In his response as shadow chancellor to the Autumn Statement, John McDonnell appeared to blunder by brandishing Chairman Mao’s 'Little Red Book' to criticise George Osborne.
He then quoted Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung to the chancellor, apparently in reference to the government's willingness to welcome Chinese investment in the UK.
The move to lightheartedly quote such a divisive figure as Mao (to his critics a dictator who killed tens of millions of his own people) in his first speech in response to an Autumn Statement was widely regarded as a poor one from a PR perspective by the media, and by senior Labour MPs including Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie and Angela Eagle.
Having experienced a roasting in the press overnight…
…McDonnell appeared on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 to defend his actions, following guest Diane Wei Liang, who had grown up in a labour camp in China as a daughter of academics.
She told the programme:
It was chilling for me because it reminded me of the memories I had in childhood...of public denunciation meetings when, before sentences are passed on to someone who is either condemned to death or jail sentence, [there was] always someone quoting from Mao's Little Red Book a passage which then will be used to condemn these people.
To me, it was not very funny and I think it’s not funny for the millions of people who died during Mao's regime, nor for those who lived through those times.
McDonnell was asked by the programme whether it was “time now to say; ‘Sorry, big mistake'?".
The shadow chancellor replied:
I just had a chat with that young lady, and she actually said 'I understood the joke'.
But of course I understand it from her perspective, but to be frank, there’s an element of hypocrisy here, isn’t there? Because here I am, going in in a flamboyant jocular way to raise an issue that wouldn’t have even been raised before, and to be honest the shadow chancellor’s speech usually sinks beneath the waves and nothing is ever heard of it, I’ve got an issue on the agenda.
His reply was not exactly welcomed…
…especially as his office’s YouTube channel has uploaded his speech, editing out the section which features the little red book.
Skip to the six minute mark for the relevant cutting:
McDonnell has since appeared on Sky News this morning defending his quotation, and is reported to have said that he has told the Labour Party to reinstate little-red-book-gate in the YouTube video.
To be honest, it's all a bit like The Thick of It right now.