John McDonnell: The man behind the mask

John McDonnell's promise of a "listening exercise" will ring hollow for MPs who have gone to him requesting action on abuse and antisemitism.

John McDonnell has a habit of losing the support of even his closest friends.

At the GLC his alliance with Ken Livingstone ended in a spectacular fall out when McDonnell was sacked as finance chief for refusing to follow group policy.

Late last year there were signs of a similar fall out between McDonnell and Corbyn’s camp brewing – though the Shadow Chancellor plainly decided he was risking too much and pulled back from an open confrontation.

Inside the PLP patience with McDonnell is also wearing thin. Always the first to go on TV and plead for unity, MPs report he has a completely different attitude when they actually ask him to intervene in real world cases of antisemitic abuse or bullying.

One MP says McDonnell told them to “f*ck off” when they attempted to raise an issue with him, and at yesterday’s PLP, held in the middle of a dire crisis, he again simply refused to engage with several colleagues.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise – the “Labour Representation Committee”, which operates as his personal powerbase, has long been a magnet for the nastiest of far-left cranks, including Labour Party Marxists and various fractional remnants of the Workers Revolutionary Party.

The election of Jackie Walker as an officer of the LRC says more about McDonnell’s real politics than a thousand televised calls for everyone to unite against the Tories.

McDonnell’s repeated public pleas for an end to antisemitism and his latest claim that he wanted a “listening exercise” in response to the defection of 7 MPs ring hollow for those who have call on him to use his authority to act – there’s little evidence he’s ever supported a single concrete action against an antisemitic member, and in response to Luciana Berger being bullied his initial demand was she sign a loyalty pledge.

Such behaviour has plainly been founded on the idea that the far-left’s capture of the Labour Party had no negative electoral consequences and that now they held power in the machine they could do what they liked. As Labour splinters, there may finally be a price to pay.

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