John McDonnell (politician)

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John McDonnell
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Assumed office
13 September 2015
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Chris Leslie
Member of Parliament
for Hayes and Harlington
Assumed office
1 May 1997
Preceded by Terry Dicks
Majority 15,700 (34.8%)
Personal details
Born John Martin McDonnell
(1951-09-08) 8 September 1951 (age 64)
Liverpool, England
Political party Labour
Alma mater Brunel University London
Birkbeck College
Website Official website

John Martin McDonnell (born 8 September 1951) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hayes and Harlington since the 1997 general election and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer since September 2015.

He served as Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group in Parliament, the Labour Representation Committee, until his appointment to the front benches in 2015, and serves as the chair of the Public Services Not Private Profit Group and is Parliamentary Convenor of the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group of eight left-wing trade unions representing over half a million workers. McDonnell attempted to stand for the post of Labour Party leader following Tony Blair's resignation in 2007 but was unable to gain sufficient nominations.[1] He was a candidate for leader again in 2010 following Gordon Brown's resignation[2] but withdrew in favour of Diane Abbott, feeling that he would be unable to secure enough nominations.[3]

Early life and personal life[edit]

Born in Liverpool, McDonnell's family moved to the south of England when he was very young; his father became a bus driver and was a branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union.[4] McDonnell attended Great Yarmouth Grammar School, but left at the age of 17. Afterwards, he held a series of unskilled jobs. After marrying his first wife, he studied for A-levels at night school at Burnley Technical College, and at the age of 23 he moved to Hayes in Greater London, attended Brunel University, and took a Bachelor of Science degree in Government and Politics.[5] During this period, he helped his wife run a small children's home in Hayes, and was active on behalf of his local community and for NUPE. After completing his Master of Science in Politics and Sociology[6] at Birkbeck College he became a researcher and official with the NUM from 1977 to 1978, and later the TUC from 1978-82. From 1985-87, he was Head of the Policy Unit at Camden Borough Council, then Chief Executive of the Association of London Authorities from 1987 to 1995 and the Association of London Government[7] from 1995-97.

McDonnell has two daughters from his first marriage, which ended in 1985, and a son from his second marriage to Cynthia Pinto in 1995.[8]

Greater London Council[edit]

In 1981, McDonnell was elected to the Greater London Council (GLC) as a member for Hayes and Harlington. He became the Chair of Finance, responsible for the Greater London Council's £3bn budget,[9] and was Ken Livingstone's deputy leader. In an interview with Ronan Bennett for The Guardian newspaper, he described his role during this time as being "to translate policies into concrete realities on the ground." He further discussed his performance by indicating, "I was a fairly hard-nosed administrator. We set in train policies for which we were attacked from all sides but are now accepted as mainstream: large-scale investment in public services; raising the issue of Ireland and arguing for a dialogue for peace; equal opportunities; police accountability. We set up a women's committee, an ethnic minorities committee".[4]

Livingstone removed McDonnell from the post of deputy leader in 1985, shortly after they came into conflict over the GLC's budget. Margaret Thatcher's government first cut central government funding to local government, and then introduced rate capping, preventing selected councils from raising local taxation beyond a set level as a means of reducing public spending.[citation needed] Encouraged by the success of the Liverpool City Council, which delayed issuing a budget in 1984 until the government agreed to restore some funding cuts, twelve Labour councils that had the cap imposed on them chose not to set a rate at all in the spring of 1985, demanding that the government lift the cap. The GLC faced capping, and McDonnell headed a campaign among Labour members to adopt this strategy in response. Unlike the local councils, however, the GLC faced a legal obligation to set a rate by mid-March. McDonnell contended that accepting the cap would lead to a reduction in spending and prevent the GLC, which had already lost all of its funding from central government, from honouring the manifesto pledges Labour had been elected on in 1981.[citation needed]

Post GLC[edit]

Following the abolition of the GLC, McDonnell was employed as head of the policy unit at Camden London Borough Council. In 1987, he became Chief Executive of the Association of London Authorities (eventually the Association of London Government), where he represented all the London Boroughs in their relations with central government and Europe. Having previously unsuccessfully contested Hampstead and Highgate in 1983, McDonnell fought for his home town seat of Hayes and Harlington in the 1992 general election, but lost by 53 votes. During the campaign, his Conservative opponent Terry Dicks sued for libel over critical material in McDonnell's campaign leaflets; McDonnell settled and paid Dicks £15,000 plus legal costs, which amounted to £55,000.[10] An appeal for funds through left-wing campaigning groups paid the bill.[citation needed]


McDonnell became the MP for Hayes and Harlington at the 1997 general election, with a majority of 13,000. He made his maiden speech on 6 June 1997. He has been involved in several local community campaigns, including one against the expansion of Heathrow airport and its impact on local communities. He voted against New Labour government policies such as the 2003 Iraq war, stating in 2007 that:

I have used every opportunity to oppose the government's alliance with George Bush and the US-led military occupation of Iraq which has resulted in the deaths of over 655,000, caused untold human suffering, put at risk the territorial integrity of Iraq, destabilised the entire region, alienated our own Muslim communities and given a huge boost to international terrorism – just as we warned it would.[11]

He opposed New Labour policies of foundation hospitals, student top-up fees, trust schools and anti-terror laws. In May 2003, he made comments about the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) which caused controversy, saying:

It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA." He later said that the "deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy, but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands we now have a peace process.[12]

Threatened with expulsion from the Labour Party, he went on to offer a rationale for his comments in an article written for The Guardian in June 2003 ("Expulsion would be an odd reward for telling hard truths"), stating:

Let me be clear, I abhor the killing of innocent human beings. My argument was that republicans had the right to honour those who had brought about this process of negotiation which had led to peace. Having achieved this central objective now it was time to move on. The future for achieving the nationalists' goals is through the political process and in particular through the Northern Ireland assembly elections... Irish republicans have to face the fact that the use of violence has resulted in unforgivable atrocities. No cause is worth the loss of a child's life. No amount of political theory will justify what has been perpetrated on the victims of the bombing campaigns.".[13]

According to a story in Times published in November 2015, McDonnell was also reported back in 1985 as having made similar comments at a Labour Committee on Ireland meeting, before the start of the Northern Ireland peace process and prior to becoming an MP. Archive material from the Deptford Mercury claimed that McDonnell had suggested there was a role for "the ballot, the bullet and the bomb" in bringing about a United Ireland, and joked about "kneecapping" the "gutless wimp" Labour councillors who had declined to join the meeting.[14]

McDonnell is a leading member of a number of all-party groups within Parliament, including groups representing individual trade unions, such as the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and justice unions such as NAPO. He is also a leading member of groups on a wide range of issues such as Britain's Irish community, the Punjabi community, endometriosis and Kenya. McDonnell is a member of the Labour Land Campaign, which advocates a more equitable distribution of the Land Values that are collectively created by the whole community.[15]

McDonnell chairs the Labour Representation Committee, a left-wing group of Labour activists, local parties, trade unions and MPs that campaigns for the adoption of a raft of socialist policies by the Labour Government. The group was founded on Saturday, 3 July 2004, and currently has more than 800 members and 90 affiliates. He also chairs the Public Services Not Private Profit, an anti-privatisation campaign that brings together 16 trade unions and several campaigning organisations, such as the World Development Movement, Defend Council Housing and the National Pensioners Convention. An early day motion in support of the campaign attracted more than 90 MPs.[16] The campaign held a mass rally and lobby of Parliament on 27 June 2006, attended by more than two thousand trade unionists.[17] Ex-ministers Frank Dobson and Michael Meacher were among those who addressed the rally.

On 31 October 2006, McDonnell was one of 12 Labour MPs to back Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party's call for an inquiry into the Iraq War.[18] According to an article in TamilNet, McDonnell and fellow MP Jeremy Corbyn signed a petition calling on the UK to lift a ban on the LTTE (also known as the Tamil Tigers), which is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union.[19]

During a debate on the expansion of London Heathrow Airport on 15 January 2009, McDonnell was suspended for five days by Deputy Speaker Alan Haselhurst after disrupting Commons proceedings. McDonnell picked up the ceremonial mace and placed it down on an empty bench in the Commons while shouting that the lack of a vote on the third runway was "a disgrace to the democracy of this country."[20][21] In February 2013, McDonnell was among those who supported the People's Assembly Against Austerity in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[22]

2007 Party leadership campaign[edit]

Placard supporting McDonnell at an anti-war demonstration

On 14 July 2006, McDonnell announced his intention to stand for leadership of the Labour Party when Tony Blair finally announced the date of his resignation. He called for "a challenge to the present political consensus", and, "a real Labour government based upon the policies that our supporters expect from us". McDonnell said he would like to see a return to the Labour Party's more traditional areas. He wished to re-nationalise the railways, scrap student tuition fees and remove foundation hospitals[citation needed]. McDonnell voted against the decision for the United Kingdom to form part of the US-led coalition in the War in Iraq.[citation needed]

Initially, McDonnell and Michael Meacher were the two candidates representing the left-wing of the party. McDonnell's campaign concentrated on grassroots efforts, which earned him endorsements from the Trades Union Congress,[23] ASLEF the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee, and various other left wing groups. In a YouGov opinion poll of more than 1,100 Labour Party members on their preferred choice in the leadership contest, McDonnell received 9% support, and was ranked second to Gordon Brown who led with 80% of the vote.[24] Declared supporters included Tony Benn, David Drew and Ronnie Campbell. Eleven Labour MPs declared their support on McDonnell's campaign website, including Linda Riordan, Bill Etherington, Mike Wood, Frank Cook, Michael Clapham, Diane Abbott, Bob Wareing, Neil Gerrard and Ann Cryer.[25]

Labour Party rules require candidates to be nominated by 12.5% of Labour MPs (45 out of a total of 355 in 2007). McDonnell and Meacher's campaign teams reached an agreement that when the contest began, the candidate with the fewest pledged nominations from MPs would drop out. Meacher withdrew on 14 May 2007, endorsing McDonnell. However, Gordon Brown received 308 nominations, making it impossible for McDonnell to collect the 45 nominations required to proceed to the Electoral College. As the only nominated candidate, Gordon Brown was declared leader by the NEC.[citation needed]

2010 Party leadership campaign[edit]

On 18 May 2010, news broke that McDonnell wanted to stand in the Labour Party leadership election, to be held following the resignation of Gordon Brown, and would announce it the following day at the Public and Commercial Services Union conference in Brighton. McDonnell noted that it would be "difficult" to get the 33 nominations needed from the parliamentary Labour Party required to stand in the election.[2]

During the warm up to a BBC Radio Broadcast of a Labour leadership debate on 7 June, McDonnell was asked what single act he would do to improve the world if he could travel back to the 1980s. His off-the-cuff reply was that "I was on the GMC that Mrs Thatcher abolished, I worked for the NUM and we had the NUM strike, I think I would assassinate Thatcher". He was applauded by union members in the audience but was strongly criticised by Conservatives.[26] Conservative MP Conor Burns told the BBC that "[it was] very distasteful" ... a very silly remark" McDonnell told the BBC: "I'm sorry if I have caused offence to anyone. It was a joke and in that audience it was taken as a joke... it was taken out of context, I can see if people are upset about that and if I have caused offence to anyone of course I apologise."[27][28]

On 9 June 2010, the deadline for nominations, he had secured only 16 nominations and withdrew from the election.[29]

Shadow Chancellor[edit]

McDonnell was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn (who later won the leadership with 59.5% of the vote) as a candidate in the Labour leadership election of 2015.[30] McDonnell also managed Corbyn's successful leadership campaign. In September 2015, McDonnell was appointed Shadow Chancellor by Corbyn.[31]

In an article in The Guardian in the previous month, he set out the economic principles that would be followed under Corbyn:

Let me make it absolutely clear that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is committed to eliminating the deficit and creating an economy in which we live within our means.... We accept that cuts in public spending will help eliminate the deficit, but our cuts won’t be to the middle-and low-income earners and certainly not to the poor....alongside deficit elimination, the Corbyn campaign is advocating a fundamental reform of our economic system. This will include the introduction of an effective regulatory regime for our banks and financial sector; a full-blown Glass-Steagall system to separate day-to-day and investment banking; legislation to replace short-term shareholder value with long-term sustainable economic and social responsibilities as the prime objective of companies; radical reform of the failed auditing regime; the extension of a wider range of forms of company and enterprise ownership and control including public, co-operative and stakeholder ownership; and the introduction of a financial transactions tax to fund the rebalancing of our economy towards production and manufacturing.[32]

McDonnell's first speech as Shadow Chancellor was at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. In the speech, he set out Labour's thinking and priorities in key areas, as well as encouraging Labour MPs who had refused to serve under Corbyn to return.[33]

He surprised many by initially calling upon Labour MPs to back George Osborne's Fiscal Charter, arguing that supporting the proposed deficit reduction framework showed Labour's commitment to "living within their means".[34] However he reversed that call in October, citing his trip to visit former steelworkers at a recently closed plant in Redcar as the reason for not wanting to be associated with supporting government cuts.[35] McDonnell repeated the word "embarrassing" five times in his Commons response to the U-turn,[36] adding that "a bit of humility amongst politicians never goes amiss".[37]

In a November speech ahead of Osborne's Spending Review, McDonnell pledged that a Labour government would spend 3.5% of GDP on infrastructure and fund research through an Innovation Policy Council, describing his vision for the economy as "socialism with an iPad"[38][39]

During his response to the 2015 Autumn Statement in which he accused George Osborne of "sheer economic illiteracy", McDonnell highlighted that the government was "selling off at least £5bn worth of our own assets" to foreign investors, including particularly the Chinese state.[40] To make this point he jokingly quoted from a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and then threw it across the despatch box towards the Conservative front bench. A clearly amused Osborne responded by quipping that it was McDonnell's own signed copy.[41][42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Brown will enter No 10 unopposed". BBC News. 16 May 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2007. 
  2. ^ a b "Labour MP John McDonnell to stand in the leadership campaign". 16 May 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  3. ^ McDonnell, John (9 June 2010). "I’m withdrawing from Labour leadership race". Labour Representation Committee. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Bennett, Ronan (26 September 2006). "Honest John". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "Politics and History BSc". Brunel University London. 14 September 2015. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Department of Politics". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "London Councils". London Councils. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  8. ^ Mulholland, Hélène (14 July 2006). "Who is John McDonnell?". The Guardian (London, UK). Retrieved 10 January 2007. 
  9. ^ "Profile: John McDonnell". BBC News. 11 June 2007. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Platt, Steve (12 March 1993). "Would you sue your paper boy?". New Statesman. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  11. ^ "How Labour's contenders see the war". The Guardian. 21 February 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2015. 
  12. ^ Happold, Tom (30 May 2003). "MP's 'brave IRA' comments spark outrage". The Guardian (London, UK). Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  13. ^ "John McDonnell: Why I stood up for Bobby Sands". Retrieved 13 September 2015. 
  14. ^ Kennedy, Dominic (November 27, 2015). "McDonnell gave his backing to the IRA's bomb campaign". The Times. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  15. ^ Labour Land Campaign website,; accessed 21 October 2015.
  16. ^ "Early Day Motion". 29 March 2006. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  17. ^ Mulholland, Hélène (27 June 2006). "Campaigners demand halt to privatisation". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  18. ^ "Labour MPs who rebelled on Iraq". BBC News. 31 October 2006. Retrieved 31 October 2006. 
  19. ^ "Call on UK to lift ban on LTTE". TamilNet. 28 December 2006. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  20. ^ "MP suspended after mace protest". BBC. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  21. ^ Sparrow, Andrew (15 January 2009). "Labour MP suspended from Commons over Heathrow protest". The Guardian (London, UK: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  22. ^ People's Assembly opening letter,, 5 February 2013.
  23. ^ "John McDonnell MP: Another World Is Possible". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  24. ^ David Smith and Isabel Oakeshott, ″Blair under pressure as Labour faces election rout″, The Sunday Times, 29 April 2007.
  25. ^ "John McDonnell MP: Another World Is Possible". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  26. ^ "John McDonnell apologises for Thatcher 'joke' offence". BBC News. 8 June 2010. 
  27. ^ "John McDonnell says he would like to 'assassinate' Margaret Thatcher". London, UK: 7 June 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  28. ^ "BBC Daily Politics". 8 June 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  29. ^ "John McDonnell: I'm withdrawing from Labour leadership race 9th June 2010". Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ Mason, Rowena; Wintour, Patrick (13 September 2015). "John McDonnell appointed shadow chancellor in Corbyn's new frontbench". The Guardian (London, UK). Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  32. ^ McDonnell, John (11 August 2015). "Jeremy Corbyn would clear the deficit – but not by hitting the poor". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  33. ^ "Labour's John McDonnell: Another world is possible". BBC News. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  34. ^ "John McDonnell: Labour will match Osborne and live within our means". Guardian. 25 September 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  35. ^ "McDonnell says fiscal charter U-turn due to meeting Redcar families". Guardian. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  36. ^ Deacon, Michael (14 October 2015). "‘Embarrassing! Embarrassing! Embarrassing!’ Labour’s John McDonnell sums up his own U-turn". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  37. ^ Morris, Nigel (15 October 2015). "John McDonnell admits 'embarrassing' U-turn over key economic policy as new Labour leadership hit by first". Independent. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  38. ^ Wintour, Patrick (20 November 2015). "John McDonnell to unveil 'socialism with an iPad' economic plan". Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  39. ^ Dathan, Matt (20 November 2015). "John McDonnell pledges 'socialism with an iPad' in a Jeremy Corbyn-led Britain". Independent. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  40. ^ "John McDonnell quotes Chairman Mao in Spending Review attack". BBC News. Retrieved 25 November 2015. 
  41. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (25 November 2015). "John McDonnell quotes from Mao's Communist Little Red Book during Autumn Statement speech". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 26 November 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  42. ^ Mason, Rowena (25 November 2015). "John McDonnell under fire for quoting Mao Zedong in Commons". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 November 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Terry Dicks
Member of Parliament
for Hayes and Harlington

Political offices
Preceded by
Chris Leslie
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer