Friday, 21 November 2014

"Image from Rochester"

My headline is of course the caption which a Labour MP for Islington South who is married to a High Court Judge gave to her photograph of a house with some England flags on and a white van parked outside.

The Economist describes it as a "sneering caption". I think the Economist is correct - and I am far from alone in that belief: someone tweeted back "I'M TELLING YOU, ED. THERE WERE FUCKING PROLES EVERYWHERE. NOT A GRAIN OF QUINOA IN SIGHT. SHAMEFUL" and Guido Fawkes quoted George Orwell's famous comments "In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box." One immediately sees what has prompted these reactions.

But just consider how much knowledge of the minutiae of English political life and the English class system is necessary in order to see how a strictly factual caption of an unaltered photo amounts to a sneer. How many, say, French people could explain quite why tweeting that picture and its caption meant that Ms Thornberry had to resign her position as Shadow Attorney General, or explain why the fact that she has an Islington seat makes the whole thing especially telling? Or try it the other way around: the average Englishman might be able to try to construct some kind of American equivalent (would it involve bumper stickers, pick up trucks and a Democrat from San Francisco?), but a French one? Or a German? Bulgarian? And here we find ourselves back at what started the whole Rochester business - UKIP, immigration, the EU.

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