Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has put down rumours he would be willing to join Sir Keir Starmer’s frontbench, but suggested Labour MPs who should be.
McDonnell, who served on Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet until last year, told the LBC’s Iain Dale he backed Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey, who was removed from Sir Keir’s top team after she retweeted an article that was deemed as having anti-Semitic content, joining the shadow frontbench.
“Becky Long-Bailey was in my team and she was one of the sharpest I’d ever met,” he said, branding the retweet “unfortunate”, adding that she was “brilliant in my team”.
Of Richard Burgon, McDonnell said: “If you look at what he did on the justice brief he was excellent. I think he was one of the sharpest shadow cabinet ministers that we had and he was good on his feet on the floor of the house. I know there’s been denigration in the media but they’re not necessarily our best friends.
“People underestimate him – a good, young lawyer, knows his stuff. I think held the government well to account.”
McDonnell also praised Labour’s list of female MPs, such as Zarah Sultana, Apsana Begum, Nadia Whittome, Olivia Blake and Rachel Hopkins.
His comments came after the party suffered disastrous losses in last week’s local elections which saw the party lose the “red wall” seat of Hartlepool to the Tories for the first time since the constituency was created in 1974.
This prompted a reshuffle of Labour’s frontbench that saw Rachel Reeves replace Anneliese Dodds as shadow chancellor and Nick Brown removed from his position as Chief Whip.
McDonnell also quashed rumours of a return to the shadow cabinet.
“I’m really enjoying myself at the moment on the back benches being an elder statesman,” he said.