Labour’s shadow chancellor has dismissed the MPs who left the party to form The Independent Group as “completely irrelevant”.
John McDonnell insisted he had never contemplated leaving the Labour Party under Tony Blair’s leadership, even though he and current leader Jeremy Corbyn “occasionally” voted against the party line.
He said it was “absolutely futile” that politicians including Chuka Umuna and Luciana Berger had quit, pointing to Labour’s subsequent support for a second Brexit referendum.
He spoke out as a poll by BMG for The Independent found 30% of voters may consider backing the Independent Group if they were running in their constituencies.
But Mr McDonnell said: “What will happen in the future I think a number of them will find it is absolutely futile, and I think it will be not just a waste of time for them personally but also for any others who support them as well.”
He stated: “They are a group of people who for some reason, I’m not completely sure why, were disgruntled, chose an issue to leave the party on. Within a week that issue was no longer relevant, I don’t think. I just find it a futile gesture.”
The shadow chancellor went on to tell a fringe event at the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee: “The Independent Group is looking increasingly as being completely irrelevant. I’ve not found in the meetings I have been doing people are even talking about them any more.
“I get on the bus, I get on the tube and I get on the train into work, and in the constituency and even on the tube and train, I get a bit of banter from constituents, people are coming up with their different issues. Not one of them has raised this.”
He said he was “to a certain extent perplexed” by the MPs’ decision to quit Labour, saying that the “largest reasons” they had given for this was Labour’s lack of support for a People’s Vote on Brexit.
But Mr McDonnell said: “We were, we had agreed at a Labour Party conference exactly, unanimously, the process we would go through and they were there.
“And the week after they had left us we then moved to the position, exactly as agreed by Labour Party conference, where we were calling for a People’s Vote.
“So it just seemed completely futile that they left for that reason.”
He insisted the party was a “broad church”, and added: “For a number of years, as you most probably know, Jeremy Corbyn and I didn’t actually hegemonise the Labour Party’s ideas.
“But we sat on the back benches, I was preparing alternative budgets, we were voting – occasionally we voted against the Blair leadership – and we were in minorities of one or two at some times. At no time did I ever think of leaving the Labour Party.”
He continued: “Those that have left our party now need to think about the responsibility that they have, because if they are taking votes away from Labour it won’t mean that they get elected, it won’t mean there will be a TIG government, it will mean the Tories go back into power.
“I think that’s the responsibility some people who may be thinking about supporting them need to think hard about.”