With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

But it is on the most important issue of a generation – Brexit – where the real fissures are appearing. Corbyn’s latent Euroscepticism is a surprise only to the most ardent supporter and it is McDonnell who is moderating the hierarchy’s quite deliberate policy of constructive ambiguity. Much like Corbyn, McDonnell’s Bennite background naturally lends itself to suspicion towards the EU and, in particular, its state aid rules which could restrict industrial policy and thereby swathes of Labour’s plans for nationalisation. But he is also serious about becoming the “first socialist Chancellor” and has warned of the consequences of the UK leaving the single market and is inching towards the endorsement of a second referendum. The latter is, of course, wildly popular amongst the party membership.

McDonnell has embarked on a transformation on par with that of the Labour Party since 2015. He has engaged in a media blitz, comfortable in front of the lens in a way Corbyn does not even pretend to be, and has engaged with a citadel – the City – in a way that his former self would surely have shuddered at. He is, in many ways what Brown was to Blair; the ideological heavy lifter, churning out policies designed to appeal to the party’s soul whilst courting support at every opportunity and increasingly indulging in triangulation between himself and his leader.

The machinations of when Gordon Brown would overthrow his then leader dominated every nuance of political coverage for over a decade. The conventional wisdom in Westminster since 2015 is that a moderate will overthrow Corbyn. But when Blair and Brown entered Parliament in 1983, they made much of their genuine friendship. They would, it was foretold, never fall out and become leadership rivals. But they did, that is politics – and some things never change.

David Talbot is a political consultant


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4 Responses to “With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair”

  1. John P Reid says:

    WTF?

  2. Tafia says:

    Labour is a busted flush now. Not only is it losing support in the polls, but research shows that if it commits either way over Brexit it will decline further. To be behind the government in mid-term is poor enough, but to be behind the most chaotic government of my lifetime (and I’m over 60) is pure comedy.

    The lunatics control the levers of power and the culling of opposition to the central politburo has already started. Even in the devolved regions the march of the Commissars is underway with for example hard-left idealogue Drakeford being the replacement for Carwyn Jones

    McDonnell is the brains and thinking behind Corbyn – who in turn is merely a wooley-minded puppet.

    McDonnell knows he as a person would be unacceptable to the electorate at large because of his history (which dwarfs Corbyn’s in extremism and general all round unpalatable nastiness – the press would have a field day).

    Sooner or later, McDonnell will tire of Corbyn and dispose of him – probably in true Lubjanka fashion ‘he fell out of the window Comrade’.

    It is those around McDonnell who should be watched. One of those is going to appear as Corbyn’s replacement – and before 2022. My money is on Rebecca Long-Bailey.

  3. Anne says:

    I like Gordon Brown – I still like to hear him speak on political subjects – talks a lot of sense – comes across as a very sincere person. Sadly, I have not taken to John McDonell in the same way. I am sure there will be great changes in both political parties in the coming year. The Tories need a clear out of all their Ministers – well really the country needs a clear out of the Tories.

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    I’m very much looking forward to a Corbyn – McDonnell Government, we’ve waited a long time for this. But here’s an article that imagines how different things could have been, though the Centrists will inevitably refuse to accept this:

    http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.com/2019/01/in-alternative-universe-ed-miliband-is.html?m=1

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