Thorny Thornberry has gone, rejoice! A ghastly woman, I couldn’t be happier, but Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph takes a more measured view.Boris begins: “You know what I mean by the Darwin Awards, those satirical celebrations of the people who manage each year to die in the most idiotic possible way – so boosting the quality of the human gene pool. We are talking about the vandals who manage to urinate on power lines; the metal thieves who brilliantly attempt to steal live copper cables. I think it is time we had some political Darwin Awards, to mark our appreciation of the greatest self‑immolators of our time.
This year’s winner would surely be Ed Miliband. He approached the humdrum matter of a tweet by Emily Thornberry in rather the same flamboyant style as the chap in America who won the 2012 Darwin Award.
This intrepid fellow defeated his many rivals by his remarkable handling of an otherwise average suburban barbecue in North Carolina. Noticing a bottle of salsa sauce that contained a yellowish fluid, he guessed it must be alcohol. He took a long and refreshing draught. It was petrol. He spat it out all over his clothes, and then – relieved at his narrow squeak – he decided to relax. He lit a cigarette. I am afraid to say the poor fellow died the following day, in the burns unit of the local hospital.
It was exactly this flair for catastrophe that Miliband has brought to the Thornberry business. He took an everyday occurrence and turned it into something absolutely spectacular. One of his closest Labour friends had been out campaigning in Rochester, and she took a photo on her mobile of a house. The house had some England flags on it, and a white Ford Transit van parked in front of it. She then “tweeted” this photo, and captioned it, “Image of Rochester”. So far, so dull, eh!
It was an entirely run-of-the-mill English townscape, with some straightforward words to go with it. There was no obvious insult, no abuse, no overt sneering. She might have got away with it entirely, had some alert blogger not spotted it. He instantly detected the coded message that Emily Thornberry was sending to all her right-on, bien-pensant, Labour-luvvie friends in Islington, or wherever else it is that they follow her on Twitter.
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; 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-belled, 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.