THE horns of white vans blasted in jubilation and celebratory flags of St George flew from upstairs windows. To widespread rejoicing, last week Emily Thornberry was eliminated from the contest to lead the Labour Party; no longer is there a threat of the country’s alternative Prime Minister being the woman who in 2014 snootily tweeted that infamous picture from the Rochester by-election.
On Sunday TCW’s Sheridan Weaver amusingly imagined the reaction at the seat of Sir Christopher and Lady Nugee when news broke that the final ballot would not include Her Ladyship. Although she is widely perceived to be a Left-wing version of Hayacinth Bucket, in her defence Emily Thornberry has insisted: ‘I have never been a Lady’.
Well, she said it. Nonetheless, during her campaign to become Labour leader, Emily signally failed to dispel the notion of her being a supercilious snob. As TCW’s Paul T Horgan wrote yesterday: ‘It is this perceived elitism that was Thornberry’s undoing.’
Paul also catalogued the reasons why the incumbent Shadow Foreign Secretary, and most experienced leadership contender, first struggled to obtain the requisite nominations from fellow parliamentarians, then failed miserably to garner support from constituency parties and affiliated trade unions.
One of Emily Thornberry’s final opportunities to attract the necessary backing was an appearance on last Tuesday’s Politics Live on BBC TV. Any waverers surely were alienated by an extraordinary performance which blended her disdainful demeanour with blustering bombast. The full broadcast, available until early March, can be viewed here.
The show began by discussing last week’s deportation of Jamaican criminals, which Thornberry cynically conflated with the earlier Windrush scandal.
Representing the Conservatives was MP Neil O’Brien – a new name and face to me but who, despite the handicap of having been a special adviser to both George Osborne and Theresa May, was quietly impressive. Here Thornberry visibly seethes as O’Brien reprimands her: ‘All these people have been through the criminal justice system, all been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt . . . it’s a disgrace to muddle these people up with the Windrush generation who came and helped this country.’
To which Emily was characteristically contemptuous: ‘What I’m saying, frankly, Neil, is perfectly clear to the audience . . .’
The closing segment discussed Thornberry’s faltering leadership bid. Here her conceit went into overdrive, prompting host Jo Coburn to observe: ‘You think you’re at the despatch box now, don’t you?’
Coburn also quoted from the Ashcroft report into Labour’s recent electoral annihilation: ‘The words [potential Labour voters] chose for you were “arrogant” and “smug”, whereas for Keir Starmer they chose “competent” and “potential election winner”. Why the difference?’
According to Emily, the reason why so many of the public instinctively find her ‘arrogant’ and ‘smug’ is – you guessed – sexism: ‘If someone sounds like me and is a man, they’re not posh, but if they sound like me and are a woman, they are.’
Fellow guest Kate Proctor from the Guardian, in which everything is viewed through the pernicious prism of identity politics, naturally concurred: ‘It’s just really clear there is sexism amongst people when they’re looking for a leader . . . I would say Emily has a lot more charisma than Keir Starmer.’
Fan-girl Kate also asked why Thornberry at the dispatch box is ‘so good’ when ‘head to head with Boris Johnson’. Ordering Neil O’Brien to ‘just keep quiet for a minute’, Emily’s hauteur went haywire: ‘He’s a clown, he’s a liar and he’s superficial. In order to take on someone like that you don’t be a clown. You have to be light on your feet, you have to be on top of the detail and you have to have a personality as well. (‘You’ve certainly got a personality,’ noted Coburn, drily.) He knows that of all the people to take him on at the dispatch box . . . he has a woman problem and the problem is me.’
Even for Thornberry, it was an epic display of self-regard. Watch here to see Emily bray.
At the risk of being ungallant, when conjuring a phrase to describe Emily Thornberry, ‘light on her feet’ does not immediately spring to mind. One assumes Thornberry was trumpeting her debating skills, and it is true that of all the candidates to be Leader of the Opposition she was probably best equipped to hold the Johnson Government to account in the Commons. However, even her comrades have balked at being led by overweening Emily.
Paul T Horgan wrote yesterday: ‘A prolonged period of silence on her part might be good for her. It certainly will be good for us.’
If only. Emily Thornberry’s official statement confirms she has undertaken no self-examination: ‘I’ll have a week of rest now, then it’s back to the day job of holding this wretched Tory government to account on its foreign policy, and doing so with the same passion, tenacity and forensic skill I’ve shown for four years in that role.’
A task she intends to execute with characteristic humility.