THE BLOG

Emily Thornberry Made a Mistake... But She Wasn't Completely Wrong

23/11/2014 18:44 GMT | Updated 21/01/2015 10:59 GMT

We've all been there, that horrible, gut wrenching moment when we've accidentally sent a kiss to the boss or told your Mum instead of your girlfriend that you're going to give her "a lovely foot massage when you get home" and to "get the oil ready". True story, that took some explaining. The world moves fast and mistakes happen.

We communicate with the world at the touch of a button. Social media's merits and pitfalls have been long debated, but nobody can deny that it brings us closer together. Friends, brands, bands and fans. Communicating your message is the heartbeat of modern success. Its risks vary depending on who you are and what you do, the product and the profile. And, critically, how secure your password is.

Politicians are one group of people who walk the tightrope of social media without a harness. An MP with a Twitter account at their fingers is a bit like that character at the beginning of an episode of Casualty; it's just a matter of time before it all goes horribly wrong.

Emily Thornberry is this week's victim. Her fall from grace wasn't particularly spectacular; it wasn't US congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeting a shot of his man-hood or former Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes, treating Facebook to naked mirror pictures; it was much less exciting. On the day of the Rochester and Strood by-election, a wealthy Labour MP tweeted a picture of a house with England flags flying from the windows and a white van parked on the driveway. It insinuated this was a bad thing. It suggested this man's patriotism and blue-collar profession meant he was bigoted, racist and narrow-minded. The Labour party's main problem here is looking out of touch with the working classes, a vote it depends on heavily. The real issue is something much more fundamental.

Emily Thornberry was wrong in her assumption, but she wasn't alone and it wasn't without foundation. Patriotism has been hijacked. Right wing movements like the English Defence League and Britain First use patriotism and the flag of St. George as a guise for their racism, and it's time to claim it back.

Emily Thornberry wasn't sneering at the working classes, she isn't so much a snob as simply misguided; she was foolish to think that that man's flapping flag of St. George symbolised any sort of bigotry or intolerance. It means, sadly, that the tactic of the EDL and those who call foul on issues of immigration and it's impact, not through a carefully considered argument but from an instinctive dogmatism, has worked. It's shifted the perception of love for one's country to something more sinister, more damaging. There is a great level of political uncertainty in our world; Russian support for the occupation of Ukraine, the rise of IS, poverty and disease, the human rights monstrosities faced by those in Iran, Zimbabwe, Bahrain and beyond. These issues are on our doorstep like never before. The cynicism felt towards Europe and the UN that perpetuates this desire to cut away from international partnership, and go it alone, are extremely dangerous. They threaten the stability of global democracy and the very sorts of people international cohesion protects us against are peddling them. That isn't patriotism, that's naivety.

Our fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East isn't a war on Islam; it's a war on those who use Islam as a vehicle for terror and prejudice. Similarly, Emily Thornberry's contempt should not be directed at patriotism, but those who use patriotism as a guise for their racism.

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