Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has branded Winston Churchill a “villain” as he highlighted the wartime Prime Minister’s treatment of striking Welsh miners more than 100 years ago.
The senior Labour MP was asked about Britain’s wartime prime minister at an event organised by the political website, Politico.
When asked “Winston Churchill - hero or villain?”, McDonnell replied: “Tonypandy. Villain.”
‘Tonypandy’ is a reference to the south Wales town where Churchill, as home secretary, was alleged to have sent troops to intervene in a south Wales miners’ dispute in 1910.
The strike led to violent outbreaks known as the Tonypandy riots.
Although there is no evidence that shots were fired at Tonypandy or elsewhere, the handling of the riots has been seen within the Labour movement as overly harsh - and defined Churchill’s anti-trade union stance in the eyes of his critics.
Soon after his comments were shared on social media, Labour MP Ian Austin, a critic of the party’s current leadership, said on Twitter: “Look who takes pride of place on my mantelpiece in Dudley: a real British hero, the greatest ever Briton, the man who motivated Britain to defeat the Nazis and fight not just for our liberty but the world’s freedom too.”
Churchill’s grandson, the Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames, described the Labour MP as “publicity seeking”.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “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.”
But others supported his comment, including writer and activist Ash Sarkar, who said: “I’m glad that the Labour Party has frontbenchers like John McDonnell who aren’t afraid to face up to the nastier aspects of British history - not so we can malinger and malign, but to collectively build towards a better future.”