Isabel Hardman

John McDonnell hasn’t worked out how to attack the government

John McDonnell hasn’t worked out how to attack the government
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John McDonnell is very peeved this morning that a stunt that he pulled in the Commons to get attention has got attention. He’s also relieved that though a guest on Radio 4 whose family experienced the brutality of the Maoist regime said on air that she found his stunt with the Little Red Book ‘chilling’, she told him away from the microphone that she understood what he was doing. But he’s pleased, overall, because at least everyone now is talking about the Tories kow-towing to the Chinese, and definitely not about what on earth he was thinking to produce the red book in the Commons yesterday. It’s a good thing that McDonnell raised it, because until this point, no-one had put our country’s epic kow-tow and asset sale to the Chinese on their front cover, or asked awkward questions about it at press conferences with the country's president.

But aside from the attention-seeking stunt that got attention, McDonnell revealed something far more interesting than his abilities as a campaigner. He revealed that he hasn’t yet worked out what Labour is actually going to attack George Osborne on after the Spending Review. This is totally understandable in the statement the Shadow Chancellor must give in the Commons just seconds after the Chancellor has sat down. Less understandable, perhaps, when you’ve had half a day and a night to look through the detail.

McDonnell ended up listing on Today all the issues that Labour had won partial victories on, but he didn’t seem entirely confident which one he will be proceeding with. Does this mean he too has had to give more attention to his Little Red Book shenanigans? Or does it mean that he hasn’t, as backbenchers Chris Leslie, Caroline Flint and others were managing to do in the debate following the statement, quite seen a killer detail that he thinks he can campaign on? Perhaps we will have to look to those who aren’t even in an official position in the party to find out what it can campaign on, while McDonnell raises issues that none of us had paid any attention to.