The controversy surrounding John McDonnell’s alleged support for Jackie Walker is not a clear as the press coverage suggests.
After his speech at the LRC conference, McDonnell took some questions from the floor. Jackie Walker, who after many months of suspension is facing a disciplinary hearing in March over comments connected to Jews and antisemitism, asked one. Not about her case and status in the party as such, but about the abuse she has received online and on the attempts of right-wing Labour MPs to conduct a trial-by-media. Both indisputably real and bad. It seemed she went out of her way not to ask McDonnell for his view on her case . McDonnell responded in kind. He talked about the way Walker has been treated online and in the media — in sympathetic but noncommittal terms — and went out of his way not to comment on her case as such.
The way that has been presented in much of the media is nonsense . A different criticism of McDonnell can be made. On 5 February, he said, rightly, on LBC radio that charges of antisemitism in Labour are “not a smear”. In a political environment like the LRC conference, where criticising antisemitism on the left would be unpopular, he avoided that issue. He avoided controversy all round. This same approach has seen McDonnell and others fail to publicly support Labour members expelled for left-wing activism, including supporters of Workers’ Liberty.