The outgoing shadow chancellor told a “rally for socialism” event in central-London on Wednesday evening that the left of the party should “never apologise” for the 2019 election policy platform.
“There are people who will want to take us backwards. There are people who will want to tear up the manifesto. They may not have the front to say that now. But that certainly what the intention will be,” he said.
McDonnell added the party had to “win an election not for winning’s sake” but to create a “socialist society”.
He said: “Diane [Abbott], I and Jeremy, keep on hearing these tributes on platforms and all the rest of it. It is like listening to your own obituary.
“We’re not going away. We will play a different role. And I keep saying I am going to become an elder statesman. You better believe it.
“You take the plaudits but you also take responsibility. I let you down. I let you down. We lost that election. When you are in a leadership positions you have to take responsibility. But you learn the lessons as well.”
He added he was “proud of that manifesto” in 2019 but admitted the party “didn’t create an overall narrative”.
“Never apologise for promising we were going to build a million homes. Never apologise that we were going to scrap Universal Credit,” he said.
McDonnell was speaking at the event organised to promote Burgon’s campaign alongside Corbyn allies Abbott and party chair Ian Lavery.
The three are all backing Long-Bailey in the leadership contest. But despite their support, the shadow business secretary looks to be heading for a heavy defeat.
A YouGov poll published by Sky News yesterday showed Starmer will win the contest in the first round by securing over 50% of the vote.
McDonnell has said he intends to return to the backbenches when a new leader is elected. Corbyn has not ruled out the possibility of serving in the shadow cabinet if offered a job.
Speaking at the rally, McDonnell said the party would have won in 2017 if it had been united “without coup after coup, attack after attack”.
“My biggest resentment is going back to how close we came in 2017. Literally a few thousand votes and we would’ve been in government now,” he said.
“People need to realise for us was a struggle to survive in opposition. A struggle to survive in the party. It wasn’t just one coup or two coups. There were attempted coups virtually every month.”
He added: “Some of the worst vilification was coming from behind us on our own opposition benches. Some of those we hear have been offered seats in the House of Lords. Ex-Labour MPs. Good riddance.”
Burgon told the meeting the Labour MPs who had tried to oust Corbyn in 2016 “helped to deliver that right-wing” Conservative government as a result of their “indulgence” and “treachery to the members”.
“It was almost as if some of of them wanted to to lose that election, so opposed were they to the ideas of socialism,” he sad.
“People who weren’t even household names in their own houses resigned from positions people didn’t know they had.”
He added: “I’ll never forget those who betrayed us. I’ll never forget those who handed the victory to the Tories on a plate in 2017. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in people changing their minds. I went to a Catholic school, you see. But to get forgiven you have to confess first.”
Lavery said there must be “no turning back” to the pre-Corbyn policies under a new leader.
“Now we are on the bottom we’ve got to rise again and understand how we have actually shifted politics to the left. We have done it. Be proud. We have actually achieved lots.”
The party chair added: “The election result was a disaster. But we cannot sit back and cry.”