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The Thornberry flag debacle.

EMILY THORNBERRY’S DEFENSTRATION must be the swiftest in modern British political history. Within twenty-fours hours of her tweeting a minimally-captioned photograph of a house and van from a by-election zone she had apologised publicly and resigned from her job in the shadow cabinet.

It’s a remarkable, and in many ways heartening event. Too frequently we watch someone making a statement (or in the case of scientist Matt Taylor just wearing something) only to be pounced upon by the outrage lobby, being harried into making an unnecessary apology and either being driven from their job or made to undergo a kind of pubic re-education programme. Thornberry was saved most of this, even though she deserved the humiliation more than anybody else.

thornberryvanThe tweet itself is unremarkable. It shows a white van parked outside what looks like a council house which has three flags of St George hanging from it. Nothing else. The only caption was: “Image from #Rochester”. It was actually in Strood, but we’ll let that pass.

When Thornberry posted this she probably thought it said a thousand words about what she assumed was the stereotypical Ukip voter. She was wrong: its said a thousand words about her and her colleagues in the Labour Party. All of them bad.

It’s a case of context being everything.

What it said was this. Terraced house, and not of the expensive Georgian kind in which Thornberry lives. Lower end of the socio-economic scale. Looks like it’s ex-council. Probably owner-occupier (and so it turned out). Lived in by the kind of person Labour thinks should be one of theirs but whom they privately despise for being a pleb.

White van: shorthand for the white, uneducated, aggressive, self-employed working-class man. If you’re a socialist you don’t like these independent, entrepreneurial types because they’re not biddable. They’re not victims to be patronised. They actually know about business and how the world works. They’re too Thatcherite and unlikely to vote Labour. They’re often drinkers and smokers who enjoy racist and sexist jokes. They don’t like the fact that their streets, towns, schools, hospitals and surgeries now seem full of foreigners nobody asked if they wanted. They don’t like being told all the time how to live their lives. And they’re probably cash-in-hand tax-dodgers.

Thornberry was inviting her like-minded colleagues and supporters to parade their moral superiority over a whole group of people.

The flags. Not enough has been said about this but the flags are at the core of the Thornberry snark. Socialists hate English patriotism and patriots. On the other hand they love Scots, Welsh and Irish nationalism because it’s all predicated on a hatred of the English (and it’s odd how “nationalist” can be applied positively to those but only pejoratively to the English). Thornberry’s sneer may have been slighter if the flags (“I’ve never seen anything like it…”) had been Union Jacks but the flag of St George is the shibboleth for the left. By proclaiming himself an English patriot White Van Bloke (aka Mr Dan Ware) has identified himself with what the self-loathing left hates about its own country — ie everything.

BY PUTTING UP this picture Thornberry was inviting her like-minded colleagues and supporters to parade their moral superiority over a whole group of people. Ironically for a party that is opposed to the class system, it’s a pungent manifestation of ingrained class snobbery. If ordinary Labour voters can’t see this as a clear indication of the contempt in which their party holds them I don’t know what will. There again, there’s a lemming-like docility to the Labour hard core.

As it turns out, White Van Patriot Man, Mr Dan Ware (“cage fighting car dealer” and 36-year-old “father of four”, as the Daily Mail tells us) is a Conservative voter. He said he had put the flags up during the World Cup and left them there. He didn’t know there was a by-election taking place. He thinks Mrs Thornberry is a snob — which is more polite expression than I would use. I think Labour can forget about his vote come the general election.

The good thing that’s come out of this is that both Thornberry and her boss, Ed Miliband, have now said we should fly the England flag with pride. We can therefore take it that the flag of St George has officially been released from the stereotyped hands of fascists and football hooligans and joined the ranks of the politically acceptable. The left are probably already rueing this day for the aggravation it’s going to cause them in the future. They deserve all the pain they’re going to get.

Michael Blackburn.


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