Ah, good old British virtues. Touchingly, some people still believe they exist – usually foreigners who’ve studied English using out-of-date textbooks. Tolerance, fair play, a sense of justice and a wonderfully calm disposition which isn’t easily stirred: of all nations, the British embody these attributes.
The British love a debate: Speakers’ Corner, where every woman and man may freely pontificate, is renowned the world over. And yet, when Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweeted that infamous picture from Rochester and Strood, she was summarily sacked by her leader, the admirably tough and impressively prime ministerial Ed Miliband.
That the tweet was “sneering” was quickly accepted, even though Ms Thornberry never said anything to the effect. Her critics claim to know her mind and condemn her on this basis. This is not the British way, where any accused is innocent until proven guilty.
Come on, I hear you say, surely the Rt Hon MP for Islington South and Finsbury intended to be condescending. “Look at this”, the image seemed to say, “in a constituency populated white van Little Englanders, what else would you expect than people voting for the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party?”
The reason why the tweet was so devastating is because it was so fitting: the picture sums up what every commentator has been telling us for the longest time: that UKIP does well among the white working class, who feel their country and way of life is under attack from immigrants, the EU, and a remote as well as corrupt political class.
Like the mouse that roared, Labour leader Ed Miliband has sacked the unlucky tweeter (pardon, he has, of course, accepted her resignation). He’s desperate to be seen as strong and decisive, stating that ‘the first rule in politics is to respect the voter’, adding that anyone flying an England flag only shows “love for his country”.
I beg to differ: The England flag is an emblem of division. Unlike the Union Flag – a symbol of unity – the St George’s Cross is, like it or not, associated with white Englishness. People flying this flag make a political point. There are parts of London festooned with St George’s Crosses, and I avoid them for my own safety. Far from being removed and out of touch, Emily Thornberry’s tweet proves she has highly sensitive antennae and a good eye for a picture, too.
So yes, let’s respect each other – but let’s not fall over ourselves to agree with each other regardless of our views. Surely the point of an election is to argue and disagree, sometimes passionately so.
One of the reason why UKIP are so popular is because the party members are seen to speak their minds and damn the consequences, whereas the established parties filter every utterance through polls and focus groups. Voters have become so good at spotting BS, they can smell a fake a mile off. Ed Miliband’s move smacks of calculation and desperation at the same time. It’s not hard to imagine an adviser whispering isn his ear, “we need these knuckleheads to vote for us, don’t piss’em off”. Ed may think he has “respected the voters” in sacking a colleague over an inference. But the feeling isn’t mutual. Perhaps a good display of strength might be to show some guts in the face of a media witch hunt.
Meanwhile, Ms Thornberry is being hounded for speaking her mind – which, you might argue, is her job. And if Dave Ware, owner of the now-infamous house, deserves our respect, then let’s extend the same courtesy to Emily Thornberry.
Image from #northlondon