Thursday 26 November 2015

Mao, McDonnell, and Mirth

As a general rule, quoting from anyone at the dispatch box is a risky business. There are lines that can be fluffed, contexts to be aware of, and a chance the audience in the chamber (and at home) haven't the foggiest about which you speak. The more niche or controversial the figure, the more risk. When yesterday John McDonnell reached into his jacket pocket and produced a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, you knew straight away it wasn't going to end well.

Yet it could have worked. Could. John made some very serious and pertinent points about Osborne's relationship to the Chinese state, a relationship that would have called down Tory fire and brimstone on the chancellor's head had Labour flogged off a key part of Britain's energy infrastructure to - effectively - the Chinese government. It highlights the Tory approach to selling off infrastructure, that they're okay with state ownership as long as it's anyone but the British state. After making observations about Osborne's new comrades, he could have just got the book out and handed it over with a quip. That was all. That could have worked as a bit of political theatre. Unfortunately, as we know, we ended up in the present ridiculous situation instead.

John, however, isn't the only MP to have recently quoted the Great Helmsman on the floor of the Commons. As @woodscolt79 notes, three members from the Conservative side have done just that. It's all there in Hansard. Should our friend Robert Halfon have said:

"This Gov are more Chairman Mao than Joseph Stalin and we believe in letting a hundred flowers bloom when it comes to devolution."

Or how about chum-of-the-coppers Andrew Mitchell when he noted "As Chairman Mao once said, fishes need water to swim in."

What a pair of inconsiderate bastards. How dare they quote Mao without condemning his heinous crimes. Particularly that Halfon, whose words can only be construed as shading into praise-worthy.

The fact of the matter is there is nothing particularly outrageous about quoting Mao, Stalin, or any other despot you care to mention. Nor does it indicate that those who utter their words would minimise the crimes or prefer for them to be forgotten. While John was foolish to do what he did, I think those imputing further motives need to get a grip.


Unit Blog said...

I think those imputing further motives know very well what they're doing and why, and I think they should be ashamed of themselves.

Speedy said...


For a Tory to quote Mao obviously is a joke, but for a hard-leftist who supposedly wants to disassociate himself with genocidal totalitarianism (which many believe he still has much sympathy with) it was a juvenile blunder. One wonders who is advising him? Oh yeah, a certain Maoist on secondment from the Guardian...

And Ken Livingstone justifying 7/7 on QT last night. What a wanker. I suppose the murders in Madrid, Bali and New York were revenge killings too. When the next inevitable attack occurs on UK soil, scum like him will really have blood on their hands.

And this is the man in charge of Labour's "defence review".

Matt W said...

You seem to be trying quite hard, Phil :-).

I think the difference is that John MaoDonnell has spent decades within a hair's breadth of believing this stuff, and can be credibly represented as such. With Seumus Milne on Stalin, they could end up with a full house of Dictators.

What happened to the LRB he threw at Osbo, and was it signed by Mao or MaoDonnell himself? If he has a sense of humour Osbo will put it in the Thatcher auction.

I won't be commenting further as I am off for a weekend on the Coast.

Matt W said...

Diane Abbott on Daily Politics.

"On balance, Mao did more good than harm".


Gary Elsby said...

Personally, I pissed myself laughing at Comrade McDonnell.
Comrade Osborne's face was a picture.

David Timoney said...

John McDonnell's mistake was not quoting Mao, it was both apposite and (for thew Commons) witty, but literally throwing away the advantage. Never hand over your tool. Better still, leave it at home. The point of his criticism - Osborne's embrace of Chinese money and his disdain for the advice of most economists - did not need a prop.

Chris said...

You know, I'm a moderate, but to call this a mistake just makes you look like you've gone pretty far to the right.