Never mind a week, it seems that a few days is a very long time in politics. This time last week Emily Thornberry must have thought of her trip to Rochester is little more than a dispiriting window dressing exercise to support the Labour candidate in an utterly unwinnable seat. One ill-advised tweet later, her political world has caved in as the world and his wife lead the charge to get behind the values of “White Van Man”. It has been a triumph for UKIP, a catastrophe for Labour, and particularly for Ed Miliband. Watching him try and explain the respect he feels when he sees a white van, reminded me of my distant closeted past, trying to explain to boozed up friends what my perfect woman looked and sounded like.. I sounded unconvincing and ridiculous. Miliband sounded far worse.
It was a stupid tweet. MP’s should really know better. However it was by no means the crime of the century and it is emblematic of the complete vacuum at the heart of Labour politics, that not one of them could muster up the skills to mount any kind of defence. I didn’t even see the white van as an issue. As a man whose boiler, plumbing, electrics and car go frequently on the blink, I am a man whose existence is utterly dependent on hardworking skilful people who drive a white van. I am sure I am not alone in not only refusing to look down on white van drivers, but seeing them as utterly invaluable.And often very hot. The thing that got me was the England flags. Not the flag itself, I’m not by any means unpatriotic. Although I have always thought of myself as British first and English second, I don’t scoff at people who see their identity differently. It was the fact that there were three flags. Bit much perhaps? People of course are entitled to make their own decisions on how the front of their house is festooned. But surely people are also entitled to look at it and think “trying too hard”. Or “eyesore”. We get it, you love England to the very core of your soul. Nothing wrong with that. But one flag would have done the trick, and allowed more natural light into the house.
Thornberry’s frankly idiotic mistake was to tweet without comment, thus allowing anyone to apply their own motives to it. Maybe the tweet was done with the snobbish contempt of an archetypal Islingtonite out of touch with working class aspirations. Maybe it was done with the resigned air of a Labour canvasser wondering what on earth would ever make a triple flag man vote Labour. It is likely that we will never know. But let’s for the moment assume that it’s the former…..
If it is the former, then I’m afraid it seems to mirror the crude class based “punching down” that I have increasingly noticed in club comedy in the last few years. I am fully aware of my cosseted public school educated background, where Mummy and Daddy have always been there for me,and it means that I bristle at broad sweeps made by some comedians at sections of society less cosseted than myself. Some of the things I have heard said about Greggs, Lidl, Aldi, their customers, and the homeless, would shame the Bullingdon Club. I have heard a routine about sterilising “scallies”, another where the word “vermin” was used, another using “scum” and any number about people who have the audacity to choose trackies as their leisure wear. Heaven forbid that we ever aim our punches is a more upwardly direction. I’m not for censorship, and I’m aware that somebody could probably forensically destroy my material. I do believe though that if Emil Thornberry’s tweet was from a dark place of nasty, out of touch condescension, then it is part of a wider culture that many comedians are actively contributing to.