If you’re not British, Labour politician Emily Thornberry’s resignation for posting a tweet of a house, some flags and a van may seem baffling. Here’s why it happened theguardian.com, Friday 21 November 2014 14.07 GMT
Emily Thornberry’s resignation from the Labour shadow cabinet for posting an image of a house in Rochester has provoked fury in Britain and bafflement abroad. While political commentators in the UK were divided over whether she should have resigned, they were fairly united in the belief that Thornberry had committed an embarrassing and potentially devastating faux pas.
At worst, she had shown her (and therefore Labour’s) contempt for the patriotic working classes. According to the prime minister, David Cameron, “effectively what this means is Ed Miliband’s Labour party sneers at people who work hard, who are patriotic and who love their country. And I think that’s completely appalling.”
All for tweeting this photo, with the caption: “image from #Rochester”.
Among those to tweet their confusion was the Washington Examiner comment editor Philip Klein:
While the actor Frances Barber admitted her difficulty in explaining the nuances of the affair to her American friends:
So how would you explain to someone from outside Britain why Thornberry’s position became untenable? Obviously there’s the timing, turning what should have been a tricky day for the Conservatives – who were about to lose another MP to the insurgent rightwing party Ukip – into one dominated by questions of Labour snobbery. And it played perfectly into the narrative of the main political parties being a bunch of out-of-touch metropolitan elites. The tweet was particularly disastrous as Thornberry is MP for Islington, an area of London long a byword for rich, bourgeois cultural and political elitism.
But why? After all, Thornberry has a habit of taking pictures of buildings and posting them on Twitter. The problem, as with so much of British politics, was one of class. She had taken a picture of a working-class home, covered in England flags: exactly the kind of home potentially containing the kind of “white van man” voter that the Labour leadership is accused of being out of touch with. And, some claimed, there was an air of contempt in her choosing to tweet the image at all.This, despite Thornberry herself being brought up in a council house.
Her case was not helped by her subsequent comments to Mail Online, who she told: “I’ve never seen anything like it before. It had three huge flags covering the whole house. I thought it was remarkable. I’ve never seen a house completely covered in flags.”
The St George’s flag has a complicated history in England, and its association with far-right politics, though fading, is still one that resonates with some. And the idea that the flag is synonymous with anti-immigration feeling – and that Thornberry’s tweet was drawing attention to this – also explains why the MP got into such hot water on the day an anti-immigration party was on course to win a byelection in the area.
“Amazing how many coded cultural messages are contained in some St George’s flags and a white van,” said Kate Shea Baird, a political communications adviser living in Barcelona. “It’s also common to see the flag of St George (St George is also the patron saint of Catalonia), but here it is a benign symbol, with none of the associations with racism or anti-immigration sentiment it has in the UK, nor any assumed relationship with social class.
“Also, in Spain politicians often refuse to resign even when they are under criminal investigation, so it’s easy to see why a resignation prompted by a tweeted picture of a flag would be greeted with bafflement here.”
The 3-Word Tweet That Cost a Politician Her Job (Slightly puzzled article from US)