John McDonnell: No doubt anti-Semitism row hurt Labour in Barnet
John McDonnell has acknowledged that the row over anti-Semitism in Labour undermined its bid to seize a key London target seat at the local elections.
While Labour enjoyed its best night in the capital since 1971, it missed out on several target seats including Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet.
Barnet has the highest proportion of Jewish residents of any borough in Britain, and the Tories took control of the council - previously under no overall control - after gaining five seats from Labour and one from the Liberal Democrats.
The leader of Barnet’s Labour group pinned the blame for the result on the ongoing storm over anti-Semitism in Labour, saying the party now had a “moral responsibility” to act and calling on Mr McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn to personally apologise to councillors who had lost their seats.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, the Shadow Chancellor revealed that he would be meeting Barnet councillors to discuss the problem next week – and he acknowledged: “Anti-Semitism certainly had its effect - there's no doubt about it - in Barnet itself.”
Mr McDonnell expressed hope that measures set out by Labour to tackle anti-Semitic abuse would help clamp down on the problem, reiterating that Mr Corbyn had ordered the party’s new general secretary Jennie Formby to make it her “first priority”.
“When we meet the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council again in July I'm hoping we will be able to demonstrate to them really positive progress,” he said.
The Shadow Chancellor also sought to turn the tables on the Conservatives over discrimination, after the party came in for a barrage of criticism for reinstating a Pendle councillor suspended for sharing a racist joke.
The move allowed the Tories to take control of the council. Mr McDonnell urged Theresa May to reverse the decision and said Tory chairman Brandon Lewis should apologise for congratulating Pendle activists.
"We can’t tolerate racism in any party," he said. "You mentioned Pendle, I’m going to Pendle today. To have the Conservative Party take control of the council by reinstating a councillor who used the foulest racist joke is unacceptable.
"I want Theresa May to say now to Brandon Lewis, who congratulated those councillors, first of all to apologise and suspend that councillor again. It’s unacceptable.”
'2017 NO FLUKE'
Elsewhere in his Marr interview, the Shadow Chancellor said the party’s local election performance proved that last year’s general election result – where Labour scooped up 40% of the vote to deprive Theresa May of her majority – had not been a “fluke”.
“We demonstrated it wasn't and we've consolidated that and we've moved it forward in terms of percentage share of the vote, which was really helpful," he said.
“The intensity of our campaigning on the ground in local elections has demonstrated that we can deliver the vote.”
The Shadow Chancellor acknowledged that the party still had work to do in “left behind” areas, accepting that Labour had seen a “mixed” performance in smaller English towns outside the big cities.
“This isn't just party political any more - people that feel that their economy, particularly blighted by austerity, has left them behind. That’s our work now.”
But Mr McDonnell’s upbeat message on the local election results put him at odds with former home secretary Lord Blunkett, who this morning accused the party of putting in a “dismal” performance and failing to capitalise on Conservative disarray.
The Labour grandee argued: "The party I have worked for all my life catastrophically failed to win targets such as Barnet, where voters, at least in part, turned away from Labour in droves because of the anti-Semitism furore.
"Outside London the picture was worse, with disastrous performances in Dudley, Derby and elsewhere."
Labour ended the night with a net gain of 77 councillors, while the Conservatives fell back by 33. The Lib Dems gained 75 overall.