Emily Thornberry: The Marie Antoinette of Twitter

All eyes were on the Tories in the run-up to the Rochester by-election last week (which delivered a second Westminster seat to Ukip). That was, until MP Emily Thornberry turned the fire back on to Labour by tweeting a picture of a white van driver’s house draped in England flags.

It’s quite hard to “come up with a more lethal tweet” to send to Labour’s core vote on polling day, says Anne Perkins in The Guardian. Labour leader Ed Miliband hastily fired her, which “smacked of both weakness and fury”, says Mary Riddell in The Daily Telegraph. But this “Marie Antoinette of social messaging” may have given him the “jolt” he needs by illuminating the “chasm between workers and their traditional party”. Voters do not “seek carbon copies of themselves”.

But they do want authenticity, hope and truth. If Miliband is to appeal to defectors, he must bridge that chasm. He can’t, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Labour do not “despise the working class”, but neither do they understand them. Miliband and his supporters “tend to be greenish and soft-left. Their idiom is that of the NGO summit and the student political committee.” The cultural gap has become “unbridgeable”.

That leaves Ukip to fill the gap, says Rachel Sylvester in The Times. A YouGov poll after the tweet asked which party was most in touch with white working-class people – 21% chose Labour and 27% Ukip. Mark Reckless, who held the seat after switching to Ukip, declared, “As Labour represents those most comfortable at the top of the public sector, it is not Ed Miliband, but Ukip that represents the concerns of most working men and women.”

If Ukip’s “rise… tells us anything”, says Owen Jones in The Guardian, it is that “sentiment all too often trumps reality and mere detail in politics”. According to research by the academic Matthew Goodwin, 81% of Ukip supporters believe “big business takes advantage of ordinary people”; a slim majority want the government to redistribute income, and they “overwhelmingly agree” there is “one law for the rich and one for the poor”. This is the stuff of “leftwing populism”.

Yet Ukip’s leaders are “ultra-Thatcherites”. The party is led by a privately educated former City broker, and one of the two privately educated former Tory MPs worked in the City, the other in asset management. “Their politics are erratic, but their leading lights have pledged support for slashing taxes on the rich, privatising public services and repealing basic workers’ rights.”

What this episode tells us is that social attitudes still matter, much as we might like to think we have outgrown the “social prejudices of the past”, says Terence Blacker in The Independent on Sunday. The Tories are seen as out-of-touch toffs; Labour and the Lib Dems are dominated by metropolitan liberals whose lifestyle is more cosseted than their views would suggest.

As for Ukip, no one quite seems to know, meaning “it has been allowed to present itself as a new force in politics”.

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