Emily Thornberry has sensationally quit her role as Shadow Attorney General last night following wide vilification of a tweet, which allegedly demonstrated ‘contempt of the working class.’
The image she tweeted, of a white van in front of a house sporting three England flags, was captioned simply ‘Image from #Rochester.’
Does it show that she’s hopelessly out of touch with the electorate, that she thinks a white van and some England flags are a rare sight? Yes. Does it show that she’s a snob, prejudiced against the ‘working class’? Definitely not!
We are far too touchy about class in this country, and no wonder given the time it took for the aristocracy to loosen its grip. It doesn’t help that the rest of the world is obsessed with our class structure and royal family.
Class in this country did indeed lack mobility, in the past, but now that the aristocracy has largely decayed, leaving just a few hapless Wodehouseian aristocrats, Earls and Baronesses (and of course the Royal Family), I think that we can all afford to chill out a bit.
Working class, middle class and upper class may still be commonly used differentiators, but they’re nowhere near as rigid as they once were; education is a great leveller, and those with the correct support and access to resources have the opportunity to transcend ‘class’.
Of course some people still lack that crucial support and opportunity – those caught in the poverty trap, stuck in failing schools, with no encouragement or help from teachers or family.
This is a tragedy, and indicates that we still have problems with social mobility, and yet according to global mobility reports we’re mostly on a par with the US – a country that famously boasts its dream of unfettered individualistic success.
The irony is that Labour is historically one of the most successful political parties for promoting social mobility, and yet a few individual MPs continue to show a lack of connection with the concerns of their constituents.
Gordon Brown was quoted as saying that trends in social mobility ‘are not as we would have liked’, and yet despite this insight and his party’s efforts to increase mobility, most people will remember him for his infamous ‘Bigot’ slip up.
If Labour is unable to understand the concerns of people from a range of social backgrounds, then people will vote for a party who does. It’s no surprise that the residents of the house pictured in Thornberry’s tweet said they didn’t vote at all – maybe they don’t feel like anyone represents their interests.
By pinning the cause of their voters’ issues on factors like immigration, UKIP have thrown people an irresistible crumb: someone to blame, and someone to take their side. It’s a party that has found a way to connect with the core vote, and this is why the main parties are starting to panic.
Labour, the original working class party, founded by the unions to represent those without a voice, needs more MPs like Dennis Skinner and the late Tony Benn, who are unafraid to speak (shout) on their behalf.
But above all the Labour party must demonstrate that it still knows how to listen.
Ed Miliband is desperately trying to reconnect with core voters, but actions such as Thornberry’s betray a definite lack of connection with the electorate.
Labour isn’t a classist party, it’s just out of touch with what people want – it needs to demonstrate support, understanding, and the desire to tackle issues, not simply dismiss voters’ concerns as bigoted or irrelevant.