woodcock, said the result could herald a "historic" defeat for his party.
He told the Today programme: "The result...in Copeland is a disaster for us, we should not try to insult people's intelligence by suggesting it was anything other than that. This was a campaign where we had an absolutely solid NHS issue, that really cut through on the doorstep, the future of the local maternity unit and A&E was very much on people's minds and itt was a classic by-election issue which could unite the community, but we failed to do that,
"We are not on course to victory, we're actually on course to an historic and catastrophic defeat and that will have very serous consequences for all the communities we represent and the causes the Labour party stand for."