Did it ever cross John McDonnell’s mind that it might not be a good idea?
When looking into his shaving mirror yesterday morning and giving himself his usual ‘you can do this Comrade!’ pep talk , did he not also take a moment and say ‘but don’t do that, John! Definitely, don’t do that!’?
The ‘that’ in question was pulling out his Chairman Mao in public. Yes, yes, I know… These are liberal days and we have to be tolerant about the things that turn each other on but surely we’re not yet at the stage when a man can take our his Little Red Book and waggle it in a crowded room. Women swooned in the chamber and at least one Lib Dem passed out. Won’t somebody please think of the Lib Dems?!
McDonnell then compounded his error by launching the book across the Despatch Box, thinking George Osborne would appreciate the gift. He clearly did. You can be pretty certain that John’s Little Red Book will share a Conservative Central Office vault with Liam Byrne’s infamous note informing the new government that Labour had spent all the money. McDonnell couldn’t have given Osborne a finer gift if he’d slipped him explicit photographs of Jeremy Corbyn riding the tomb of Karl Marx bareback.
Quoting Chairman Mao would be bad enough for any Labour shadow-chancellor trying to prove his moderate credentials. Quoting Mao whilst waving his Little Red Book must go down as one of the biggest political miscalculations of modern British politics. Dare I say it’s a greater miscalculation than the ‘Ed stone‘. Greater too than Nick Clegg going into coalition with the Tories. Those two miscalculations were only proven to be mistakes after the fact. At the time they happened, they didn’t feel inherently wrong or, in the case of the Ed Stone, only reached its zenith of wrongness once it had been in the hands of we Photoshoppers for a few hours.
McDonnell taking out Mao’s Little Red Book in response to the Chancellor’s Autumn statement had ‘political suicide note’ written all over it. The only comparable misstep that comes to mind was Michael Foot’s donkey jacket, which he wore one Remembrance Sunday many moons ago, and I’m still not convinced the donkey jacket wasn’t working for MI5 to keep the communists out of power. What is shocking is that Labour seem devoid of advisers who could spot the potential pitfalls. Or are the advisers quietly ushering them to the edge of the ravine in order to bring this nightmare to a speedy end? Hardly surprising if that’s the case. Many Labour MPs will today be celebrating. They thought that Corbyn and his crew would be unmoveable. On yesterday’s evidence, they could self destruct anytime between now and the next ten minutes.
Yet, ultimately, McDonnell’s greatest crime was in giving Osborne an easy ride. The Chancellor had just delivered half-a-tonne of steaming Autumn statement that stank of u-turns. If austerity isn’t at an end then it’s surely in its last act. McDonnell needed to address that. He wasn’t wrong in spotting the mileage to be had in comparing re-nationalisation with the practice of allowing other states to invest in our future nuclear meltdowns. It would take a spectacular talent to miss a target so broad. Yet McDonnell did just that. Not only did he miss the target but his carefully aimed ice pick was later recovered from somewhere over his own left ear. Perhaps a fitting end to the career of an old Trotskyite who, in one stroke, finally took the chances of a future Revolution all the way back down to nil.