THE BLOG

There Was Nothing Classist About Emily Thornberry's Tweet... But Our Reaction to It?

21/11/2014 10:11 GMT | Updated 20/01/2015 10:59 GMT

What's more classist, tweeting a disapproving picture of a terraced house in Rochester, England flags hanging from the drainpipe, white van parked in a driveway, or associating that image and all of its connotations with an entire class and culture?

I grew up in a council terrace, with, shock horror, one or two white vans parked in the street outside. If there was an international football tournament going on, I would open my blinds to see, in a few but not all houses, flags pinned up in windows or draped down from them, wetly scraping the pebble-dash walls.

Some of those flags stayed up after the football finished. No-one really had an opinion about this. It was mostly assumed by people that their neighbours couldn't be arsed to borrow the ladder again and go up there and take them down.

But.

My family still live in the house I grew up in. A year or so ago, a family moved in next door to them who are not British. Soon after, an England flag just happened to appear in the window of one of the houses opposite and as far as I know (although I'll probably get an angry call off my Mum today, telling me to stop landing her in bother with her neighbours), the flag has remained there regardless of football fixtures.

And a lot of people on the street have an opinion about that.

And everyone knows the difference between those England flags and the ones left behind from football tournaments.

And everyone knows the difference between the amount of flags which were flown then and the amount which pop up now.

And everyone knows when there's a political statement behind a flag. Or everyone can at least hazard a well-educated guess about what the occupants of a house flying three England flags at the height of the Rochester by-election might be trying to say. We could argue until the cows come home about whether or not that political statement is one based in anything other than prejudice (hint on my opinion: it's bloody not), but the fact remains that having a political reaction to an obviously political statement is absolutely reasonable.

What is not reasonable, in any way, shape or form, is to say that tweeting a picture of a terraced house, van in driveway, flags flying, is classist. Flags and vans are not an inherent part of working class culture, or unquestioned and undisputed by the working class. St George's crosses do not naturally bloom from the walls of terraced houses. Emily Thornberry had the same reaction to that house as this council house kid would have.

Yes, Ukip have in recent years gone to great pains to court the working class vote and succeeded, at least with its non-immigrant and white segments. This is hardly surprising. Working class communities feel the cuts, the pinches, the squeezes of the recession first, longest, and hardest. They are more prone to the politics of division. That's common sense. It is a lot easier to sow seeds of discord amongst people already angry, already aware of the divisions in society.

But the working-class too has been historically the bunch of people who taught the rest of the world about solidarity. We fought the Battle of Cable Street. We invented trade unions. We allied with gay men and lesbians during the Miner's Strike. A great number of working class people are immigrants or minorities themselves, and the vast majority live peacefully alongside white British neighbours. Although the majority of Ukip voters are working-class, that does not mean the majority of the working class vote for Ukip.

And we've all also seen England flags flying in farmers' fields, outside detached houses which vote Tory, across ironic Islington pubs celebrating the jubilee.

So: the Ukip spokespeople claiming Labour have betrayed the working-class with this tweet: nope. Flags, implied nationalism and even white vans aren't the staples of an entire class, you bleeding biogted and pitiful fools.

But as to how Labour reacted to this whole debacle - with Thornberry stepping down from the cabinet as I write and earnest, careerist people in suits holding their heads in their hands... Christ. The reactions to this supposedly classist kerfuffle have been so classist themselves that I'm beginning to think I'm living in a satirical novel. The tweet was blown out of proportion by a media and Twittersphere who have no idea of the lives of ordinary working people, and then supersized even further by a party who have now made clear they've no idea either.

Because Labour comes from the working class which unites, not divides. That lesson we taught everyone else in solidarity? It was meant to be the Labour Party. By wholeheartedly agreeing that Thornberry's tweet was a betrayal of its roots, all the party have done is agree with the rest of this small-minded, snobbish culture that working-class people are a bunch of white-van driving, three-flag waving stereotypes.

And until we all stop seeing the working-class as that: a dangerous and vital segment that's to be chased for its xenophobic votes at the same time as being persuaded out of them, a yucky, common uncomfortable truth who can only be engaged by being as patronising and as stereotyping and as unchallenging as possible, then no party, let alone Labour, will ever represent it - and that means most of us - properly.