This is the tweet that plunged the Labour party into crisis. Emily Thornberry was forced to resign after sending it as the Tories were losing the Rochester by-election to UKIP. The result? Labour, not the Tories, were seen to be the greatest losers from the fact sitting MP Mark Reckless retained the seat for UKIP after defecting from the Tories.
It’s a sorry tale that makes me despair even more about British politics. Here’s why:
Labour’s shadow attorney general tweets a photo of a private house, with the number plate of the van in the drive visible. If that were my house or van, I’d be livid.
Labour’s leader makes the situation far worse by forcing Thornberry out. Ed Miliband is a man totally out of his depth and rather than defuse the bomb that Thornberry presented, he chose to detonate it. Without getting out of range of the explosion first.
Miliband was desperately responding to the idea that Thornberry was patronising working class people. She may have been, but that interpretation relied on the reader’s interpretation. Her tweet had no caption apart from the factual ‘Image from #Rochester’. British politics has reached the Orwellian state of thought crimes if a factual caption on a tweet is enough to incriminate someone. (Leave aside that the photo was taken in Strood: most people have called it the Rochester by-election.)
Politics is a little like sport: confident players can brush off a set back. Miliband is far from a confident player. He doesn’t look comfortable in his own skin, and was taken to the cleaners by Myleene Klass in a TV exchange about the mansion tax. He is very like his mentor Gordon Brown: a little brilliant, a little weird.
We’re told that people love real characters in politics and despise ‘professional politicians’. We certainly give more licence to characters, such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farrage, and in earlier times Mo Mowlam and Ken Clarke. We warm to them, even if we don’t share their politics. We can imagine sparring with them over a few pints. Sadly, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to meet Ed Miliband down the Dog & Duck. That might be his greatest failure. And Labour’s for choosing him as their leader. What were they thinking?