OK, Emily Thornbury was at best naïve and at worst stupid. Let’s step back a few years to the pre-digital camera and pre-internet era. What would have happened?
She would have seen the house and had whatever thoughts about it that she had. She would have pulled out her instamatic camera and taken a snap. When the roll of film was used up she would have had it developed and when the photos came back she would have shown the photo to her family and maybe some close friends. They would have discussed it and we would never have known what she had said or why she took the photo. End of story.
Now, in the present, she took the photo on her camera phone and Tweeted it straight away. She has over 15,400 followers. Is that more or less than she had before last week’s events? Who knows. But what I can tell you with almost absolute certainty is that she cannot possibly know who all those 15,400 followers are, and amongst them will be many journalists. It’s their job to keep tabs on politicians and Twitter makes it so much easier to do that. It wasn’t a matter of IF the photo would be stumbled upon and put in the papers or on TV, it was a matter of who would win the race to be first to get it out there. Hence my assertion that she was either naïve or stupid.
Does she hold voters in contempt? I don’t know. Only she can answer that and only her most faithful adherents will accept what she says as the truth. Is she out of touch with the electorate? I don’t know, but actually I’m not that bothered if she is.
Earlier in this piece I referred to a narrative. I don’t know who started it but the view has got out there that those at the centre of the mainstream political parties are out of touch with the electorate. Much of the media, especially the tabloids, has taken up this narrative and is constantly looking for proof of it. Nigel Farage has also leapt upon this narrative like a drowning man grabbing a life belt; it helps his cause by attracting voters to him.
In truth NF is as out of touch as any other politician, as can be seen by the frequent policy U turns he makes. The media seizes every opportunity to display how ‘out of touch’ politicians are: Ed Milliband making a mess of eating a bacon sandwich; Emily Thornbury Tweeting a photo of a house with St George’s flags flying from the window and a white van parked in front; David Cameron breathing, and so on and so forth.
Nigel is said to be ‘in touch’ because he smokes and drinks pints of bitter. No he isn’t. It’s an act, just like Al Murray’s pub landlord is an act. It's convincing, but it's still an act. Nigel is doing what Nigel wants to do and some of the things he says fit with the views of some voters, some of the time. That doesn’t mean he speaks for the man in the street. I know plenty of men (and women) in the street who wouldn’t put Nigel Farage out if he was on fire. I know far fewer who would actually vote for UKIP but all that does is illustrate the sort of people I’m acquainted with.
Am I bothered if a Minister of State doesn’t know the price of a pint of milk? No!
It is not the job of Ministers of State to know the price of a pint of milk – the normal sort booby trap question that is asked just to ‘prove’ how out of touch politicians are. It’s their job to run the country. Yes they may be a Metropolitan elite, but I don’t want the country to be run by the man in the street. I am the man in the street and I know I’m not up to the job. I want the country to be run by the best minds available.
I’m not saying that the present government or opposition are the best minds. In fact in a previous blog I demonstrated how, IMHO, they aren’t, but they’re the best minds that are willing to take on the job. If there were someone better then that would be great, but there isn’t so we’re stuck with what we’ve got.
If, like Russell Brand, you believe that we could replace our present politicians if we had some sort of revolution then you only have to look at Russell Brand to know what you would get. I’d rather have Emily Thornbury, thanks very much. In fact, to be absolutely truthful, I’d rather be governed by Sooty, with the Opposition led by Sweep, than anyone that Russell Brand approved of.
Can politicians find out the concerns of the electorate? Well, they have party HQs full of people whose job it is to find that out for them and I do suspect that those people aren’t doing a very good job. That’s what you get when you employ PPE graduates straight out of University.
I’m a subscriber to YouGov, which is one of the polling organisations used by political parties. You can subscribe if you want to. Just sign up and answer a few simple questions and you’ll be regularly asked to complete surveys as ‘the man in the street’. Now, here’s the thing. The questions I’m asked when I take one of their polls aren’t the questions I would want to be asked. I’m asked the questions that the poll’’s commissioners, the political parties, want to ask. Which is far from the same thing.
I spent several years working in the field of quality management and one of the areas of great interest to me was employee and customers satisfaction surveys. Many organisations use them. One of the questions that I would ask the organisation, and which always caused them to stammer and stutter, was “how do you know that these are the things that employees (or customers) are concerned about?” You see they invariably asked questions about what they thought employees were concerned about. They didn’t bother to find out if that was really the case. Sometimes they were right, but not often.
As usual, it’s the questions that are important, not the answers. When it comes to the answers they should only confirm what you already know, or at least strongly suspect.
MPs also hold constituency surgeries which are meant, amongst other things, to allow them to find out what sort of concerns the public have at a local level. Naturally that will vary from constituency to constituency. Concerns over EU fishing quotas will be of less concern in the ‘Heart of England’ constituency where I live than they will be, for example, in Grimsby. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about EU fishing quotas, it just means it’s not at the top of my agenda.
Unfortunately Ministers of State don’t have time to hold surgeries. They do the occasional one, but mainly they rely on other people to substitute for them. Ministers are busy people and they spend most of their weekends working through the ‘red boxes’ of papers generated by their departments.
It sounds like I’m making excuses for Ministers, but I assure you that I’m not. I’m just being realistic. The same applies to members of the opposition front bench. They spend their week days in Parliament and their weekends doing the rounds of the TV studios telling everyone how badly the Ministers of State are performing. It’s their job and if it sounds unproductive that’s because it is, but it’s the political system we have these days. Opposition front bench spokespeople will do more constituency surgeries than Ministers, but only because they have the time to do them. If they ever hold Ministerial office that will change.
Does it matter that Emily Thornbury lives in a house estimated (by the media) to be worth over £2 million or that she and her husband own a property portfolio worth several millions more? Not really. If they came by their riches honestly and through hard work they are as entitled to what they have as any other person. If they look down their noses at the man in the street is it any surprise? Everyone looks down their nose at someone and if you say you don’t then I would ask you to examine your conscience. Any psychologist worthy of the name will tell you that one of the ways we feel better about ourselves is by looking down on someone else. It isn’t right but it’s in our nature.
So was it right that Emily Thornbury lost her job because of her gaff? Yes. Why? She was stupid for taking the photo. She was stupid for putting the photo on social media where anyone could find it. She was stupid for making her true feelings so apparent. Because stupid people have no place in government, or, in her case, in opposition hoping one day to be in government.
Hopefully other MPs will have seen what happened to Emily Thornbury and will have learnt from it, which will make them less stupid. I suspect, however, that for some MPs the lesson will have passed them by. In which case we can expect similar gaffs in the future. Oh well, at least it will give me something to write about in future blogs. I know I can always rely on politicians to provide me with a steady supply of blog fodder.
Oh, by the way, who actually won the by-election?
Another Tweet that got a lot of people hot under the collar this week was one by someone called Jack Monroe.
No, I hadn’t heard of her before either.
I don’t think we would have heard of her now were it not for the fact that she writes a blog for Sainsburys on economical cooking recipes which in turn has given her quite a few Twitter followers: 62,000 in fact, more than four times as many as Emily Thornbury. One of her recipes is for kale pesto pasta – how ‘street' is that? Wow, she really has her finger on the pulse.
So, as with poor Emily, her Tweet was found by some journalist and published for our delectation. Anyway, she had said something rude about David Cameron using the death of his son when he defended Tory NHS policy at the Conservative Party Conference. Why did she say this now, several weeks after the event? It couldn’t be an attempt to distract people from Labour’s travails of last week, could it?
Anyway, we have another narrative at work here.
The narrative is that the Tories are trying to privatise the NHS. Are they? I think that’s subject for another blog – already in progress – but for Jack Monroe’s purposes it doesn’t actually matter; it’s the narrative that matters.
Step forward Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham, who tabled a Private Members Bill aimed at limiting the ability of government to contract out NHS treatment to the private sector (No, I hadn’t heard of him before, either). All week long the Labour spin doctors trailed this as the ‘proof’ that the Tories were trying to privatise the NHS, because they would vote the bill down. No doubt this was intended to deflect from the hammering Labour expected, and took, at the Rochester by-election. The Bill was passed by 241 votes to 18.
Do you see what happened there? The Tories didn’t vote against it, they just didn’t bother turning up at all. Bang goes Friday’s headlines in the Guardian and The Independent. Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband have to cancel their appearances on the Andrew Marr show and The Sunday Politics and all the other places they would have appeared and Clive Efford sinks without trace.
Why didn’t the Tories vote? Because they didn’t have to. There’s not enough time available for this Bill to run its course before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the General Election.
Not only can Labour not organise an ambush, but they shoot themselves in the foot while doing it. Does that sort of ineptitude persuade you that they can form the next Government? No, me neither.
Then, on Monday, we get this Tweet from Jack Monroe, who just happens to also have a column in The Guardian (hence her 62k Twitter followers).
You see, that’s how narratives work. If you keep repeating them often enough someone is bound to start believing them eventually, even if they aren’t true. Jack Monroe makes a very nasty Tweet, yet it’s the Tories who are called the ‘nasty party’. Not on this sort of evidence. The only one that sounded nasty here was Jack Monroe.
Now for the good news. My publisher tells me that the pre-orders for my book “The Girl I left Behind Me” are going very well. If you have pre-ordered it then thank you for your support (I’ll wear it always). If not then don’t worry. Its actual release date is 7th December so there’s still plenty of time to get your order in. On the other hand, if you want something to read today, you can buy any of my other books right now. Just click on the “Books” tab on this website and then follow the links for the book you are interested in.