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Emily Thornberry’s tweet – double standards at play?

Emily Thornberrys tweetAm I the only person who thinks that the reaction to the picture of a house in Rochester decked with St George flags tweeted by Labour MP Emily Thornberrry might be a tiny bit over the top? Anne Perkins in The Guardian described it as “stupendous, crass, insensitivity” adding, “It may be the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years.”

Labour loyalists have queued up on news bulletins to denounce Thornberry, who has had to quit as Shadow Attorney General. Sources say they have never seen Ed Miliband so furious, which says a lot about his priorities. But this feverish response feels desperate and reeks of other forces with different agendas telling Labour what to do. The Labour leadership is in a panic, yet it’s clear that UKIP are a far bigger threat to the Tories.

The real problem here is the way Farage’s crowd are making anti-migrant prejudice acceptable. Ed Miliband may say that you don’t have to be racist to talk about immigration, but the problem is that many who do are. Over half of UKIP supporters think the Government should encourage immigrants and their families – including family members born in Britain – to leave the UK, a policy straight out of the far right playbook.

These attitudes need to be confronted, not appeased. Shadow Hone Secretary Yvette Cooper’s call for more border guards and tough new benefit curbs for migrants only incites UKIP and their allies in the Tory Party to ratchet the debate further to the right – fuelling a toxic discourse in which politicians outbid each other in scapegoat demagogy.

The only time Labour’s front bench make the case for immigration is when they concede it is good for the economy. But what about the social, cultural and political arguments for immigration? If you want to escape the insidious spread of UKIP thinking, go to London and the metropolitan cities where immigration has not only enriched out lives, but also brought fresh layers into the Labour Party, fighting on class politics and winning seats galore in last May’s local elections. Labour should be celebrating this and doing a lot more to help organise new migrants politically in defence of their rights, rather than joining the divide and rule chorus.

It’s easy for Labour’s enemies to paint Emily Thornberry as an example of an out of touch London elite – she’s an MP in Islington, so there’s the proof, etc, etc. But the narrative doesn’t quite fit. Unlike most of her detractors, Emily Thornberry grew up on a council estate. She’s not a typical New Labour career politician as some have claimed but has campaigned for affordable housing and voted against Trident and the erosion of civil liberties under the last Labour government.

Apparently I’m not alone in being alarmed by the over-reaction to her tweet. Owen Jones writes:

There have been many generalisations in the course of this incident that should surely be challenged, though. A damning subtext of the response to this whole episode is that the working class is a homogenous group, all with the same set of identities and beliefs.

As a general rule – whatever our class – the English do not tend to flaunt the flag apart from, say, sporting occasions. In the US and France the flag is commonplace, but it is associated with those countries’ revolutions and a sentiment of popular sovereignty.

The flags of Britain do not have the same connotations of “the people”. For many non-white people – including working class people on council estates – the St George’s cross is dripping with whiteness in every sense. To a sizeable proportion of the population, flaunting the flag sometimes seems territorial and exclusive, perhaps even intimidating.

And there are double standards at play. British politicians all too often demonise or caricature entire swathes of their own people and get away with it. Senior Tories have characterised unemployed people as “skivers” and “shirkers”; George Osborne spoke of the “closed blinds” of those “sleeping off a life on benefits”. Lord Freud spoke of disabled people who were “not worth” the minimum wage, and remained in post. The Sun is fanning the outrage over Thornberry’s tweet, yet a court was told this week that their reporters referred to their own readers as “plebs”. A Daily Telegraph blogger berates Thornberry, and yet once wrote a piece suggesting that the murder of an Iranian immigrant “has exposed the other side of working class Britain. The intolerance. The suspicion of distinctiveness.” Demonisation is rampant, all too conveniently justifying policies that hammer working class people.”

He’s absolutely right.

38 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    I strongly agree that the reaction to Thornberry’s tweet has been over the top. In fact a stupid action by Thornberry has been more than matched by the inanity and feigned shock of the majority of political commentators. The article by Anne Perkins was a classic example of this inanity.

    I believe that the Guardianesque shock-horror reaction tells us more about negative attitudes to the working class than does the original tweet. Journalists are queuing up to tell us how they deplore Thornberry’s snobbish attitude to the working class. What their writings actually reveal is that they think of the working class as people who drive white van, tile over their gardens and drape their houses in St George flags.

    The irony is that people who drape their houses in St George flags are much more likely to vote for right-wing parties than for left or centre-left ones.

    The protesters, in this case, definitely protest too much.

  2. Robert says:

    Thornberry made an error she should have had her hand smacked, but Miliband is so very poor at what he does he tries to be hard on the wrong thing.

    He went onto the TV station to tell us that Labour was built on working people, he himself is so middle class so upper middle class he cannot say working class or social housing.

    His own party abused the Union jack during the battles with Scotland, behind Miliband was a Union jack with the English cross brought out, it stood out, all to try and fight off UKIP.

    What he’s doing is sending out the wrong messages the same message New labour is not dead it’s just waiting.

    Look at Scotland if Findlay wins you could have two left wing parties fighting each other or as Findlay may say coming together to give the working class a better choice.

    In England we now have four parties all of them to the right, all arguing which one can slam the working class harder then the other. When I was told labour was looking to Germany to get an idea on where to go, I thought Jesus not 1930’s Germany, but no it’s to see how to take education forward, funny as hell we have to look at Germany to get direction about education, when Germany has just made University education free.

  3. Rod says:

    Can’t imagine Thornberry ever feels inclined to tweet photos of people enjoying a bottle of wine in an Islington bar.

    Perhaps Thornberry will use the photo of such a rare scene as evidence in a campaign to achieve ‘UNESCO Living Treasure’ status for Mr Ware. There could be some money in it for him and he might even reciprocate with a donation to the LP.

  4. Jim Denham says:

    Thornberry may have been brought up on in penury on a council estate, but that cannot excuse her crass insensitivity, political stupidity and arrogant, patronising contempt for the working class. All that is wrong with the Blairite and post-Blairite Labour Party. People are right to be angry and the left should be as well. I find it very worrying that some comrades on the Labour left seem to think this isn’t such a big deal.

  5. I agree with Jim Denham. The point at which NEw Labour lost in 2010 was when Gordon Brown showed how out of touch he was when after talking to a working class woman – and how often did he do that – he described her as a ‘bigot’. But he had forgotten he had left his microphone on and everyone heard it. Cue the rise of UKIP. We may not like what working class people believe, but as in Stoke on Trent, where the BNP started taking control of working class estates in elections, the way to deal with it is to listen and react positively. There are no BNP councilors in Stoke today.

    Treating working class people as stupid is daft, and then tweeting your derision doubles the stupidity

    Trevor Fisher.

  6. David Pavett says:

    Jim and Trevor see “patronising contempt for the working class” in the relaying of a photograph of a house draped with St George flag, a desolate front of house area and a white van parked in front of the entrance. Why? Very few working class people do that and those who do are likely to be more attracted to UKIP than anything to the left of the Tories. This is only a big deal because of the utterly trivial level of current political discourse.

    1. the level of political debate is irrelevant. THe fact is this was on the front page of the sun, and was a diversion used by the media to attack Labour. And Thornberry thought it was important enough to tweet, not realizing that it would be picked up, a mistake normally only made by footballers. Like ROy Hattersley’s speech impediment, Michael Foot’s donkey jacket, and Lloyd George’s alleged untrustworthiness (and reputation for sexual appetite, which is a total myth) it is not what is true that matters, but the image you project.

      The sun understood this perfectly which is why all the other media followed them. Thornberry didn’t. That is why she was a disasterous politician and had to go. Luckily she didn’t do any serious damage, unlike Profumo who couldn’t keep his pants on and then lied about it. THe personal is political.

      Trevor Fisher

      1. John reid says:

        It was the guardian who had the first full page article criticising thronberrys snobbery

      2. Robert says:

        Wales play and my grand kids put up the Welsh flag, go down town it flay over the town hall, it was taken down when New labour were in power, it was put back up when they left.

        It’s my flag I was born in Wales , the labour council had been in power for 90 years, it took down the flag and lost power.

        Miliband should have given her a public dressing down but in the end she resined or was sacked so I will accept either.

        I will accept that is is now the stage we are at with labour sadly. Policies are not something labour are good at, although bang wagons seem to be high on Miliband lists

      3. David Pavett says:

        Trevor, you are responding to something I am not saying. Thornberry was an idiot to tweet the picture. my comment is that her stupidity is compounded by those who read into the picture disdain for the working class I.e. by those who think working class means white vans and St George flags.

        Had she not tweeted the picture the personal could have remained what it normally is, non-political.

  7. Jim Denham says:

    AS a matter of fact, David, there’s a house a few miles away from where I live in Birmingham that has large St George’s cross flags permanently painted on its outer walls. I always assumed the owners/occupants were BNP’ers or EDL’ers or at least racists of some kind. At the last local elections I happened to be passing and noticed “Vote Labour” posters in the windows.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      It’s certainly wrong to assume anyone fits any stereotype, Jim, but when I’m out canvassing I don’t think I’m daft to avoid knocking on doors which have (i) signs saying beware of the dog and a bloody great iron gate or (ii) great big St George’s flags hanging outside. It wasn’t sensible to tweet a picture of the place because it could be misinterpreted – even though all the interpretations placed on it are pure supposition too – but it’s not a sackable offence. And sacking her has only made matters worse.

      I can’t criticise you for accusing Emily Thornberry of insensitivity or even political stupidity but large St George’s flags when there is no England international happening are a reasonably good indicator of right wing politics as you yourself admit. “Patronising contempt for the working class“, however, simply cannot be deduced from what Thornberry tweeted.

      The fact is that she was one of the most loyal to Ed Miliband amongst members of the shadow cabinet. She cast one preference only – for Ed Miliband. Not a single gesture to any other camp to protect her career interests.

      Now I make quite a few criticisms of Ed Miliband, but I did give him my second preference and I seem to be a darn sight more loyal to him than he is to his own supporters – even though there are precious few of them in his shadow cabinet.

      Loyalty is a virtue in leaders, I feel, and so is prudence. On both grounds he should have chided Thornberry but not sacked her. Something tells me that he would have acted differently if she’d been member of Progress. He’s almost always willing to make concessions in that direction.

      1. John Reid says:

        He’d have acted differently if she’d been in progress, yes maybe he’d have sacked her after the first phone call, not waited for the second attempt,

  8. John Reid says:

    Owen Jone a doesn to now what he’s talking bout, he keeps pushing the assumption that’s theres great socially liberally, left wing working class vote ,that’s going to push Labour to victory,a anti blue labour view

    No one said Emily was New Labour, and being born working class,odens tme an there’s not snobbery, when it comes to looking at terrace houses with St George’s flags and white vans outside them.

    There may be a problem wth people who talk about. Immigration being racist, and Ukip stirring up trouble with their anti immigration views may cause that, but the tweet showing Thronberrys snobbery and Ukip,s prejudice are two different things,this tweet and defending it doesn’t deflect that,it maybe the real issue but,it was obvious what Thronberry implied and ,it’s just as much a story,in its snobbery.

    Boarder guards are for illegal immigrants,not immigration,and they were cut first by the tories in 1996 and again in 2010′

    Jim Demham you’re right, David,there are just as many leftie swith England flags from their homes,
    David you’re missing the point, it’s an assumption Thornberry made of sneering at a certain type of working class person that has a St Geroge flag has a white van, in a terrace home are below the sort of person Thronbery is,it the assumption that many in the Labour party in North London middle class estates,look down on the working class outside of their part of london,

  9. Rod says:

    Jim Denham: “Thornberry may have been brought up on in penury on a council estate”

    Thornberry’s mother was a teacher and her father was a university professor who went on to become United Nations Assistant Secretary General.

    Thornberry is as working class as Miliband.

  10. James Martin says:

    An overreaction? Well it’s all about context isn’t it. For a left party confident of its politics and with genuine mass support among working class people it would indeed be a massive overreaction. But what happened (both in terms of the initial tweet and the leadership reaction) was that it served to act as a metaphor for rather a lot of things (that the Party is not left-wing and has lost mass working class support as a result).

    Now personally speaking (as a white working class bloke and – in football terms – and England supporter) my view of the eejit covering his house with all those flags, who at the same time wears mixed-martial arts t-shirts and has now plastered his van in Scum adverts, is that he is likely to be a lumpen tool.

    Not that my opinion matters for anything of course, but the point is that for all those bourgeois commentators who portray him as ‘typically working class’ shows just what a load of feck-wits most of them are.

    As for Thornberry, if she has shown anything it is to prove, yet again, that only twits tweet…

  11. David Pavett says:

    @Jim Denham. ‘My uncle smoked forty a day from his teens and lived to be ninety five, it never did him any harm’. Such ‘I know a bloke who …’ arguments don’t carry any weight. I agree with James Martin that those who take comments about people who drape their houses with St George flags as comments about the working class have an unfortunately stunted view of the latter.

  12. The guardian doesn’t matter. It was the front page of the SUN that blew this up, and it Miliband had not killed the story it would have run and run.

    Apparently someone was paying the guy concerned to go to London to confront Thornberry. So Miliband saved her from being doorstepped by press seeking a confrontation.

    She will be back. The story will die. But the bigger problem of the take over of politics by upper class careerists will continue to corrode Labour. Hazel Blears has some very valid points picked up by the telegraph. The article is anti-Miliband, but her statistics are relevant. We are developing a professional political class in the UK, and the people who benefit from this undermine the wider political process.

    In Russia it is called a Nomenklatura. People who have never done a real days work in their life. Until recently, even the Tories chose people who had had other lives. Winston Churchill even risked his life in battle. The current group of politicians don’t even risk their expense accounts.

    This is why the Scots Nats and UKIP are gaining despite first past the post. They are in touch with ordinary people. New Labour is on a different planet, planet politics.

    Trevor Fisher.

  13. swatantra says:

    Absolute disgrace that Emily was sacked by Milliband for that innocentr tweet, which was just a harmless bit of fun poked at UKIPPERs.
    This demonstrates that Milliband has no judgement at all and is simply panda-ering to the forces of the Right. Labour has to face up to the fact that there is a section of the working class that hold outdated racist and sexist views and its no loss at all if they find a Party like UKIP in which they are more comfortable.. We should be pleased to have got rid of them. Those sorts of people should not be welcome in a progressive social democratic Party like ours or as supporters.

    1. John Reid says:

      Turned out the bloke had never voted Ukip, and voted Lsbour between 97-2005′ and that’s you Swarptantra assuming that all Ukip voters are white working class, white van man, hang St Goerges flag, and live in a terrace house, you should know,a lot of ?Ukips support in Thurrock, Havering is in the more middle class Reas, that’s the threats, that Cruddas,and Polly billington are worried from.

      And poking fun at someone as its a stereotype associated with, Ukip, it was obvious what was implied, would it be o.k to poke fun at respect, by finding what was assumed an Asians house, guessing they’re muslim, because they have a certain style of home, Certain flag, or. Certain car

  14. swatantra says:

    Just back from Regional Conference and heard the best joke of the year!
    Voter Clacton/Rochester: ‘We’ve got a lousy, good for nothing useless Tory MP, and thats why I’m voting UKIP this time.’ Boom Boom.

    1. John Reid says:

      If labour lose certain seats we’ve got because the White working class,self employed man,witha St George’s flag outside ina council home votes UKIP are you going to say it doesn’t matter as that sort of chav stereotype, is something that we as labour supporters shouldnt want anyway

      1. swatantra says:

        You know the score John, We’ve had to put up with jokes about Essex Girls, and ‘Basildon Man for years. Its water off a ducks back and the same should go for White Van Man; many of them live up to that image. The fact is that our core support is starting to differentiate itself into specific groups. Those that are committed to labour and share its values and principles, and those that ‘just voted Labour because it was the fashion to do so’
        Its not just the Labiouyr Party that is going through the throes of crystalising what their beliefs are; the same is happening to the Tories and especially the Lib Dems.
        In my view that crystallisation of belief is a good thing; I’m always suspicious of ‘supporters’ that are just along for the ride.

        1. John Reid says:

          But the working class parts of essex went away from the Labour Party in 1979, some cases like Dagenham Barkimg that year had 18% swings against us, a thurrock we did worse in 1987 than 1983′ possibly due to the so called london Lenny left,

          Imagine if there was a photo of 5 Nissan Sunny cars outside a terrace house witha muslim, flag, or a Pakistan one to show who they supported in the cricket,with the assumption that 30 people all lived in the same house, would that sort of photo be o.k,
          We’d hardly go upto a Essex girl say you should be reading the guardian,there’s some constituencies like basildon I doubt we’ll ever win back again,

  15. William Jones says:

    Whilst of course it must be said that Thornberry showed a deficit of forsight,lets not dwell on it too much,move on!

    Now as far as the associated issues,it could well be that I may be in a better position than most to comment on them.I am as working class as they come.I was born as they say with “coal dust in the blood”!

    Having said all that,I’m afraid we must also move on from this obsession we have with Class.There is no consistency in the issue at all.If I’m wrong in saying this;Can someone please explain the contradictions thrown up by just two people,Benn and Skinner?

    1. Robert says:

      Class of course is important if your at the bottom of the class divide. On Labour list now a chap has stated that well here it is.

      John Slinger
      Remind voters that the clue is in our name: Labour. We are the work party, not the welfare party. Our founding father, Keir Hardie, who from age eight supported a large family single-handedly, did not fight all his life for the right to claim benefits, but for the right to enjoy the dignity of well-paid, unexploited work. We founded the modern welfare state and will always believe it to be a defining feature of our civilised society, but we must now communicate more effectively that Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and colleagues are focused on founding a new economy defined by labour not benefits.

      Of course that is a view of Kier Hardie except it was not the one he is known for. he thought welfare was needed and had to support people who were disabled sick out of work because if you do not then really your not a civilised society.

      I’m an ex miner six months before I said this is not for me, I left but then spent 34 years in the building trade before a simple mistake saw me fall a long way breaking my bank and causing a lesion to my spinal cord, a year in hospital and six months on rehabilitation and then doctors said you will never walk again, I did walk again well I call it walking.

      I think like you people started to forget the class system, New labour tried it best to tell us we are all middle class, but the fact is the banking crises have brought back the class issues of those that have it those that have some of it, and those like me who have sod all.

      In Scotland they have a SNP party which is to the left and we have a labour party which would love to be seen as to the middle, not left not right and it’s been hammered. And Labour will get even more of a hammering unless Findlay can win if it’s Murphy who wins new labour returns

      1. William Jones says:

        Of course Robert I can empathise with your ex miner you spoke of and you.Of course again your right to bring up the Banking crash especially in the light of the Bedroom Tax.I spoke at the time the Bedroom Tax was brought in that it was a full frontal attack on those who have nothing.

        I also recognise that the issues I spoke of are issues that fill us with despair.Again I recognise though that in these times of despair it is so easy for people to search for “magic solutions”.

        Its also important to recognise that these times of despair though were not directly caused by the Labour Party.I recognise that they were caused by the failure of the Capitalist system.A system that shows itself only to work for those at the top not for the likes of me and you at the bottom.

        I do hope you now realise that any differences between you and myself are merely wafer thin.Is there any hope then?Of course there is.Whether you may like it or not;The only hope there is for all of us is to bury the Tories and all they stand for,once and for all next May.

        1. Robert says:

          A capitalist system which labour jumped onto, I can blame labour and will totally, when we have a leader who cannot eat a bacon sandwich or say Socialist, council housing, or working class.

          Bury the Tories to have what another new labour train crash no thanks, Miliband has to be the biggest mistake the Unions have made an error they and we the working class will have to live with as we vote back in another Tory Party because the labour party is so rubbishy poor.

          Sorry I look at Scotland with complete envy and in Wales we do have the remnants of a socialist party struggling against a labour party in London which is telling it what to say.

          But hopefully devolution will really start soon.

  16. Barry Ewart says:

    Emily was presented as one of Labour”s middle class professional MPs and should have said she was brought up on a council estate – would have put things more into context.

    1. Robert says:

      Well so was Miliband if you believe his press, but so what working class is not about birth it what you believe in She is middle class or rather Upper Middle class who made a really childish statement about the flag of England. what an error the flags are used by hundreds of Football fans to show allegiance to your national footfall team and this week the big game was Scotland against England what a whopper to make.

  17. I apologise to David if I have read into his remarks what he did not intend. The tweeting is clearly idiotic under all circumstances as many footballers are finding out. No political messages of substance can be made through tweeting. The point I have made already is that the Sun put Thornberry on the front page, and someone (who?) was intending to get him to Westminster to doorstep Thornberry and use the pics. So Miliband had to do what he did.

    he killed the story for the tabloids. Whatever the complaints now being made, the Sun and its associates can’t use it. And I say what I have already said. Thornberry will be back. No long term damage done, he saved her.

    The bigger issue should be the one Hazel Blears has raised, which no one has yet picked up (she was on Radio 4 when she announced her research). Westminster is dominated by a political class. And is out of touch.

    The Thornberry incident is rooted in that fact. The Russian term for a political class, full time politicians is NOMENKLATURA.

    That’s what you should be discussing.

    trevor fisher.

  18. Chris says:

    It’s certainly true that if you go round northern council estates you’ll very rarely see even one flag of St George on someone’s house, let alone three, so I don’t think the chap is really representative of working class people, if he’s working class at all.

    That said, there is a disconnect between Labour voters and a wealthy, Americanised liberal elite that’s present in all the parties. Labour doesn’t have to “pander” to the views of working class voters, but it does have to represent them. Preferably we’d have a majority of working class MPs so it wouldn’t be so much of a problem.

    Personally, though I don’t agree with right-wing anti-immigration arguments, I don’t think immigration is an issue we can’t compromise on. It’s never been a core issue for Labour.

    1. Robert says:

      In my town the polish numbers have hit 10% of the local population I can tell you that has made a massive difference Immigration does matter and it is now top of the worries of peoples. Right next to low wages and poor benefits.

  19. David Ellis says:

    Well Miliband did the right thing getting rid of Thornberry. Whatever the merits of this particular flag waver, and there appear to be none, she endangered the Labour vote with her snobbish sectarianism.

    1. John reid says:

      Quite, Austin mItchellfoolishly said had Ed not sacked her it would have gone away,shows how little he knows,f they hadnt got rid of her it’d have been on the front pages for days,

  20. Mike says:

    Bit of a double standard, though. The Guardian’s Anne Perkins said, ““It may be the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years.” Really? No similar punishment for Liam Byrne, now Shadow Minister for Unversities, when he left a note in 2010 to the incoming Chief Secretary to the Treasury following the defeat of the Labour government, saying, “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam.” Now that really was stupid.

    1. Robert says:

      True so true but others have also spoken and then been told to shut up Reeves we will hammer down more then the Tories. She then spent the next two years trying to get forgiven.

    2. John reid says:

      Why was that stupid, he was the only one who admitted ,the country was broke,there was going to have to be massive cuts
      This mythical working class vote who want a far left manifesto, even they’d accept that we need to be credible by cutting. And that sneering at working class,white van man in a terrace with a union flag, shows snobbery,

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