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Who Would Win in a Fight Between Alastair Campbell and John McDonnell?

Apparently they "almost came to blows" after this week's 'Question Time'.
September 16, 2016, 3:15pm

John McDonnell

For some reason people think of me as "the guy in the office who watches Question Time", but that's simply not true. Let me tell you, almost nothing could force me to spend my Thursday evening watching Kelvin McKenzie and Tristram Hunt airing their Very Important Opinions.

But last night, something happened that made me wonder if I was missing out by socialising rather than screaming at the television. On this week's Question Time , things got so tense between Alastair Campbell, former spin doctor for Tony Blair, and John McDonnell, current shadow Chancellor, that the pair were close to coming to blows after the cameras stopped rolling. An onlooker told the Mirror that they feared angry words might turn into angry fists being thrown, which would have been weird.


John McDonnell's team described the reports of escalation as "nonsense, 100 percent". The fight didn't happen. But given that we're entering the era of the endless Labour leadership contest, and that it could soon be that the only way to settle the matter could be a one on one thrown down, it's worth considering who would have won this fight.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is trash talk. On the night, John McDonnell had the best insults. After Campbell gave a spiel about how bad grammar schools are, McDonnell wryly said, "Watch my lips: I agree with Alastair Campbell 100 percent on this issue" – a great example of the sort of passive aggression Campbell spent the entire night attempting.

"…That new Labour was a great success!" came back Campbell, weakly.

"He's at it again with spin isn't he," shot back McDonnell, which is, let's face it, a much better dig, because it's true.

When Campbell warned McDonnell of the dangers of living in a political bubble, the shadow chancellor said that his words were "nauseating".

"You're the person above all else who created a political environment where no-one would believe a word a politician said after a bit. You lost us five million votes in that process and set us up to fail. The reason Jeremy was elected is because people wanted some honesty back in politics again." Again, a pretty direct attack on the guys character that was hard to really brush off.


Rising to it, Campbell said, "Look John, I've come on here tonight to be as nice to you as I possibly can."

McDonnell replied: "So have I, the feeling's mutual," which is sort of pass-agg one-upping. McDonnell won on the night in the trash talk stakes, but you have to wonder whether, in the context of a fight in a pub car park, Campbell would act more like he did when he emailed Kelvin Mackenzie telling him to "fuck off" and that he should "feel fucking ashamed" for supporting Brexit.

Alastair Campbell

No fight would be complete without a crowd of excited onlookers, cheering the combatants on. But would anyone step in with a decisive interjection? McDonnell's got the whole of Momentum on his side, obviously, but I can't see any of them being real scrappers, if I'm honest. Jeremy would be pretty useless as well, just sort of dancing around on the sideline, trying to calm things down.

Campbell meanwhile would be calling out for a role-reversal with Tony Blair, hoping that the ex-PM would for once to come to his defence rather than the other way around. Alas Tony would be at some after-dinner speaking gig in Dubai.

But Campbell has other attributes up his sleeve. If the way they communicated on Question Time is anything to go by, the former spin-doctor would finish the fight with much the same energy as he started with. He gave his answers and just kept going, only stopping when Dimbleby told him to, and then jumping in as other spoke. McDonnell, meanwhile, was victim to this kind of energy, spending too much time having to block the interjections of others and huffing that he couldn't finish his sentence.


In a fight situation, this is completely hopeless. It translates to John McDonnell whining through bloodied teeth, rolling his bloodshot eyes, saying, "well if I could just get a punch in, that would be nice".

Ultimately though, it would probably come down to composure under pressure. Just look at how totally unphased Alastair Campbell was when Sky News's Adam Boulton lost his temper with him live on air.

Exhibit B: The time Campbell had an encounter with a croupier in Brighton and recalled, "The fear that her teeth might, at any second, bite my penis in two added to the erotic fervour."

Anyone who can deal with the thought of having his dick gnawed in half without dry-heaving is not going to be phased by anything at all. I think we have a winner.

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