Labour must “come out fighting” after what has been a “terrible” 48 hours for the party, John McDonnell has said.
The shadow chancellor, a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, said the party must bounce back from the loss of hundreds of seats in council elections.
He told LBC radio its performance was “really disappointing” and that its message had to “cut through” better in the five weeks to the general election.
Theresa May says the election is not in the bag despite strong local gains.
The Labour leader has admitted his party faces a challenge on a “historic scale” to win on 8 June after the Conservatives enjoyed the best local election performance by a governing party in 40 years, winning 500 seats.
In contrast, Labour under-performed, losing control of key councils in the Midlands and Wales that are set to be important general election battlegrounds while coming third in Scotland.
In other election developments:
- The Lib Dems say they would put 1p on income tax to pay for health spending
- The Archbishops of Canterbury and York set out election concerns
According to analysis by polling expert John Curtice, if the results of Thursday’s polls in Wales, Scotland and 32 county councils in England were repeated nationally, the Conservatives would be on 38%, Labour 27%, the Lib Dems 18% and UKIP 5%,
Mr McDonnell said the party’s performance had been a surprise but he urged Labour to redouble its efforts over the coming weeks.
“I think Labour party members are at their best when it is tough and they have to come out fighting,” he said.
“It is terrible what happened over the last 48 hours but time and time again in terms of the Labour party and our movement, when it is tough people stand up and get on with it.
“It will be a test but out there we have got the mobilisation of our members to get our ideas across.”
Defending Mr Corbyn’s leadership, he said he was a “honest, decent and principled” man but acknowledged that Labour needed to do more to communicate his strengths and its policies which he said were popular with the public.
“We have to be much more effective in cutting through. Over the next five weeks, that’s our challenge.”
In the wake of Friday’s results, Labour has been forced to deny a rift between Mr Corbyn and former cabinet minister Andy Burnham, who was elected metro mayor for Greater Manchester on Friday.
Mr Burnham was not present at a victory rally in Manchester, attended by the Labour leader.
He told the BBC he had had a pre-arranged family event and that Mr Corbyn’s event was independently organised.
Ian Lavery, Labour’s national campaigns co-ordinator, said he was not sure why Mr Burnham had not been there but he wanted to “dispel this myth that there is a rift between Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham”.
He added: “I think the more that Jeremy gets out there into the community and speaks to people, knocks on people’s doors, holds rallies and speaks to people face-to-face, the more that people will warm to Jeremy Corbyn.”