John McDonnell (politician)

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John McDonnell
Member of Parliament
for Hayes and Harlington
Assumed office
1 May 1997
Preceded by Terry Dicks
Majority 10,824 (25.4%)
Personal details
Born John Martin McDonnell
(1951-09-08) 8 September 1951 (age 63)
Liverpool, England
Political party Labour
Alma mater Brunel University
University of London
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 1997; he serves as Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, the Labour Representation Committee, and the "Public Services Not Private Profit Group". He is also 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 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 (became Great Yarmouth High School in 1981) on Salisbury Road in Great Yarmouth, 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 to attend Brunel University for a Bachelor of Science 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 1977-8, and later the TUC from 1978-82. From 1985-7, he was Head of the Policy Unit at Camden Borough Council, then Chief Executive of the Association of London Authorities from 1987–95 and the Association of London Government[7] from 1995-7.

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 budget, 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. 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 also faced capping, and McDonnell headed a campaign amongst 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 honoring the manifesto pledges Labour had been elected on in 1981.

In his book If Voting Changed Anything, They'd Abolish It, Livingstone outlines his belief that McDonnell presented exaggerated figures in order to support his proposal. Despite paying lip service to the campaign, the GLC set a legal rate on schedule, passed by moderate Labour councillors with the support of Conservative opposition members.

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.

In 1992, McDonnell fought for his home town seat of Hayes and Harlington, 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.[9] An appeal for funds through left-wing campaigning groups paid the bill.


Having previously unsuccessfully contested Hampstead and Highgate in 1983, at the 1997 general election, McDonnell was elected MP for Hayes and Harlington with a 13,000 majority. 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 has voted against controversial government policies such as the 2003 Iraq war, Foundation hospitals, student top-up fees, Trust schools and anti-terror laws. In May 2003, he praised the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), 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.[10]

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 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.

McDonnell is also the chair of 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.[11] The campaign held a mass rally and lobby of Parliament on 27 June 2006, attended by more than two thousand trade unionists.[12] 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.[13]

According to an article in TamilNet, John McDonnell and fellow MP Jeremy Corbyn signed a petition calling on the UK to lift a ban on the LTTE, which is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union.[14]

McDonnell is one of 70 MPs who have signed an early day motion calling for an extension for the period of copyright protection, against the advice of the Gowers Review and the European Commission.[15]

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."[16][17]

He is a supporter of homeopathy, having signed an early day motion in support of its continued funding on the National Health Service.[18]

In February 2013, McDonnell was among those who gave their support to the People's Assembly Against Austerity in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[19]

20 November 2013: McDonnell introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill [20] into Parliament calling for regulation of the refractive eye surgery, including laser eye surgery.

2007 party leadership campaign[edit]

Placard supporting him 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 was also notable for his anti-war platform, having voted against the decision for the United Kingdom to form part of the US-led coalition in the War in Iraq.

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,[21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

Labour Party rules require candidates to be nominated by 12.55% 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 and as the only nominated candidate Gordon Brown was declared leader by the NEC.

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] He stated during a speech at the GMB Union Congress on 7 June that he wished he could "go back to the 1980s and assassinate Thatcher" [24] He later apologised for the remark which was described as "sickening" and "distasteful".[25] On 9 June 2010, the deadline for nominations, he had secured 16 nominations and withdrew from the election.[26]

2014 advocacy for decriminalisation of sex work[edit]

In his speech[27] during the Modern Slavery Bill debate in the House of Commons on 4 November 2014, McDonnell argued that there was little evidence to suggest a correlation between the Swedish sex purchase ban and a reduction in numbers of sex workers or their clients. McDonnell cited findings "that not only do such measures not work, they actually cause harm" and added he was "not in favour of legalisation" but "in favour of full decriminalisation" of sex work. In his closing remarks, he cited Reverend Andrew Dotchin, a founding member of the Safety First Coalition: "I strongly oppose clauses on prostitution in the Modern Slavery Bill, which would make the purchase of sex illegal. Criminalising clients does not stop prostitution, nor does it stop the criminalisation of women. It drives prostitution further underground, making it more dangerous and stigmatising for women."

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. ^ "John McDonnell: I’m withdrawing from Labour leadership race 9th June 2010". Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Ronan Bennett "Honest John", The Guardian 26 September 2006
  5. ^ "Politics & History". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  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). Retrieved 10 January 2007. 
  9. ^ Platt, Steve (12 March 1993). "Would you sue your paper boy?". New Statesman. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  10. ^ Happold, Tom (30 May 2003). "MP's 'brave IRA' comments spark outrage". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  11. ^ "Early Day Motion". 29 March 2006. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  12. ^ Mulholland, Hélène (27 June 2006). "Campaigners demand halt to privatisation". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  13. ^ "Labour MPs who rebelled on Iraq". BBC News. 31 October 2006. Retrieved 31 October 2006. 
  14. ^ "28.12.06 Call on UK to lift ban on LTTE". TamilNet. 28 December 2006. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  15. ^ "Copyright extension: Seems our MPs haven’t been doing their homework". 14 May 2007. Retrieved 15 May 2007. 
  16. ^ "MP suspended after mace protest". BBC. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  17. ^ Sparrow, Andrew (15 January 2009). "Labour MP suspended from Commons over Heathrow protest". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  18. ^ Tredinnick, David (29 June 2010). "Early Day Motion #342 British Medical Association Motions on Homeopathy". 
  19. ^ People's Assembly opening letter 5 February 2013, The Guardian Newspaper.
  20. ^
  21. ^ "John McDonnell MP: Another World Is Possible". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  22. ^ Blair under pressure as Labour faces election rout by David Smith and Isabel Oakeshott, The Sunday Times, 29 April 2007.
  23. ^ "John McDonnell MP: Another World Is Possible". Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  24. ^ "John McDonnell says he would like to 'assassinate' Margaret Thatcher". London: 7 June 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  25. ^ "John McDonnell apologises for Thatcher 'joke' offence". BBC News. 8 June 2010. 
  26. ^ "John McDonnell: I’m withdrawing from Labour leadership race 9th June 2010". Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  27. ^ speech

External links[edit]

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