John McDonnell will not be attending the Stop the War Coalition event being held this evening in London, LabourList can exclusively reveal, with the Labour MP declaring that “now is the time to unite”.
The Labour MP told LabourList he will be joining an online meeting with constituents instead of going to the Stop the War rally. It was reported today that McDonnell could have the whip removed for joining the event.
It was later clarified that the Labour leadership did not consider attendance to be grounds for removing the whip, but the party would be looking closely at what was said about NATO and the war in Ukraine.
Commenting after the reports today, McDonnell told LabourList: “I have seen all the speculation about my attendance at tonight’s Stop the War meeting and reports of threats if I do.
“My response is that people are dying on the streets of Ukrainian cities. This is not the time to be distracted by political arguments here. Now is the time to unite and do all we can to assist the people of Ukraine desperately seeking asylum and to do all we can to bring about peace.
“Nothing is more important at this time. Nothing should distract us from that. So I won’t feed into that distraction by going tonight.
“I do think many Labour Party members will want clarity over the Labour Party’s attitude to attending demonstrations organised by Stop the War or by them jointly with other groups.
“My final comment is that, in the wider context of securing a socialist Labour government, and possibly inspired by my team Liverpool at Wembley at the weekend, I do believe it’s important for socialists to stay on the pitch for as long as it takes.”
Asked about the threat of whip withdrawal, Keir Starmer’s spokesperson said today: “Keir Starmer has set out the position of the Labour Party and we would expect every Labour MP to follow the position set out.”
Starmer told a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting earlier this week: “Let me be very clear. There will be no place in this party for false equivalence between the actions of Russia and the actions of NATO.”
11 Labour MPs, including McDonnell, last week withdrew their signatures from a Stop the War statement after being asked to do so by the chief whip. The letter refuted “the idea that NATO is a defensive alliance”.