The shadow chancellor has presented George Osborne with a copy of Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book” to chastise him for selling off stakes in UK public assets to the People’s Republic of China.
In his response to the Government's Autumn Statement, John McDonnell said Mr Osborne would find the book’s political instruction useful in dealings “with his new found comrades”.
“The Chancellor is selling off whatever public assets he can – this is no longer the family silver up for sale – this is the furniture, the fixtures and the fittings, and we know who is the first in line to buy,” he said.
“I never envisaged that when it came to nationalising I would be outdone by a Conservative Chancellor. The only difference between us is that I would like to bring services like rail back into the ownership of the British people but the Chancellor wants to sell them to the People’s Republic of China. Nationalisation is OK for him as long as it’s by any other state but ours.
“To assist Comrade Osborne in his dealings with his newfound comrades, I’ve brought him along Mao’s Little Red Book.”
He then quoted from the book, cracking a smile, before throwing it towards Mr Osborne.
The Chancellor leafed through the book and quipped: “It’s his personal signed copy!” – a joke about Mr McDonnell’s political outlook.
The Labour frontbencher was ridiculed for the joke on social media, with critics arguing that it was ill-advised.
The exchange comes after Mr Osborne announced that stakes in major UK infrastructure projects including new nuclear power stations and high speed rail infrastructure would be sold to Chinese state investors.
The Government says the investment will boost the UK economy and make the UK China's closest trading partner in the west.
Crucially, Chinese capital investment allows the Government to increase UK investment without issuing its own bonds, which the Chancellor would rather not do in order to keep public borrowing figures nominally low.
Critics however say selling stakes the Chinese is actually worse value for money than simply borrowing money at record low yeilds.
Mao Zedong was the leader of the Chinese Communist Party at the time of the Chinese Revolution.
His Little Red Book is a series of quotations from selected speeches and writings that comprise the doctrine of Mao Zedong Thought, his political philosophy.