John McDonnell chose to jokingly brandish a copy of the Little Red Book of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong during his response to the spending review, to the disappointment of some senior Labour figures.
In a move that sparked laughter and jeers in the Commons, the shadow chancellor pulled out a copy of the Quotations from Chairman Mao to make a point about George Osborne’s attempts to sell off state assets to the Chinese. He read out a passage and then threw it across the table of the house towards Osborne.
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“To assist comrade Osborne about dealing with his newfound comrades, I have brought him along Mao’s Little Red Book,” he said.
McDonnell then was forced to pause, amid laughter from the Conservative benches.
After the Speaker restored order, McDonnell said: “Let’s quote from Mao, rarely done in this chamber. The quote is this: ‘We must learn to do economic work from all who know how, no matter who they are, we must esteem them as teachers, learning from them respectfully and conscientiously, but we must not pretend to know what we do not know.’
“I thought it would come in handy for him in his new relationship,” he added.
Shadow chancellor brings out Little Red Book to make point about George Osborne’s relationship with Chinese
Some Labour MPs sat stony-faced on the frontbench during the episode. One shadow cabinet minister said afterwards that the main gripe among his colleagues was that the stunt had been a distraction at a time when McDonnell should have been concentrating on attacking the Tories about spending cuts.
Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, said she thought the joke had “probably backfired a bit”, while the former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie told the BBC: “There are all sorts of stunts and things that can happen in the banter in the House of Commons.
“I’m not sure on this occasion it will achieve quite what John was hoping it to achieve,” he said.
Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary, said he was not sure why McDonnell had referred to Mao as a joke.