23
Nov
14

UK zeitgeist

Only in England.

During a byelection, Emily Thornberry, a Labour candidate in working-class Rochester (Kent), tweets without comment a photo of a rowhouse bedecked in English flags (i.e., the St. George’s red cross, a component of the UK flag). This rowhouse has a white van parked out front.

Thornberry is immediately fired by Labour leader Ed Miliband, apparently for her liability as a condescending, out-of-touch metropolitan, though to date he and his party haven’t actually said what was wrong with her tweet.

The North American reaction is rightly: wtf?

It’s really about:

  • Labour MPs and voters having defected to Ukip;
  • the Blair government’s having opened up immigration to fuel a flagging economy, only to have far more immigrants enter the country than they’d anticipated;
  • the Labour Party’s immigration misstep being exceeded in unpopularity only by the Cameron coalition government; and,
  • Ukip’s ability to exploit the whole bloody mess from its anti-immigration, anti-Europe perch on the far right.

The thousands of (sometimes witty and funny) comments from Guardian readers illustrate how the English love to dissect and pore over every micro-nuance of their class system, fumbling as always over politically loaded nouns like working “people” (read: class) and speculating as to whether Britain’s working class is held in more contempt by Labour’s neoliberals, the party’s pro-immigration metropolitans, Cameron’s Tories or the Ukip currently wooing them. (And, whether this shrunken and divided working class still has much political clout.)

Besides a need to hang on to defecting working-class support, the premise for Miliband’s action seems to be to quash any whiff of a post-Thatcher tradition of sneering or laughing at “chavs“.

Semiotics, anyone?   The “white van man”.

The owner of the rowhouse — a tattooed gent now famous as the “white van man” — turns out to be the kind of bloke you might expect would cover his house in English flags when immigration is a heated issue. A few doors down from his place, the residents were flying a rainbow flag.

The UK needs to have an open and reasonable discussion about immigration. This coming spring’s election will be quite interesting. Perhaps too interesting. God save England.

 

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