John McDonnell and The Little Red Book

John McDonnell took some flak when he produced Chairman Mao’s little red book from his pocket in the House of Commons on Wednesday, probably a first in the history of Parliament that the book has made an appearance. However it is not first time  that Chairman Mao has been quoted. The table below shows the frequency of mentions of the phrase ‘Chairman Mao’ since the 1950s.


1960s 1970s 1980s


‘Chairman Mao’


17 35 11


Source: SAMUELS Project

Mao is often mentioned in order to introduce a quote that is relevant to the discussion. Here is Robert Adley (Conservative) in 1974:

RA: It is with no disrespect to them
 that I say that they remind me
 of the words of Chairman Mao,
 that a journey of a thousand miles
 starts with a single step

Other Mao quotes from the houses include:

James Pawsey: It was Chairman Mao who said 
that knowledge is power

Ian Winterbottom: As Chairman Mao has said, 
"Power grows out of the mouth of a gun"

Anon: People, I hope, will realise at last— 
to borrow Chairman Mao's phraseology— 
that the IRA fish will be denied altogether 
the water in which alone 
they can live and swim

John McDonnell quotes from Chairman Mao’s little red book

Here’s the transcript from McDonnell’s speech as he produces the book and the subsequent reaction of the chamber to it. The Speaker has to step in a couple of times to try and restore order.

JM: to assist comrade Osborne in his dealing
    with his new found comrades
    I’ve brought him along Mao’s little red book
      ((removes book from pocket))
Chamber: ((general noise))
JM: let me quote (2.0)
    let me quote mister speaker
SP: ooorder
    I I want to hear about the contents of the book
JM: I think you’ll find
    I think you’ll find this invaluable ((4.0))
    let me offer
SP: ((inaudible)) rather excitable one mister McDonald
JM: I thought this would help him mister speaker
    let’s quote from Mao
Chamber: ((general noise))
JM: rarely done in this chamber (1.0)
    the quote is this (1.0)
    oh be- behave
    ((gestures to opposition member))
    ((reading from book))
    we must learn to do economic work
    from all who know how
    no matter who they are
    we must esteem them as teachers
    learning from them respectfully and conscientiously
    but we must not to pretend to know
    what we do not know
    I thought it would come in handy for him
    in his new relationship
     ((throws book to George Osborne’s side))

External link to clip

John McDonnell reads from the little red book

George Osborne Responds

George Osborne (GO) could not help picking up on this incident of course and drew some laughter from the house in reply:

GO: so the shadow chancellor
    literally stood at the dispatch box
    and read out from Mao’s little red book
Chamber: ((general laughter and shouts))
GO: oh look it’s his personal signed copy
Chamber ((general laughter and shouts))
GO: the problem is half the shadow cabinet
    have been sent off to re-education
Chamber ((general laughter and shouts)

External link to clip


The little red book lies on the table near Osborne

Houses of Commons: The Autumn Statement (25/11/2015)
Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence 3.0

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