So now we know the identity of Labour’s weapon of last resort. Faced with overbearing odds, the enemy on the offensive, snipers positioned at every angle, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell reaches not for the red button but Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. And it was probably a cherished autographed first edition at that.
Thus the response by Her Majesty’s Opposition to George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review routinely became yet another case of ‘definitely Corbyn and McDonnell’s worst day since yesterday.’ The Chancellor’s announcement was smart and carefully crafted. His Shadow’s effort was anything but.
There was plenty in the Government’s position that a half decent Opposition could get their teeth into. The big and potentially embarrassing U-turn on tax credits was the main act and a welcome move as were the measures to protect policing budgets against all expectations. There was a lot in the small print about switching nurses’ bursaries into loans and increased business taxes that he could have made some serious and relevant political capital from. But he studiously avoided all the obvious open goals.
Instead the Shadow Chancellor ranted on at length about the economic illiteracy of a Chancellor who has stuck steadfastly to his clear plan to get Britain back into the black, topping the poll of G7 growth, and who has just seen most of his economic forecasts revised upwards. It would all unravel by the weekend, he claimed. And then, with a grin that would have shamed a Cheshire cat, and in an act of defiant arrogance that sent a clear message to his Labour colleagues that he can do what he likes, he launched the Little Red Book stunt. There were not many grinning faces on the Labour benches after that.
If you are serious about dispelling the bad press about Labour’s lurch to the left then quoting the considered views of one of the world’s most tyrannical, far left field, state mass murderers in response to something as important and as public as the Spending Review in the Mother of Democracies is a definite no-no. Certainly, if a hapless Conservative MP had prayed in aid of Mein Kampf then he would rightly have been drummed out of town. But if he wants to be judged on that basis, then let’s humour him.
Another gem from Mao which Joker John overlooked was, ‘Diligence and frugality should be practised in running factories and shops and all state-owned cooperative and other enterprises. The principle of diligence and frugality should be observed in everything.’ Can we look forward to ‘austerity plus’ as the centrepiece of the next Labour Budget response? Given Mao’s frequent entreaties that ‘political power flows out of the barrel of the gun’, surely Joker John’s support for military strikes on Syria is now a given. And, of course, he should have heeded Mao’s first advice: ‘To read too many books is harmful’ – especially when it’s red and full of this dangerous throwback to even the pre-Cold War era.
If it weren’t so serious it really would be laughable. And after the many incredulous laughs on the Conservative side after this latest car crash performance from an Opposition leadership which charitably just keeps on giving, there almost comes a feeling of sympathy for the severe embarrassment now felt by most decent Labour MPs.
Having such a lamentably weak Opposition is not good for the country and it is not good for the Government. It has a tendency to breed complacency. The Long March of the Chinese Communist Party started in 1934 and finished in 1935. I fear the long march back by the Labour Party to be a credible party of government in the 21st century is going to take a hell of a lot longer.
(Image courtesy of Lian Chang, Flickr)