Sunday, 23 November 2014

A house divided against itself

The meltdown in the Labour party appears to have now spread to the London branch.  This time the bone of contention is a tweet made by Emily Thornberry of a picture of a house in Strood draped in St George's cross flags and with a white van parked outside.  She has provoked considerable protest over this tweet, which has been described as 'snobby'.

Ms Thornberry herself subsequently removed the tweet and has apologised for any offence caused, saying that she didn't intend to do so.  Quite what she did intend to do is open to question.  Her major mistake, however, was to forget that her tweet was made to the public at large and not just to whatever audience she thought would see it.

Her resignation has been met with some puzzlement outside the UK, where people can't understand what's so bad about tweeting a picture of a house covered in the national flag of England.  Really it's all about class.  It's about someone perceived as middle class poking fun at the working classes.  Most other countries are not cursed with a class hierarchy, hence the lack of comprehension outside the UK.

Ms Thornberry herself was brought up in a council house, so evidently started her life as part of the working class.  Having become an MP she will now be perceived as part of the upper middle classes.  I understand that Ms Thornberry likes to post pictures of buildings in the UK on her twitter feed, and one could charitably assume that she simply saw the house, thought it was interesting and posted a picture.  However, this does bring into question her political judgement, given that this was on the day of the Rochester-Strood by-election.

The real damage for Labour is that people have interpreted the tweet as showing how out-of-touch the metropolitan elite are with ordinary people.  Personally I have no problem with people flying flags from their house.  I myself have two saltires up at the front and back of my house.  If English people want to fly their national flag, they have every right to do so.  The Labour party, however, have a real problem with this.  For the middle classes nationalism of any kind is something to be embarrassed about.

As we saw in the referendum, the Labour party are great believers in the union, and decried Scottish nationalism as a bad thing.  They want to see class solidarity throughout the UK.  And now they appear to have an MP who practises class solidarity, the kind that is amused by the 'little people' and their quaint nationalism.

If the Labour party is to survive, it needs to go away and have a think about itself.  It needs to decide what it's for and who it represents.  Until it does this, it will continue to have these internecine wars, much to the detriment of its chances of being elected.

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