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Shadow chancellor bullish against accusations of failure

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on the Andrew Marr Show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

The outgoing shadow chancellor of the exchequer John McDonnell says he has made progress during his tenure, despite the underwhelming election result which renders Labour a vastly weakened force.

In what Andrew Marr acknowledged to be McDonnell’s final interview with him as shadow chancellor, the commentator pulled no punches.

He said the politician “failed”, paying reference to a previous claim by McDonnell that “fermenting the overthrow of capitalism is my full time job.”

McDonnell was bullish in response, arguing that his socialist messages have cut through: “I’ve taken, I think, the party and our country to a certain stage in the debate about the future of our economy.”

He continued by saying that Labour have “forced the tories to invest more than they would like…on a scale that they never wanted to.”

McDonnell caveated this by remarking that, however much Labour have forced the tory hand, their efforts remain “scant.”

The extent of that effort will become clear on Wednesday as chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his first budget, which McDonnell says is “the most important since the second world war.”

He pointed to a trifecta of crises, the impact of which the MP for Hayes and Harlington believes will expose a conservative party who are merely paying lip service deference to the electorate.

Jeremy Corbyn’s long-standing ally highlighted the ongoing crisis plaguing every public service and the existential crisis posed by climate change, both underpinned by the emerging medical crisis caused by coronavirus.

He poured cold water on any tory pledge to tackle the virus, querying how they could legitimately claim to be prepared when their policies have resulted in “17,000 hospital beds cut” and “100,000 vacancies in social care.”

Whatever the progress made under the current Labour leadership, McDonnell says factionalism in the party – past or future – serves no purpose: “All three candidates (in the leadership contest) say they want to reunite the party and look to the future – let’s do that.”

Though he says “we are doing our best” to provide a tangible opposition, the numerical disadvantage means that the next leader must make unity a priority. The risk otherwise is potential decades of political abyss, at a time when a left-leaning influence is needed most.