Tom Peck's Sketch: Chairman Mao's Little Red Book offers a gift to the Tories

Mr McDonnell gave Mr Osborne copy of Mao's Little Red Book - killing satire dead in an instant

Tom Peck
Wednesday 25 November 2015 21:07
Employees of the Government Printing House in Beijing pack copies of Chairman Maos 'Little Red Book,' in 1971
Employees of the Government Printing House in Beijing pack copies of Chairman Maos 'Little Red Book,' in 1971

What a pity that, when Chairman Mao explained to his Communist Party colleagues how ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’, it did not occur to him to mention that the idea is not to point it at your own face and then pull the trigger.

As the original expert on guerrilla warfare, he would have found much to admire in John McDonnell’s meticulously planned and perfectly executed assassination of the last remaining remnant of his own credibility, even if it did leave his party with life changing injuries, and killed satire dead in an instant.

Until the Shadow Chancellor reached unto his pocket and removed a thin red book that surely, definitely, could not be Mao’s Little Red Book of Communism, he had succeeded only in boring the house beyond submission. Even Jess Phillips MP (Birmingham Yardley) had stopped haranguing the opposition benches in her customary manner, which is that of a hen-do organiser slighted at 3am in a provincial cab queue.

But then, out came the book and from his lips came the words that will launch a thousand Tory Party Parliamentary Broadcasts: “Let’s quote from Mao.”

If Labour MPs had hoped that beginning a crucial, hideous U-turn defending speech by bellowing the word ‘embarrassing’ five times in a row would be the most embarrassing thing their Shadow Chancellor would ever do, they could not have been more wrong.

“We must not pretend to know what we do not know,” was the quote in question, in McDonnell’s head and nowhere else a withering assessment of Osborne’s economic incompetence. Unfortunately, what not even Communist historians no longer pretend they do not know is that the estimated 70 million people who starved to the death in the Chinese famine of 1958 to 1962, did so as a direct consequence of the decisions taken by the country’s leadership.

This, and ten thousand or so other reasons, have tended to mean Mao Zedong is rarely quoted by those with genuine designs on running their nation’s finances, something which Labour still at least theoretically have.

Silkscreen portraits of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol in the Staedtische Galerie in Rosenheim, Germany

Aware of the death of satire, Mr Osborne by way of riposte, could only report back the facts as they had happened. “The shadow chancellor literally stood at the Despatch Box and read out from Mao's Little Red Book.” That he then opened it and said, “Oh look, it’s his personal signed copy,” was a generous tribute to a previous era, when actual jokes were still a thing.

If this was Mr Osborne’s pitch at the top job, one line stood out. “The simplest thing to do is to avoid them altogether,” he said, which remarkably had nothing to do with the the announcement of the establishment of a ‘permanent pothole fund’, but was in fact the phrase with which he chose to announce his screeching, tyre-shredding U turn on tax credit cuts, which are we learnt now no longer required. A clear and emphatic victory for Labour, which had they not decided literally to throw Communist propaganda about, might have been remembered as an emphatic victory for Labour. Not now.

Faced with any kind of credible opposition, Osborne might have realised that when it falls to you to put the case for the de facto decimation of entire government departments, it might not be wise to find the collapse of North Sea Oil revenues so totally hilarious, as he twice broke from his detailed analysis to do, for the purposes of goading the SNP. But that’s Osborne.

And who can stop him? In the week before British fighter jets almost certainly join the ongoing air traffic control disaster above Syria, Jeremy Corbyn further burnished his credentials for high office by devoting all but two of his questions to the Prime Minister to the decline of the solar panel industry.

To his credit, Israel did get a mention at one point, but so did his friends Ziggy and Jay, a trio of disgruntled solar panel installers who turned out to be Friends of the Earth activists.

How long can it go on? Someone throw the book at them.

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