Corbyn to step down as leader if Labour doesn’t win general election, McDonnell says

‘What we’d do is as the tradition, which is have an election for a new leader,’ shadow chancellor reveals

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 11 October 2019 13:54 BST
Alistair Campbell questions John McDonnell about Jeremy Corbyn leadership potential

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Louise Thomas

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Jeremy Corbyn will quit if Labour loses the general election expected within months, says his key ally John McDonnell – promising to follow him out of the door.

The shadow chancellor insisted Labour could win a Commons majority – despite the party’s disastrous poll ratings – but admitted the price of failure would be resignation.

Asked if Mr Corbyn could “stay on”, Mr McDonnell replied: “I can’t see so. What we’d do is as the tradition, which is have an election for a new leader.”

Speaking to Alastair Campbell, in an interview for GQ magazine, he also said: “I think it is the same for my own personal position.”

Mr McDonnell also insisted he backed Mr Corbyn’s determination to fight an election before a fresh Brexit referendum is held – but admitted a Final Say referendum could yet come first.

“Within parliament itself there is a large number of people who are saying we’d rather have a referendum attached to any deal,” he acknowledged.

And he added: “Once we get to the stage of blocking no deal, a general election is on the table. If we can’t get that general election, the referendum becomes an option.”

The Independent revealed yesterday that Labour MPs are bombarding the party whips’ office with demands for Mr Corbyn to back a referendum first.

In the interview, Mr McDonnell also:

* Ruled out a coalition deal with the Scottish National Party, or the Liberal Democrats, if Labour falls short of a majority – insisting Mr Corbyn would put forward his programme and challenge the other parties to vote it down.

* Denied Mr Corbyn had been “dragged kicking and screaming” into supporting a Final Say public vote, saying: “He hasn’t. You’re wrong on this.”

* Argued “climate change is the big issue now”, which meant the election would be “more than a class revolution”.

* Denied Labour at Westminster was riven by splits, insisting: “I’ve never seen the parliamentary Labour Party more united in the last couple of years.”

* Suggested Boris Johnson is as extreme as Donald Trump, saying: “I think it is very difficult to see anything between them.”

* Described his 70-year-old leader’s fitness as “unbelievable”, saying: “He’s running every morning. Jeremy is the fittest person I know.”

* Admitted the attempt to remove Tom Watson as deputy leader, on the eve of Labour’s conference last month, had been “a fiasco” – but insisted Mr Corbyn “wasn’t aware” of it in advance.

On Labour’s election chances, Mr McDonnell denied the poll ratings – putting Labour in the low twenties – meant “the country has just decided Jeremy is not going to be prime minister”.

He insisted Mr Johnson “has got vulnerabilities just as much as Theresa May that we can expose and exploit in a campaign”.

“I’m not being unrealistic, but the political climate is incredibly unpredictable,” Mr McDonnell said, adding: “I think we can win a majority.”

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