PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield reports that John McDonnell has hired a new spinner – Andrew Whitaker, previously the political editor of the Sunday Herald.
It seems Whitaker has long taken an interest in his new boss’s fortunes; back in 2016 he wrote an admiring piece about him for The Scotsman.
In it he lamented the “own goal” of the Mao’s Little Red Book incident (“one of McDonnell’s political staffers should have snatched the book when learning of the intended stunt”), hinted at a possible future for McDonnell as Labour leader, and offered his own strategic advice for how best to spin the Shadow Chancellor’s challenging reputation:
‘…in the next few months and years, McDonnell will continue to be characterised by opponents in loaded terms as a “hard left” ideologue, with a poor grasp of the Treasury brief and someone well out of his depth. But Labour’s leadership and McDonell’s office would do well to be ready to battle hard to prevent the shadow chancellor being saddled with such a perception in the minds of the public – something the Tories and sections of the media will surely attempt. Pointing out that McDonnell served as Ken Livingstone’s chair of finance on the now defunct Greater London Council in the 1980s and was effectively the chancellor of the UK capital would be a good start.’
Boasting about working closely with Ken Livingstone is perhaps a teensy bit less positive nowadays than it was when Whitaker was writing, a couple of months before the notorious Hitler incident, but if anything that’s beside the point. John McDonnell did indeed serve as the chair of finance on the GLC in the 1980s, “effectively the chancellor of the UK capital” – but he was so bad at the job that Livingstone ended up sacking him in 1985 in order to stave off imminent disaster.
It’s certainly an important and instructive story about what the Shadow Chancellor would do if he got his hands on the nation’s finances, and voters would do well to heed it, but not really in the way that Whitaker seems to think. McDonnell’s new spinner might need to do a bit more reading up on his brief.