I’ve been thinking about Emily Thornberry’s tweet all weekend. OK, maybe not all weekend. I got my first taster of gin cocktails on Friday night at the Star at Night in Soho, and I had two of my favourite cocktails at London Cocktail Club on Saturday night – the Pornstar Martini (a passionfruit delight that comes with a shot of prosecco) and the Heisenberg (tequila-based homage to Breaking Bad that comes with a knowing sachet of blue coloured salt)….ok, I’m back- where was I?
Yes, so when I wasn’t drinking, or recovering from the latter, I was thinking about Emily Thornberry’s tweet and the reactions to it. She posted, without comment, a picture of a terraced house festooned with England flags and with a white van outside. The fact that she did shows that it was almost as if she was in a foreign country, far away from Islington. It shouldn’t be so. But she didn’t mock it.
However, the Labour party’s scramble to compensate for her perceived lack of tact and out-of-touchness with the working class strikes me as a bit of an overreaction that betrays their own anxiety and guilt about not standing up for working class people. What she did was embarassing, but the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. That holds true in this case. Ed Miliband, who can’t (won’t) even back the care workers in his constituency battling for a living wage condemned Thornberry (I’m outraged! etc) and then went on a grovelling campaign.
If Labour really wants to respect people like White Van Man (who is fast becoming our Joe the Plumber equivalent) it would push back on austerity rather than accepting it wholesale, and work on lifting people out of poverty wages that were topped up with tax credits. It would challenge UKIP. I mean properly challenge UKIP by dealing with people’s legitimate concerns but without pandering to bigotry.
Right now they (and the other parties) pander to UKIP rather than tackling the causes behind what drives people to protest there. And some of those reasons also require honest talk – on migration, for instance. It’s a reality of the 21st century. Now… that will never be acceptable to some. But recent research from British Future reveals a moderate – anxious, yes, but nuanced – majority who could be persuaded to accept migration if their concerns are addressed. Instead, we have nervy soundbites and grovelling op-eds about….a tweet.
And just as the “UKIP are right but vote for us to get UKIP policies” is a patronising (and incidentally, a losing) strategy, that confirms the prejudices and conspiracy theories of UKIP supporters (Nigel is right! And now the establishment just wants us to be good and vote for them again anyway)- the scramble over Thornberry scramble is unedifying because it’s almost as though Labour was caught out showing its true colours – rather than one woman betraying her snobbery. Their reaction actually confirms everyone’s suspicions that Labour does indeed no longer stand for working people.
(There’s a great discussion over on the Guardian politics podcast - one of the commentator makes the point that UKIP is a nasty vehicle of protest. I agree very strongly. I do think there is a crisis of representation, but protesters should weigh up the impact of allying themselves with a racist, extremist, truly nasty party just to give the establishment a bloody nose. And…about that establishment, UKIP is hardly anti-establishment)