The craven disloyalty of Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband’s treatment of Emily Thornberry over a simple tweet she published last week has been very revealing. He has been disloyal in the extreme and has caught himself in a confused web of repudiation and justification: the views Ms. Thornberry expressed are not those of the Labour party, we are assured (well, she didn’t actually express a view). And Mr. Miliband himself, we are informed, is overwhelmed by a deep sense of respect when he catches sight of a white van. A bizarre response to seeing a vehicle, to say the least. We put up with constant hedging and euphemism in politics but Mr. Miliband’s pronouncement is so strange and insincere that I feel patronised as a member of the public for being expected to take it seriously.

Rachel Reeves, perhaps the most grating of Mr. Miliband’s entourage suggested that Ms. Thornberry’s actions had “damaged Labour’s election prospects”. It seems to me that widespread rumours of a leadership coup in the Labour party will prove more damaging. Do Mr. Miliband or Ms. Reeves really think that come the next election Labour supporters will be hovering over their ballot sheets conflicted about whether or not they can bring themselves to vote for a party containing the egregious Ms. Thornberry. This is not serious.

Yes the tweet was injudicious. And were the supposed offence the violation of somebody’s right to privacy by publishing a picture of their house on the internet without their consent, some of her critics might have a point. But that is not the charge levelled at Ms. Thornberry. No, she is a snob. It seems to me that mild snobbery, which probably did animate her tweet, is not the most sordid vice represented in the House of Commons.

Worse still, not even an apology could save Ms. Thornberry her job as shadow attorney general, she had to be dismissed. Or bullied into a forced resignation by a man so incompetent that he recently managed to make a key note speech without mentioning the economy at all.

Ms. Thornberry strikes me as an intelligent, measured member of Mr. Miliband’s party who performs much better than he does on television or radio. The decision to dismiss her seems to me impulsive and craven. Mr. Miliband could have asked her to apologise, which she initially refused to do but finally did, and then, having extracted that apology, stood by her. I am not sure an apology was really required at all, but the parlous state of British politics requires our politicians to trot out vapid apologies and insincere reassurances about inclusivity and “respect”. The affair is symptomatic of the panicked rush by all three main political parties not to appear “out of touch” with the public – a phrase so nauseatingly overused as to now be rendered meaningless.

It is also unclear why Ms. Thornberry was dismissed from her role as shadow attorney general but permitted to maintain her position as MP for Islington. Given her extensive legal training and experience she is clearly qualified for the role of attorney general should Mr. Miliband limp to victory next year. If she is dangerously out of touch with the public, which I do not think she is, but Mr. Miliband and Ms. Reeves do, then it is surely her capacity as an MP, representing her constituents that should be under question. This is the behaviour of somebody with no principles or loyalty.

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