The Daily Telegraph
Mcdonnell in Churchill row
JOHN MCDONNELL called Winston Churchill a “villain” in comments that provoked outrage last night.
The shadow chancellor was attacked as a “Poundland Lenin” by the grandson of the wartime prime minister over his description of a man who has topped polls to find the greatest Briton.
Mr Mcdonnell chose to ignore Churchill’s achievements and instead criticised him over a controversy involving an Edwardian-era miners’ strike. His comments will be seen as particularly ill-judged, given Churchill’s record in fighting fascism, as they come while Labour is embroiled in a fresh row over anti-semitism.
At an event run by the Politico website, Mr Mcdonnell was asked: “Winston Churchill – hero or villain?” He replied: “Tonypandy. Villain,” a reference to rioting by striking Welsh miners
in Tonypandy in 1910 which was broken up by police using truncheons.
Churchill, home secretary at the time, was alleged to have authorised soldiers to fire on protesters during several days of rioting in the Welsh Valleys that followed, a claim he always denied. There is no evidence that shots were fired but the Labour movement maintained that the miners were the victims of harsh treatment.
Sir Nicholas Soames, the Conservative MP and grandson of Churchill, said: “Frankly it’s a very foolish and stupid thing to say, surely said to gain publicity. I think my grandfather’s reputation can withstand a publicity-seeking assault from a third-rate, Poundland Lenin. I don’t think it will shake the world.”
Churchill’s son Randolph, who died in 1968, accused “socialist propagandists” of “grotesque distortion” of the truth. Contemporary documents show Churchill was reluctant to send the Army to control a civil dispute, and described rumours that he authorised soldiers to fire on rioters as “rubbish”. Ian Austin, a Labour MP, said: “I have no hesitation in describing Winston Churchill not only as a hero but as the greatest ever Briton, who motivated the British people to defeat fascism, fighting not just for our country’s liberty but for the world’s freedom too. That is why the vast majority of British people regard Winston Churchill as a hero.”
Another Labour MP said: “The hardleft just can’t help themselves. It shows the huge gap between their values and what the vast majority of decent people think.”
A spokesman for Mr Mcdonnell declined to comment further last night.