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Graeme Archer

Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.

“What was the highpoint of your year? Paint a picture for me.”

My annual review; the annual question. It’s like “What’s the funniest joke you heard in 2014?” You can remember laughing, but not the cause. Highpoint: I see Keith and I stood on an elevator, a real moving staircase, but outside, on the street, in Barcelona. I was just ahead of him, so that (for once) I was taller, and could look down past his smiling face to the carrers and passatges and avenidas…my boss coughs.

“Maybe,” I offer cautiously, “Maybe something to do with my team?” We stumble through the hour, during which I learn nothing about myself that I didn’t already know, but it’s helpful, isn’t it, to hear it from the mouth of another. Isn’t it?

Do the political class conduct annual reviews? Perhaps the Prime Minister was interviewing his own direct reports at the same time. Nick would fit into MegaCorp without a flinch. Over to you, Nick.

“Although our strategy suffered significant set-backs in 2014,” – always plural for failure; reserve the singular for the rarer triumphs – “I feel certain that my hard decisions about Coalition will bear fruit next year. I’m not your direct report, by the way. I’m actually leader of the Liber-”

“Thanks Nick. I’m marking you as ‘Failed to meet his objectives.’ Next! Michael?”

What about Labour?

“Ah, Emily. Come in. Take a seat. Actually, don’t.”

You didn’t really think we wouldn’t talk about Emily? Of course she was lying, and for Twitterati to insist that her picture’s intention was as wholly innocuous as its subject is breath-taking (self?) deceit, because if “Left” and “Right” map to anything beyond economics, it is to “Psychoanalytical” vs “Empirical.” Tough on the causes vs a little more judgement; theory vs observation. Ms Thornberry’s advocates would have us believe that semiotics, suddenly, is dead to them; has become a uniquely Right-wing discipline.

Her defenders should tune into BBC1’s The Missing. In scenes featuring depressed, hopeless paedophile Vincent Borg, whose character is a cipher for toxic futility, a listless St George’s flag hangs from his neighbour’s window. The set was dressed like that…at random? I don’t believe it.

I particularly don’t believe Ms Thornberry, because of her actual seat rather than its Westminster connotations. “Hackney South & Shoreditch”, where I used to live, is a real place (Hackney struggles that people should understand this; the metaphors it’s forced to carry are heavy); it happens to be contiguous with the real place that is also “Islington South & Finsbury”, Ms Thornberry’s constituency.

Islington’s metaphorical burden is, if anything, greater than Hackney’s – for an opposing but as misleading reason – but the tiny number of incredibly rich people (Boris et al.), who live in the sort of town house where once Ken murdered Joe, who make up the “north London metropolitan liberal elite”, are vastly outnumbered by the people who live on estates.

And if you stripped the “Welcome to the London Borough of…” signs down, you’d not be able to tell when you’d left Islington’s estates and entered those of Hackney. The streets of London between Upper Street to the west and Broadway Market to the east are, in terms of what matters to most of their residents, the same place.

And in those flats and on those estates, however many newcomers have arrived, remains the newly (to the commentariat) famous and apparently beleaguered indigenous white working class. If Ms Thornberry has really “never seen anything like it” – where “it” is a St George’s flag flying from a working-class voter’s window – then she’s never been canvassing in her own seat. Or she’s lying.

When the Hackney Tory Collective (Broadway Market cell) went out door-knocking, I preferred the council estates to the wooden-doored, pine-floored town houses. The latter were occupied – see the semiotic mote in my own eye – by people who wanted to make a point. Their points didn’t interest me. They’d peer at me as a chemist might study a once-familiar streak of bacteria. “A Tory? In this street? But I’m head of Council Services for Le-“…whatever.

On the estates, conditional on the door being opened by an English-speaker (“indigenous”, horrible word, or otherwise), you had maybe a thirty-seventy chance of finding a Tory voter.

And were the flat to carry imagery such as the famous flag of Rochester, my spirits would rise. My instinct was that we, the householder and I, would vibrate on the same political wavelength.

Instinct’s not enough, of course, and must always be examined by the intellect, which always arrives later (intellect is the “post-judice” to instinct’s “pre-”). The flag might also – fellow Conservatives, there’s no point in denying this – be a mark of somewhat unappealing political appetites. But the Tory instinct about flags, and about those citizens who take strength from their display, is healthier than Labour’s, whose instinct is more like The Missing‘s set-dresser.

For Georgian town-housers like Emily, English iconography instinctively suggests hatred-of-other, as her subconscious selfie revealed. For her thrusting, young, go-ahead leader, a flag, or a van – or whatever! – apparently suggests “respect”. I don’t know which is more depressing.

12 comments for: Graeme Archer: Emily Thornberry’s semiotic selfie

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