Sunday shows: McDonnell and McCluskey on Brexit, antisemitism and ‘frail’ Corbyn story

Ridge on Sunday

John McDonnell talked about plans for the economy, his frustration with Labour’s Brexit position and anger about Labour and antisemitism.

On the economy…

  •  Is capitalism working? “Not effectively.”
  • On the idea of scrapping Inheritance Tax and replacing it with a Lifetime Gifts Tax: “I think it’s interesting.”
  • On the idea of Capital Gains Tax being introduced when you sell a house: “We haven’t really looked at that because we feel that that most probably won’t be the fairest way of going about it, but we have looked at Capital Gains Tax reform with regards to shareholdings and others.”
  • On Labour’s ideal economy: “I want to see a transformed economy so not capitalism as it now operates. I’d like to transform the way we operate, I’d like to see that we have an economy which is working for everybody.” Is that socialism? “Yes.”

On Brexit…

  • Frustrated? “A little bit… He had a meeting on the Monday before the last shadow cabinet and I thought the next day we were going to move further. He’s asked for a bit more time. Fair enough, I don’t mind that.”
  • Is it inevitable that Labour will back Remain? “We’ll see what comes out of consultations… Everyone should have their say, whether it’s a national executive member, a shadow cabinet member or an affiliated trade union.”

On Labour and antisemitism…

  • “What angers me is that we are an anti-racist party. We should be leading the campaign against antisemitism in society overall, and this is holding us back. What we’ve got to do is move forward now – and I think the investigation by the EHCR will help us in doing this, whatever recommendations come out of that we must adopt and hopefully then have a clean bill of health.”

Boris Johnson also appeared on the show and rejected any responsibility for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation. He refused to apologise for past comments on black people and Muslim women, which he described as “satirical” or taken “out of context”. Labour’s equalities spokesperson Dawn Butler commented: “Boris Johnson’s defence of his racist and homophobic comments is despicable and disappointing. At a time when racist and homophobic hate crime is rising in our society, his refusal to apologise for his disgusting remarks legitimises and fuels this prejudice.”

The Andrew Marr Show

Len McCluskey said he would be happy with two public votes: a general election, then a ‘confirmatory’ vote on Labour’s negotiated Brexit deal. He generally encouraged people to let Jeremy Corbyn take his time on Brexit. On the Times story, the Unite general secretary suggested the quotes from senior civil servants weren’t real but fabricated by journalists to damage Corbyn (which is not Labour’s position on the story).

On Brexit…

  • “Firstly, I’d like a public vote of a general election. That’s the only thing that can sort out the mess that we’re currently in… The second public vote I’d like is, if Labour win that election and they are able to negotiate a deal to take us out of Europe, which I believe will satisfy both the 48% and the 52%, I’d like that to go back to a confirmatory vote, to the public. So I’m in favour of two.”
  • “After the European elections, I appealed to people to calm down. There seems to be a panic to rush in order to establish a different position from one the Labour Party’s had for a couple of years now, which is respecting the 2016 referendum and trying to negotiate a deal that would unite the nation.”
  • On the shadow cabinet ‘winning’: “He’s not being bullied into any position by anybody. What he’s doing, Andrew, is he’s consulting. He’s consulting with the trade unions, he’s consulting with members, he’s consulting with the NEC, and then we’ll have a proper debate. There’s no panic at the moment.”
  • On Labour supporting a public vote on any deal: “I think that’s perfectly understandable in the current situation. And I’m comfortable with that. The problem is how do you get there? Which is why, to repeat, a general election and then a deal that’s negotiated by a Labour government should go back for a confirmatory vote.”
  • On how he would vote in a referendum between Remain and no deal: Unite’s executive would decide but “if we were faced with a situation of either no deal or remain, I suspect we would campaign for remain.”
  • On Theresa May’s deal: “If it encompassed a customs union, customs arrangements… that is the type of deal that I’d be comfortable to see go through.”
  • As LabourList reported at the start of the week, he dismissed the YouGov poll showing trade unionists overwhelmingly back Remain. “Andrew, you’re talking about this opinion poll that was commissioned by the Public Vote people.” He added: “It is absolute nonsense. I’m surprised you’re giving it such credence. Apparently 355 Unite members, who self-identified as Unite members – I don’t know that they are – gave a response. Here’s the truth: my union constantly talks to 20,000 Unite members across all sectors. I have 300 – Andrew, this is important – I have 300 constitutional committees, none of whom are seeking a second referendum. I have 100 convenors from all out top manufacturing companies… none of whom are seeking a second referendum.”
  • Is it not now time for Unite and for the Labour Party to be campaigning openly to remain? “No. No, it isn’t. We have to wait to see what will unfold.”
  • “We’ve got a policy conference coming up in less than 12 weeks. Let Jeremy Corbyn consult. My message to Labour MPs and to our Labour members is Jeremy’s done okay so far, so let’s trust him to consult and see what emerges.”
  • On getting a Brexit deal through parliament: “My understanding is there’s as many as 40, even 60, Labour MPs who are part of the Respect the Result group. And that’s why a second referendum is difficult to see emerging.”

On The Times story about Corbyn being “too frail” to be Prime Minister…

  • “I think Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thompson who wrote that piece ought to be ashamed of themselves. No wonder British journalism is held in such low esteem throughout Europe. It was a disgraceful thing. It was fake news, it was lies, it was distortions. Jeremy Corbyn is as fit as a fiddle. He’s one of the strongest individuals I’ve ever met. People 20 years younger can’t keep up with him. There’s nothing wrong with Jeremy.”
  • They were quoting anonymous senior civil servants. “Oh, I could do that… I’m not a journalist but I can easily do a piece about you saying anonymous individuals in the BBC said this or said that. Anyone can do that.”
  • So you don’t believe that civil servants have been saying these things? “I don’t believe so. I don’t believe them at all. It’s the Murdoch press, of course they’re going to attack and try to undermine Jeremy.”
  • On whether Corbyn will step down this year: “Absolutely not. It’s fake news. Jeremy is a strong leader and people should stop putting him under pressure. Even from comrades of the left, Paul Mason, who seems to have lost his marbles.”

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