Sir Winston Churchill Image Credit: Supplied

London: The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said that Winston Churchill was more of a “villain” than a “hero”.

When asked whether the wartime British prime minister was a hero or a villain at an event organised by Politico in London on Wednesday, the shadow chancellor replied: “Villain … Tonypandy”.

Tonypandy was a reference to the incident in November 1910 when one miner was killed and around 580 people, including 80 policemen, were injured after Churchill, the then home secretary, sent 200 Metropolitan police officers with a detachment of Lancashire Fusiliers held in reserve in Cardiff to quell rioting in the south Wales town.

The soldiers were eventually deployed, though it was long disputed whether Churchill had personally sanctioned the decision. Churchill nonetheless remained deeply unpopular in the South Wales Valleys and within the Labour party.

In the live Politico London Playbook interview, McDonnell also conceded that it was unlikely that Labour will be able to force a general election to renegotiate Brexit, after the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, suggested it was not a credible option to pursue.

“We’re still in the hope of a general election, but it’s unlikely, so, yeah, I think [Starmer was right],” McDonnell said.

Related: An election would be a headache for Labour — and all-out war for the Tories | Polly Toynbee

In further remarks, the MP for Hayes and Harlington said Theresa May was “floundering” and predicted parliament would soon “take [Brexit] off her hands” to force a softer exit upon the government.

Suggesting that Labour’s demand for a permanent customs union could be the price for supporting the EU withdrawal agreement, McDonnell said: “We think it could fly with parliament eventually.”

He later warned: “Don’t underestimate the strength of feeling to prevent no deal.”

— Guardian News & Media Ltd