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.