How a humourless Labour leadership fell for ‘white van man’ trap

Not long after shadow cabinet Attorney-General Emma Thornberry tweeted her textless photo of a white van parked outside a house in Strood bedecked with England flags on the day of the Rochester & Strood by-election, Labour leader Ed Miliband was reported to be incandescent with rage and it wasn’t long before Ms. Thornberry was forced to offer her resignation for her ‘indiscretion’. But, however you look at it, this was a trap – in part of the Labour leadership’s own making – that was just waiting to happen. It just needed someone to (if you excuse the mixed metaphor) light the fuse – and who better to do this than Guy Fawkes – aka Guido Fawkes the blogger, aka Paul Staines, whose scandal-exposing pedigree goes back to the 1980s when he edited a Labour smear bulletin, British Briefing, funded by – yes, you guessed it, Rupert Murdoch.

It was Staines who first realised the damage potential of Thornberry’s tweet and so helped make it into something it wasn’t by sending it viral. And it was not long after that before everyone bar the cat had seen the tweet and Mr Miliband, not particularly known for his sense of humour, duly played to form, betraying more in his hubris his own insecurities in how he is perceived by the White-Van-Man class, replete with pitbull and despite no claim to homogeneity.

So let’s de-construct this a little more…

First, there are the contradictions to get out of the way. Emma Thornberry is no snob: after all she grew up in a Council estate – though she might be profoundly guilty of absurdest humour. In contrast – and despite his well cultivated ‘Everyman’ image, Monsieur Nigel Farage – the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (which probably benefited most from the fallout from Thornberry’s tweet) attended one of England’s highest paid public schools – namely Dulwich College.

As for Paul Staines, he worked as “foreign policy analyst” for the Committee for a Free Britain, a right-wing Conservative pressure group, alongside David Hart. Staines also acted as editor of British Briefing, a long-standing publication by the group that was a “monthly intelligence analysis of the activities of the extreme left” that sought to “smear Labour MPs and left-leaning lawyers and writers”. British Briefing was originally called The Background Briefing on Subversion , written by Charles Elwell (formerly of MI5’s F branch which targeted ‘subversives’) and was part of an intelligence operation conducted by Brian Crozier, who was prominent in the Institute for the Study of Conflict.

Then there is the matter of the St. George Flag, the emblem of England. Very few English people appear to be aware of its origins, or even who St. George was. This particular saint was Greek and born in 303 AD in what is now known as Lebanon, though he eventually settled down in Anatolia, which is in the eastern part of what is now known as Turkey. George was a soldier in the Roman army, rising to Tribune. The “Colours of Saint George”, or St George’s Cross are a white flag with a red cross, frequently borne by entities which claim him as patron (e.g. the Republic of Genoa and then Liguria, England, Georgia, Catalonia, Aragon, etc.). These days, of course, the St George’s flag is evident for many sporting events.

Traditionally, Brits – with the exception of the Ulster Unionist lunatic fringe – have always had a disdain for flag waving or, worse, hoisting one up outside one’s pile (or Council house). It was considered jolly bad form (or bad manners). Indeed such ostentatious displays of nationalism were thought more befitting our neighbours on the Continent, seemingly prone to invasions every few years or so. Nor, unlike our cousins on the other side of the Pond, did we Brits ever swear an oath of allegiance to the flag at school each day – or to the Queen for that matter. And singing the national anthem was reserved for maybe one or two occasions a year and then always with gritted teeth.

No, nationalism was always, rightly, seen as one of the more unpleasant traits that is part of the baggage of fascism or the far right. Until now, that is. Now, thanks to UKIP, those of us who come from a long tradition of radicalism, dissent and atheism are now expected to suddenly wave this damned flag and show that we can be as patriotic and as Christian as the next scoundrel. Well, Mr Miliband, you and your fake socialist chums really fell for that one!

So forget that nationalism and religion are the twin evils that have begotten nearly every war that happened on this planet. And forget, too, that bigotry, or fear of ‘the other’, or myths masquerading as religion have caused more strife and misunderstanding than anything else in this mad world of ours. Forget all that, Mr Miliband, and you dishonour what little is left of the socialist and radical ideas and principles that threw up your party in the first place.

And no doubt Mr Murdoch – Staines’ erstwhile funder and now tabloid king of soft porn and racial bigotry – must be having the last laugh. Though Mr Miliband isn’t, for it is clear his humourlessness is incurable, as also his dogged determination not to realise that no matter how worthwhile his policies are, ‘White Van Man’ will never vote for him or for any political party that lacks integrity. That substance has been replaced by a dubious emblem is itself emblematic of chronic disillusionment – a condition entirely exploitable by those, like Farage, who seek only to divide.

See also:
It’s a fantasy to see the working class as an intolerant blob.
Patriot games: how toxic is the England flag today?

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