Give Ed Miliband a Darwin Award for his Emily Thornberry decision

A furious twitstorm blew up, as it does so often these days – like some summer squall in the Mediterranean: quick to rise, quick to die. Some people denounced her, some defended her. And yet still Emily might have survived; she might today be luxuriating in her position as shadow attorney general to others Attorneys at Law; she might never have been chased down her street by photographers; the name Emily Thornberry would still be relatively unknown, and not – as it is today - on the lips of every newspaper columnist, every broadcaster and everyone in the entire country who drives a white van or flies the England flag.

But then Ed Miliband stepped in. He ingeniously doused himself with petrol; he lit the match – and ka-boom: there he is, with staring panda eyes and frazzled hair, and the entire Labour Party looking on in amazement at the destruction. He fired Emily; indeed he is said to have lost his cool altogether and actually shouted at the woman.

This tells us several important things about his leadership, and about the Labour Party under Miliband. The first is that he is prone to panic under pressure – and that is in itself a reason why he should not be prime minister. The second is that he clearly can’t think straight. By sacking Emily Thornberry so violently, he has emphatically and publicly endorsed the real meaning of her tweet.

Rachel Reeves and other ministers have been lining up to support this interpretation – that Thornberry was being snooty about that home in Rochester, and of course they are right. She was indeed being snobbish and condescending. She was showing her Twitter followers that house in order to belittle it and make fun of it.

When Emily Thornberry looks at a white van, she ought to see the people who make this economy go, the grafters and the entrepreneurs who comprise a huge proportion of the GDP of the South East. These are the people any government should want to help and support – by cutting their taxes, for instance, or helping them with a diesel scrappage scheme so that they can buy less polluting vehicles.

If you own a white van, you have worked to buy a vital asset; you are more likely to be helping others into employment; and yet Thornberry looks at a white van and sees only an enemy – a cultural enemy.

She doesn’t care much about small businesses and their problems, and in her experience too many white van men have unacceptably Right-wing views. And what does she see in those England flags? She should see an innocent symbol of patriotism, and love of our country – its language and history and institutions, its Royal family and its countryside, pubs, Shakespeare, football, fish and chips, you name it.

But that is not what Emily sees. She sees the dreaded flag of pot-bellied, immigrant-bashing lager louts. She sees the kind of flag that Labour councils have tried in the past to ban from public buildings; she sees a symbol of deplorable nationalism and jingo.

As for the house itself – what does Emily see? She should see a tribute to the efforts of the homeowner, someone who has worked not just to own the place but also to ensure that its architectural features somehow reflect his or her personality. Of course she sees no such thing – only a reminder of the achievement of her bête noire, Mrs Thatcher, who mobilised people to buy their own home.

Mrs Thornberry’s tweet was superbly eloquent of everything that is wrong with the modern Labour Party – a party that is all too obviously full of middle-class lawyers like her, who secretly disdain hard‑working, George Cross-waving white van men. But she might have got away with it; she might have been able to fudge it and keep her head down until the twitstorm passed, and then claim that it had all been grievously misunderstood.

Well done Ed, for so brutally confirming the truth about what Labour really thinks. Give that man a Darwin Award.

Dr Matt Taylor’s shirt made me cry, too – with rage at his abusers

It may be that we can learn some more about the role of comets in transporting ice, and therefore water, through the heavens – and there are some who have speculated that we have comets to thank for the existence of the oceans on our planet.

At this very moment the scientists will be beginning to process the data – to understand more about the elements, the minerals, the isotopes, the molecules. There may be clues about our past and pointers to our future.

This mission is a colossal achievement. Millions of us have been watching Philae’s heart-stopping journey. Everyone in this country should be proud of Dr Taylor and his colleagues, and he has every right to let his feelings show.

Except, of course, that he wasn’t crying with relief. He wasn’t weeping with sheer excitement at this interstellar rendezvous. I am afraid he was crying because he felt he had sinned. He was overcome with guilt and shame for wearing what some people decided was an “inappropriate” shirt on television. “I have made a big mistake,” he said brokenly. “I have offended people and I am sorry about this.”

I watched that clip of Dr Taylor’s apology – at the moment of his supreme professional triumph – and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.

Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.

And so I want, naturally, to defend this blameless man. And as for all those who have monstered him and convicted him in the kangaroo court of the web – they should all be ashamed of themselves.

Yes, I suppose some might say that his Hawaii shirt was a bit garish, a bit of an eyeful. But the man is not a priest, for heaven’s sake. He is a space scientist with a fine collection of tattoos, and if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.

As for the design of the garment, I have studied it as closely as the photos will allow, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I suppose there are women with long flowing hair and a certain amount of décolletage. But let’s not mince our words: there are no nipples; there are no buttocks; there is not even an exposed midriff, as far as I can see.

It’s the hypocrisy of it all that irritates me. Here is Kim Kardashian – a heroine and idol to some members of my family – deciding to bust out all over the place, and good for her. No one seeks to engulf her in a tweetstorm of rage. But why is she held to be noble and pure, while Dr Taylor is attacked for being vulgar and tasteless?

I think his critics should go to the National Gallery and look at the Rokeby Venus by Velázquez. Or look at the stuff by Rubens. Are we saying that these glorious images should be torn from the walls?

What are we all – a bunch of Islamist maniacs who think any representation of the human form is an offence against God? This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake. And if you ask yourself why so few have come to the defence of the scientist, the answer is that no one dares.

No one wants to take on the rage of the web – by which people use social media to externalise their own resentments and anxieties, often anonymously and with far more vehemence than they really intend. No one wants to dissent – and no wonder our politics sometimes feels so sterilised and homogenised.

There must be room in our world for eccentricity, even if it offends the prudes, and room for the vague other-worldliness that often goes with genius. Dr Taylor deserves the applause of our country, and those who bash him should hang their own heads and apologise.

Scrapping grammar schools was a ‘real tragedy’ for Britain, Boris Johnson says

"They work very well in many areas and they should be supported. I think that the decision to get rid of them was a real tragedy for this country."

Mr Johnson said he did not support bringing back grammar schools with "brutal" academic tests for children aged 11, but added: "What I think you could do is have a greater degree of academic competition, academic selection, at various stages in a child's development."

"There are ways of doing that, I think, which wouldn't be hurtful to people, which wouldn't make them feel like failures, but which would spur competition and get better performance out of our schools.

"And so the principle of academic selection is I'm afraid is not one that we should jettison.

The London Mayor also failed to match Nigel Farage's decision to go on the popular TV show Gogglebox, which relays footage of families across the country watching television.

The UK Independence Party leader is to appear alongside one of the programme's most well known couple for a special episode, it has emerged.

Asked if he would be interested in going on Gogglebox, Mr Johnson replied: "What is Gogglebox?" When pushed, he failed to commit to an appearance.

Scrapping grammar schools was a ‘real tragedy’ for Britain, Boris Johnson says

"They work very well in many areas and they should be supported. I think that the decision to get rid of them was a real tragedy for this country."

Mr Johnson said he did not support bringing back grammar schools with "brutal" academic tests for children aged 11, but added: "What I think you could do is have a greater degree of academic competition, academic selection, at various stages in a child's development."

"There are ways of doing that, I think, which wouldn't be hurtful to people, which wouldn't make them feel like failures, but which would spur competition and get better performance out of our schools.

"And so the principle of academic selection is I'm afraid is not one that we should jettison.

The London Mayor also failed to match Nigel Farage's decision to go on the popular TV show Gogglebox, which relays footage of families across the country watching television.

The UK Independence Party leader is to appear alongside one of the programme's most well known couple for a special episode, it has emerged.

Asked if he would be interested in going on Gogglebox, Mr Johnson replied: "What is Gogglebox?" When pushed, he failed to commit to an appearance.

Ditching Ed Miliband will not change the fact that ‘socialism’ has no relevance these days

According to some despairing Labour MPs, Alan has only to signal the tiniest flicker of interest, and there will be a putsch. All he has to do is almost imperceptibly incline his brow, and they will storm Ed Miliband’s office, hurl the fool from the window, and crown Johnson the leader without even the formality of an election. Such is the gloom, apparently, that now envelops the Labour rank and file.

It has reached the point where they may actually do something about it. They may summon the nerve to switch leaders with six months to go, in the hope that a new Labour leader would be swept in on a wave of ignorance and over-optimism and honeymoon-style enthusiasm.

If that were so, then the logical thing would be for the Tories to start a campaign to save the Panda. It would be in our interests to protect the poor beleaguered Lefty, leave him there masticating his bamboo shoots – in case he is replaced by someone more threatening. If all this stuff about an anti-Miliband plot is true, then it is time for Tories to save Miliband for the nation. We should all chip in to fund his much-ballyhooed American strategists, who seem to be giving the Labour leader such excellent – from the Tory point of view – advice.

I am offering myself as the founding president of the save the Panda campaign; or at least I would, if I thought he was really at risk. As it happens, I don’t think for one minute that Labour is going to junk its leader, inadequate though he is. They know that their rules don’t make it easy, and in their hearts they must know that Miliband is by no means their only problem. The problem is the Labour Party, and what it is supposed to believe in.

It was only a few years ago that every Labour Party member had a card that proclaimed his or her belief in the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Tony Blair very sensibly got rid of that nonsense. But what is the core Labour proposition today?

The core Tory proposition is that a strong and enterprising free market economy will allow us to build the homes and create the jobs we need – while generating the tax to help the needy. What does “socialism” mean, these days? Whenever Ed Miliband does come up with a concrete policy, it starts to unravel fast. I have been struck by the timing of the latest bout of rebelliousness. I believe it coincides with the unveiling of their flagship policy to put a new tax on property – called a “mansion tax”, but in reality a tax that would hit large numbers of people in London who happen to be living in pricey homes, but who do not necessarily have high incomes.

Tessa Jowell has come out against it, and so has David Lammy and Sadiq Khan and other London Labour MPs. They know it will clobber many of their own Labour-voting constituents; and in at least some cases the MPs themselves would be in the line of fire.

The Labour nomenklatura are at last waking up to the horror of what a Labour government would mean – paying tens of thousands of pounds just for the right to live in the family home, a home that they have done up and improved over the years without realising that they would be punished for their efforts. That is why they are so recklessly running down Miliband, and briefing against him at every opportunity. They know that it is bad for the party, and they know that they have no serious alternative; but frankly they don’t care. I think a lot of them have secretly come to the conclusion that it is in their own financial interests to lose the election – and they want Miliband to do so. They should be encouraged in that view.

Reach for the stars, yes – but remember those left behind

I want us to ping out from the solar system and if necessary to zoom through a wormhole, as they do in this new film Interstellar, in search of a heavenly Eden. I want our species to get up to Mars, at least; but that is not the objective of the Branson “spacecraft”. It is not about exploration; it is about luxury. It is about taking a very few people about 60 miles up and then giving them the sensation of weightlessness. The whole thing is to be over in four or five minutes and it costs about £250,000 per passenger. The mission is profoundly uninstructive about space, but it tells us a lot about the growing wealth gap here on good old Earth.

Now, I am not remotely anti-wealth. I don’t mind if people want to blow their fortunes pretending to be astronauts, not least because their investment will support a great many jobs – just as the Virgin group as a whole supports thousands of jobs. I don’t mind if the likes of Sir Richard Branson accumulate such vast sums that they can play around with space exploration. In fact, I think it is a tribute to his enormous enterprise and chutzpah.

There he is, a British businessman, valiantly filling a gap in the market that has been left by the relative timidity of Nasa. His project is a triumph of free-market capitalism, and I support the capitalist system in the sense that we have yet to find a better way of satisfying human wants and creating useful employment.

But the mere fact that some people are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds for a few minutes in space is a reminder that there are millions of people who couldn’t even afford to take a taxi, millions who have difficulty paying for the bus or the Tube – and in the past 30 years, the gulf between the two income groups has been growing.

If free-market capitalism is capable of sending a rich person to space, then it can surely do a little bit more to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder. In many sectors of the UK economy – and not just in banking – we have seen the growth of “top people’s pay” outstrip the rest of the market.

All kinds of good reasons will be advanced for this: the need to reward talent, to remain competitive in a global market etc. But there is absolutely no reason why prosperous firms should not simultaneously give a little bit more to their lowest-paid employees.

That is why I so passionately support the Living Wage. Today, we unveil a new rate for London, and new firms are signing up the whole time. Google will confirm that it is joining the movement, and we are in talks with some of the biggest supermarkets – firms that have always been wariest about making the switch.

There were just 27 organisations that could claim to pay the rate when I became mayor; and I am proud to say that in spite of many annual uplifts, there are now 408 firms and other bodies that pay at least £8.80 per hour to all staff. These include banks, building societies, cinema chains, coffee shops, building contractors, pubs, universities, travel agents, accountants, galleries, local councils, charities, architects and many more. They have all seen the logic.

It is partly about putting tens of millions into the pockets of some of the poorest families in London, of course. But the firms that pay the Living Wage – and they do so entirely voluntarily – will confirm that it pays for itself: in lower absenteeism, in greater loyalty and productivity in the workforce.

I know that there are some free-market diehards who will say that London wages should find their own level – just as they might rigidly defend a Mauritius sweatshop that pays its female workers 62p per hour to make Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg their T-shirts, the ones that say “This is what a feminist looks like”.

These ideological purists should remember that it was Winston Churchill who first proposed such a measure in this country, when he said: “It is a national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions.”

And the policy is surely deeply Tory in that it is rewarding those who work, those who make an effort – the people whose daily struggle is essential for allowing the wheels of the London economy to turn.

The Living Wage is starting to snowball, and deservedly to gather pace. Conspicuous among those that have yet to sign up is the Virgin group. May I respectfully suggest to Sir Richard that being known as a Living Wage payer would be even better for his brand than being known for sending rich people briefly into orbit.