John McDonnell has said he supports the use of non-violent direct action to make sure politicians listen to the people, following reports that he called for “insurrection” against the Coalition Government during the student riots.
He said protests in the streets had been a tradition in the UK for centuries and said members of the public “always retained the right” to demonstrate if other means of holding the Government to account failed.
On 27 September he was reported to have praised rioters who had “kicked the s***” out of the Conservative party headquarters in 2011, and also claimed that a student who threw a fire extinguisher at police from a seventh-floor building had been “victimised” after being handed a three-year sentence.
Speaking ahead of his keynote speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton, he insisted non-violent action “is important in this country”, but distanced himself from violent demonstrations.
He claimed George Osborne only started to address corporate tax avoidance after protests from UK Uncut – a grassroots youth group who occupied the offices of companies that were found to be avoiding tax.
He also claimed direct action had succeeded in forcing David Cameron to make his “no ifs, no buts, no third runway” pledge against Heathrow expansion after one of his constituent s had “tried to superglue himself to the Prime Minister”. And he reiterated his promise to take part in direct action himself by joining Boris Johnson to “stand in front of the tractors” to stop a third runway going ahead.
Defending the use of direct action, Mr McDonnell told the Today programme: “In our democratic tradition in this country we have the ballot box to use, of course, to elect MPs to be our voice and determine our policies. We have trade union rights to protect us at work,
“If politicians aren’t listening, we have always retained the right, over centuries, to get out in the streets and demonstrate.
“I’ve advocated that at times when politicians are not listening…we have the right to get out on the streets. Non-violent action is important in this country.”
He added: “Years ago I was part of a tax justice campaign where we had meeting after meeting about how we make sure we tackle tax evasion, tax avoidance in this country.
“Along come a group of young people called UK Uncut and they took some direct action - they protested in the street, they occupied a couple of offices that were not paying their taxes.
“Eventually that meant that we started addressing the issue and even George Osborne then had to start addressing the issue.”
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- John McDonnell
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- David Cameron
- tax evasion
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