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McDonnell Insists His "Flamboyant And Jocular" Mao Stunt Hasn't Backfired

The shadow chancellor said his "self-deprecating joke" was a success.

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John McDonnell has defended his decision to quote from Mao Zedong's Little Red Book during his reply to George Osborne's Autumn Statement.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Thursday, the shadow chancellor said his "jocular" and "flamboyant" stunt successfully made the point that Osborne is selling off British assets to China.

McDonnell came under criticism on Wednesday for quoting from the book of statements by the notorious former leader of the Chinese communist party, commonly known as Chairman Mao, whose policies were responsible for tens of millions of deaths in China. However, McDonnell said the criticism came from a "pompous" media who missed the point of the joke.

"You need, sometimes, a bit of flamboyance and a bit of a jocular approach to these things but it's a serious issue which is about the sell-off of assets – British assets," he said on Thursday morning.

"Usually the shadow chancellor's speech sinks below the surface within hours. Having [not] done that, we're now talking about it and I actually think amongst the British public many people share my concerns.

"Of course the media and some MPs are a bit pompous about all this. But I've broken through on the issue so it worked."

Asked on ITV's Good Morning Britain if the "self-deprecating joke" had backfired at all, McDonnell told presenter Susanna Reid: "It hasn't backfired. Lighten up."

People within Labour slammed McDonnell for Tuesday's stunt, with Welsh Labour AM Alun Davies branding the shadow chancellor "a clown".

McDonnell is a clown. Way out of his depth. We needed leadership, strength and substance today. We got Mao.

Former Labour cabinet minister Tony McNulty questioned whether it was the wisest of political moves.

Whoever said "I know, let's see if we can get a quote from Mao's little Red Book to accentuate point" probably shouldn't have done. Really?

McDonnell came under further criticism on Thursday from a Chinese author who spent three years in one of Mao's labour camps in the 1960s.

She spent time as a child in Mao's labour camps. How does it feel to hear John McDonnell quote from the Red Book?

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today, Diane Wei Liang said McDonnell's actions were "not funny", and that she found the exchange in the Commons "chilling".

"In a way, it was chilling for me because it reminded me of the memories I had in childhood ... of public denunciation meetings when, before sentences are passed on to someone who is condemned either to death or jail sentence, [there was] always someone quoting from Mao's Little Red Book a passage which then will be used to condemn these people," she said.

Asked if she accepted McDonnell's defence that it was a joke, Liang said: "It's not funny for the millions of people who died during Mao's regime, nor for those who lived through those times."

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Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

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