In his essay The Lion and the Unicorn, George Orwell wrote:
“England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.”
After making those comments Orwell went on to live in 27b Canonbury Square. That address happens to be in the Islington South and Finsbury constituency which is represented by the Labour MP Miss Emily Thornberry (she evidently declines to use her title of Lady Nugee which she is entitled to as the wife of the High Court judge Sir Christopher Nugee).
Miss Thornberry has rather confirmed Orwell’s point by the tweet opposite which has some implicit disdain at a householder for displaying St George flags and parking a white van at his door. Perhaps she was also sneering at the modesty of the residence – she lives in a house worth £3 million.
So the mask has slipped. The sneering from the Islington dinner parties has been indiscreetly placed into the public domain. It recalls the General Election incident where Gordon Brown was caught describing Gillian Duffy a bigot.
This is more serious for the Labour Party that a regular Twitter row. One of the few areas where Labour have a strong advantage over the Conservatives is in the perception that they “are on the side of ordinary people“. The allegations about Andrew Mitchell talking about “plebs” were a gift to Labour for that reason. But now Labour’s credentials are being challenged. Their key messages that the Tories are “out of touch” and “on the side of the rich” look a bit more hollow.
Sometimes Ed Miliband is described as living in Islington. Such comments are then corrected when it is stated that he actually lives in Dartmouth Park. Such pedantry misses the point that Islington – with its dinner parties of condescending, hypocritical dinner parties is a state of mind more than a geographical location. Miss Thornberry was a crucial early support in persuading Mr Miliband to stand for the Labour leadership.
The suspicion remains that despite Miss Thornberry’s resignation, Mr Miliband shares her prejudices.