Firebrand leftist at helm of UK Labour's economic policy

16th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

A hard-leftist who once called for IRA members to be honoured, John McDonnell seemed destined for a career on Britain's political sidelines until Labour's shock leadership election thrust him centre-stage.

The 64-year-old new shadow finance minister of Britain is a long-time ally of Jeremy Corbyn, who confounded the experts to claim the party's leadership after winning a landslide victory.

Any suggestion that Corbyn might tone down his approach once in charge were immediately dispelled when he appointed McDonnell to the key role, raising eyebrows even within his own party.

"He had choices of who he was going to appoint and the choice he made was to go down the most hard-line position," former Labour interior minister Charles Clarke told BBC Radio's Today programme.

Liverpool-born McDonnell, the son of a union branch secretary, will lead the party's attacks on the Conservatives' austerity programme, once saying he would "swim through vomit" to vote against the government's bill to cap welfare payments.

He has previously called for a 60 percent top rate of tax, nationalising swathes of industry, ending the independence of the Bank of England and printing money to fund higher state spending, putting him completely at odds with the government, and many centrists within Labour.

Labour MP Simon Danczuk said that the appointment meant "the lunatics had taken over the asylum" while rival Tory MP Nigel Adams joked that McDonnell -- who has never previously served in the cabinet or shadow cabinet -- "shouldn't be in charge of running a raffle, let alone the Treasury".

- Commons suspension -

McDonnell, who listed "generally fomenting the overthrow of capitalism" as his hobby in "Who's Who", has led a colourful parliamentary career.

He hit the headlines in 2003 when he said that IRA members should be honoured for helping bring peace in Ireland.

"It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle," he said.

"It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of (hunger striker) Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."

He later said the deaths of civilians in IRA attacks "was as a result of British occupation in Ireland".

McDonnell received a suspension from the House of Commons in 2009 when he grabbed the ceremonial mace -- the symbol of parliamentary power -- and placed it on a parliamentary bench during a heated debate over plans for a new runway at London's Heathrow Airport.

A year later, he said that he would like to "go back to the 1980s and assassinate" Margaret Thatcher, the former Conservative prime minister and hero of current leader David Cameron.

Thatcher is not the only Tory to have come into his sights, and last year he joked about "lynching" a junior minister.

Having left school at 17, McDonnell held a series of unskilled jobs before studying at night school and earning a place at Brunel University.

He later earned a Masters degree, before working as a union researcher and winning election to the Greater London Council in 1981.

Before being elected MP, McDonnell served as chair of finance at Greater London Council in the 1980s under former London mayor Ken Livingstone, but was sacked over a budget dispute.

He was elected as MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997.

© 2015 AFP

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