THAT Emily Thornberry would fail to make the cut in the Labour Leadership contest was predictable. She could not be the ‘Continuity Corbyn’ candidate, because that spot was taken, even before the General Election, by Rebecca Long Bailey. The plucky non-metropolitan outsider position was Lisa Nandy’s, and Nandy took the ‘I made a principled stand against anti-Semitism’ slot as well. Thornberry could not take the ‘Metropolitan Competent Professional Non-Corbynite-ish Leftie’ position as this has been taken by Keir Starmer. So Thornberry was left to trade on being Thornberry.
Her problem is that she always believed she was more important that she actually was. She thought being more exuberant than the average MP would make her distinctive. However, unlike Boris Johnson, it just made her look gobby and arrogant. She does not have Boris’s extensive and multilingual vocabulary to go with her volume. She also believed that lowering her voice register and pacing her speaking à la Thatcher would provide gravitas. It did not; it looked gratingly derivative to those in the know and was probably just grating to those who weren’t. And she could not quite keep it up.
Perhaps Thornberry’s demeanour was not her fault. She cannot, after all, really help how she looks and talks. It may be that she cannot help dancing with Hubris and cannot stop when Nemesis cuts in. When she appeared at the Labour Party Conference dressed up to look like the EU flag, it came across as acting superior and dismissive, but she might have thought it necessary to hold on to her Islington seat. This hubristic approach also drove her, minutes after the EU Parliamentary results last May showed that Labour had joined the Conservatives on the naughty step, to declare that Labour should back Remain in a second referendum, even though Brexit-supporting parties had won big. This led to the absurd prospect of Labour appearing to go into last year’s General Election offering to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement, putting said agreement to the public in a referendum with Remain on the voting slip but for any elected Labour government to campaign against this renegotiated withdrawal agreement. Thornberry defended this policy on television. It made her look ridiculous and haughty at the same time.
It is this perceived elitism that was Thornberry’s undoing. As is well known, she sent a tweet that many interpreted as pouring scorn on the residents of Rochester on the day of the constituency’s by-election.
She was sacked from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet within minutes of the polls closing. It is probable that this tweet accelerated Labour’s decline in its ‘red wall’ seats, where once votes for the party could be weighed rather than counted and anyone sporting a red rosette had a job for life on the green benches. Thornberry’s tweet remains totemic in showing once and for all that the Labour Party has abandoned its roots. To her credit, she has not deleted the tweet, but that is probably because it would negate the feeble excuse she proffered at the time. It persists as her career albatross.
It has not been much of a career, either, even though Thornberry makes out that she is some form of Labour grandee. Although a neighbour of Tony Blair in Islington, Blair did not give her any position in his government, and neither did Gordon Brown. Ed Miliband gave her numerous shadow ministerial positions culminating in shadow solicitor-general, probably due to her legal qualifications, from which her infamous tweet saw her exiled in shame to the back benches. Corbyn saw her as fit only to be shadow employment minister when he took over. However, the exodus to the back benches saw her rapid rise as more competent Labour MPs refused to serve under Corbyn. She got the shadow foreign secretary job only when Hilary Benn triggered the front-bench revolt that followed the EU Referendum result. Thornberry helped fill the vacuum.
When asked on last week’s Newsnight why she should be Labour leader, she described herself as a ‘battle-hardened . . . street-fighter, who has energy, and has experience of taking it to the Tories . . . experience of taking on Boris Johnson’. She has repeatedly described the Prime Minister as a ‘liar and a clown’. ‘Vote Emily because Boris’ is not a proper platform from which to become Labour Leader. Thornberry’s longevity in the Commons is about as relevant as Corbyn’s. While good at talking herself up, there was little behind the bluster. When it came time to compete on her so-called merits, Emily Thornberry could campaign only on the basis of being Emily Thornberry, and little more. She has now been found out. She did not manage to get support from any Labour affiliate and had an insufficient number of nominations from Constituency Labour Parties. A prolonged period of silence on her part might be good for her. It certainly will be good for us.