Ken Livingstone anti-Semitism row has ‘set Labour back’, says John McDonnell
Labour has been “set back” in this week's elections by Ken Livingstone’s controversial remarks on anti-Semitism, John McDonnell has said.
Mr Livingstone, the former mayor of London, stoked fury among Labour MPs by claiming Hitler had supported Zionism in the 1930 "before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".
He spoke out as he denied Labour MP Naz Shah - who has been suspended from the party over Facebook posts suggesting Israel should be "relocated" to America - was anti-Semitic.
Mr Livingstone, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, was later suspended by the party pending an investigation.
Mr McDonnell, who last weekend criticised Mr Livingstone for failing to apologise for his comments, said the ensuing fallout had a detrimental impact on Labour ahead of today’s UK-wide elections.
“I regret it happened, I made it very, very clear very early on that Ken Livingstone was wrong, he should have apologised and it has set us back, there’s no doubt about that,” the Shadow Chancellor told the BBC.
“In terms of how it’s been handled, every individual case that’s been referred to us has been dealt with promptly within 24 hours.
“Ken Livingstone was suspended within three hours and we set up this inquiry, which will ensure that we have clear direction for the future and we’ll come out of this stronger, and we’ll come out of this with the credentials of the party that I thought I joined, which is an anti-racist party… So I think at the end of it we’ll be stronger.”
It comes after Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the party’s row over anti-Semitism has damaged its electoral chances north of the border.
Ms Dugdale said it had "unquestionably had an effect" in the run-up to today's Holyrood elections.
Prior to his suspension, Mr Livingstone was involved with an angry confrontation with Labour MP John Mann as broadcasters looked on.
Mr Mann was later reprimanded for his involvement in the exchange, in which he referred to his Labour colleague as a "Nazi apologist".
Speaking earlier this evening, Mr McDonnell also sought to set expectations regarding Labour’s performance in elections across the UK.
He urged Labour supporters to “judge us on the coming four years”, not on May’s elections.
The Shadow Chancellor told Sky News: “The response on the doorstep was pretty good. Turnouts might be better than you think, that’s the feeling I get. We were seven points behind the Tories literally only 12 months ago in the general election. If we can narrow that gap, which I think we will, we’ll demonstrate steady progress.
"We’ve got four years before the next general election, I think what we’ll do is move steadily towards victory in 2020. Narrowing that gap, that lead they had over us when we lost that election 12 months ago, that would be one of our objectives.”