Britain’s Labour has been accused of lurching left since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, so when one of his key allies quoted Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book in parliament Wednesday, Conservative opponents were delighted.

John McDonnell, the main opposition’s finance spokesman, was giving his party’s response to finance minister George Osborne’s budget update in the House of Commons when he pulled out a copy of the Chinese revolutionary leader’s book of quotations.

McDonnell started off by joking that it would assist Osborne, who is pushing for Britain to have closer economic ties with China, in “dealing with his new-found comrades”.

Then he added: “Let me quote from Mao, rarely done in this chamber: ‘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 pretend to know what we do not know.’”

McDonnell then threw the book across the table between the Labour side and the government towards Osborne.

Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell quoting from Mao’s Little Red Book. Photo: UK Parliament screengrab.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s finance minister had just announced a fresh round of deep cuts to public spending, designed to shrink Britain’s budget deficit.

Lawmakers from his centre-right Conservative party roared with delight at McDonnell’s move, aware it would fuel perceptions of him and Corbyn, who became Labour leader in September, as radical leftwingers.

“So the shadow chancellor literally stood at the despatch box and read out from Mao’s Little Red Book,” Osborne said in response, adding: “Oh look! It’s his personal signed copy” as he opened it.

Mao was the founding father of communist China, governing the country between 1949 and 1976.

The period was marked by turbulence, including the so-called great Leap Forward — a modernisation initiative that many historians blame for causing a disastrous famine.

His best known sayings include: “Political power grows from the barrel of a gun” and “To read too many books is harmful”.

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