In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Labour in Vain



There was an unexpected turn of events during Labour’s response to the Autumn Statement. (Edited: Huffington Post UK)

As part of Labour’s response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and the government’s spending review, the shadow Chancellor John McDonnell read out from the Little Red Book — a book of quotations from Chinese dictator Chairman Mao — before throwing it at his parliamentary opponent across the Dispatch Box [1].

As Mr McDonnell himself noted: “Mao is rarely quoted in this Chamber.” Mr Osborne responded with palpable amusement [2]:

So the shadow Chancellor literally stood at the Dispatch Box and read out from Mao’s little red book. And look — it’s his own personal signed copy. The problem is that half the shadow Cabinet have been sent off for re-education.

The Little Red Book

Mr McDonnell defended his “flamboyance” and “joke”. It has meant the shadow Chancellor spent time condemning the deaths under Chairman Mao, rather than giving Labour’s fullest critiques of the current government.

(Video: Henry Guido)

It must take a political novice to believe that quoting and throwing the Little Red Book in the House of Commons would not instigate this consequence, when Chairman Mao is commonly estimated as responsible for around 40 million deaths [3].

Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election to the Labour leadership, and his appointment of John McDonnell, is both the cause and effect of a deep schism within the parliamentary party, and the wider membership.

YouGov polled the Labour selectorate [4], with 82% of members who voted for Jeremy Corbyn supporting his continued leadership into the next general election. For those members who preferred another leadership candidate, this support stands at only 20%. Among the overall selectorate, 56% want Mr Corbyn to be their leader in 2020.

“Policies it really believes in”

Furthermore, YouGov respondents were asked which statement they agreed with most:

A – It is better if a major political party puts forwards policies that allow it to win an election and put them into practice, even if it means compromising on some of their policies;
B – It is better if a major political party puts forward policies it really believes in, even if the policies are unpopular and prevent the party from winning an election.

71% of Mr Corbyn’s backers in the leadership vote would rather Labour “puts forward polciies it really believes in” and not be corrupted by power, than work through a compromised relationship with the electorate. By comparison, 56% of those members who voted for either Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall would rather put their policies into practice, even if their overall platform is impure.

Given the scale of Mr Corbyn’s victory, that means a majority of the Labour selectorate, including full members, would rather pursue unblemished idealism over the difficult compromises inherent in parliamentary politics. Mr Corbyn’s acolytes use social media to berate their centrist colleagues as ‘Red Tories’, along with swearing and aggression, trying to force them in line or out of the party itself, heralding Labour’s own cultural revolution.

“So distant from the electorate”

It is a common claim that Jeremy Corbyn, and by extension John McDonnell, somehow represents Labour’s ‘core values’, with Labour ‘returning to its roots’. The historian Professor Glen O’Hara of Oxford Brookes University argues in the New Statesman [5] that this proposition is “almost entirely inaccurate”:

Such claims cannot just float freely in the air: they should and can be tested, by reference to the historical record. And what that shows — once you clear away the accreted myths and stories that surround Labour’s foundation and early years — is that Labour has never before been led by a politician so far from its historic centre of gravity, so distant from the electorate, or so fundamentally divorced from the party’s intellectual mainstream.

Since its inception, opponents of Labour have aimed the accusation of revolutionary aims and communist support at the party. Labour’s great beneficence to this country is its moderation and commitment to parliamentary democracy, eschewing personality cults and bloody revolutions for committed, thoughtful and persistent reforms.

Despite the intellectual aberration from Labour’s traditions, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell do represent a stable majority within the Labour party membership. The Labour party is a electoral force, rather than a campaigning group or petition writers. Its fundamental purpose is to win elections. The question arises as to when Labour will next have a majority of members who would rather win an election than make a compromise with the electorate.


[1] BBC Magazine, 2015. Who, What, Why: What is the Little Red Book? Available from: [Accessed: 28th November 2015]

[2] Parliament UK, 2015. House of Commons Hansard Debates for 25 Nov 2015 (pt 0001). Available from: [Accessed: 28th November 2015]

[3] Necrometrics, 1999. Twentieth Century Atlas – Death Tolls. Available from: [Accessed: 28th November 2015]

[4] YouGov, 2015. YouGov / The Times Survey Results 19th – 23rd November 2015. Available from: [Accessed: 28th November 2015]

[5] O’Hara, G., 2015. Forget the books. Jeremy Corbyn is without historical precedent. New Statesman. Available from: [Accessed: 28th November 2015]



This entry was posted on November 28, 2015 by in National Politics and tagged , , , , , .
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