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McDonnell refuses to apologise for attack on McVey

McDonnell refused to apologise to McVey Credit: Peston on Sunday

Does Jeremy Corbyn mean what he pledges, when he says he wants to take abuse and violent rhetoric out of politics, especially politics as expressed on social media?

Well this was my exchange on Peston on Sunday this morning with the most influential of Corbyn's close colleagues, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

I put to McDonnell the vituperative language he employed in 2015 when attacking Esther McVey - who was also on the show today and was then a Tory minister.

RP: You'll have seen Esther [McVey] is here. You said some pretty harsh things about her, you called her a "stain on humanity" and you repeated this call to have her lynched. Do you want to take some of that back and apologise, because it’s not the kind of language you approve of, is it?

JM: I simply reported what was shouted out at a public meeting…

RP: Now, that "stain on humanity" thing wasn’t reported, that was you in the House of Commons, wasn’t it?

JM: That was, that was and I was angry… I was angry...

RP: But is that the kind oflanguage…

JM: But let me finish, sometimes you need, sometimes you need to express honest anger and that was about what this last government was doing to people with disabilities and it was appalling to be frank. And sometimes it is better to be honest with people about how you feel. Now at times in Parliament in particular it means using strong language but actually if it reflects your honest views I think it’s better to be honest than it is to be in any way deceptive.

RP: So just to be absolutely clear, you reserve the right, not necessarily about her, to use that kind of language in future.

JM: I think it’s about making sure you express your views honestly and fairly as well, that’s the most important thing. People have had enough of spin and triangulation, what they want is politicians who speak the truth. And to express themselves. But there has to be an element of expressing yourself in language which doesn’t go too far, I accept that, and occasionally I’ve gone too far and I’ve admitted that. But at the same time now, we’ve got to be straight with one another, we can’t have this you know "people can’t trust a politician whatever a politician says because they’re always saying one thing and doing another". I think what people want, and that’s exactly why people have voted for Jeremy, is what you get is what you see, straightforward honest politics.

McDonnell's comments could cause a headache for Corbyn Credit: PA

So there is a huge question raised here about the nature of our politics and political discourse.

In insulting McVey in the way he did, was McDonnell showing refreshing honesty - which is what he claims and hopes?

Or was he underwriting and legitimizing the kind ofviolent and abusive language used by some Labour activists which Corbyn says he wants taken out of politics.

On Peston on Sunday, two influential Labour MPs, Yvette Cooper and Tristram Hunt, both said McDonnell got it wrong - and as a minimum should have apologised to McVey.

And McVey herself was savage in her charge that McDonnell has a history of using unacceptably violent rhetoric.

What do you think? Is McDonnell merely expressing his anger in a refreshingly honest way? Or is he in denial about a cancer in modern politics, that mutual respect between political opponents is being dislodged by dangerous and disgusting abuse?

Finally, are you surprised that he didn't say sorry,especially given that many women MPs, in all parties, are deeply worried by the violence of the attacks to which they are subjected day after day on social media?