Thornberry quits shadow cabinet

Published: Friday 21st November 2014 by The News Editor

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A senior Labour MP has resigned from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet after her tweet of a house draped with England flags caused controversy on the day of the Rochester and Strood by-election.

Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry was accused of snobbery after posting the picture of the modern terraced house with three red and white Cross of St George flags – one bearing a West Ham United badge – and a white van parked in the drive, along with the message “Image from Rochester”.

She apologised after being given a dressing-down by Mr Miliband a nd Labour later announced that she had resigned as shadow attorney general.

In a statement released by the party last night, Ms Thornberry said: “Earlier today I sent a tweet which has caused offence to some people.

“That was never my intention and I have apologised.

“However I will not let anything distract from Labour’s chance to win the coming general election.

“I have therefore tonight told Ed Miliband I will resign from the shadow cabinet.”

Ms Thornberry’s initial posting sparked a storm on Twitter, with one respondent writing: “How out of touch are you? And you wonder why no one wants to vote for you and your vacuum-packed lefty snobs.”

In a message to Ms Thornberry, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “We should have pride in flying the Cross of St George – don’t knock the national flag of England.”

And Ukip leader Nigel Farage – who is hoping to gain his second elected MP in the Kent constituency – asked: “What is Labour’s Emily Thornberry trying to imply about Rochester and Strood? I suspect she’s let Miliband’s mask slip.”

As the storm raged online, Ms Thornberry told the Mail Online website: ‘It was a house covered in British flags. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

‘It had three huge flags covering the whole house. I thought it was remarkable. I’ve never seen a house completely covered in flags.”

But as the controversy showed no sign of diminishing, the former barrister was asked to explain herself to Mr Miliband.

A Labour source said: “It is fair to say he made his view very clear that people should fly the England flag with pride.”

Ms Thornberry later tweeted: “I apologise for any offence caused by the 3-flag picture. People should fly the England flag with pride!”

Before issuing her apology, Ms Thornberry told The Guardian that she felt some of the attacks on her “mischief making” and suggested her critics could be prejudiced against Islington.

“You know I think the truth is, while the by-election’s going on, people haven’t got a lot to say,” she said. “They can say there’s people out on doorsteps knocking on doors. And I suspect that those kind of people are trying to promote a somewhat prejudiced attitude towards Islington.

“I was brought up on a council estate and I’ve never seen a house where people can’t see out of the window because of England flags. It was just trying to give, to the people who follow me on Twitter, a kind of picture of what the Rochester by-election is like.”

Ms Thornberry, 54, entered Parliament as MP for Islington South and Finsbury in 2005 and served as shadow energy and health spokeswoman before taking the role of shadow attorney general in 2011.

The daughter of a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, she was born in Surrey and was called to the bar in 1983, specialising in criminal law.

Labour revealed that Ms Thornberry had spoken to Mr Miliband a second time following her initial apology.

A party source said: “Ed and Emily had a second conversation.

“She thought the right thing to do was to resign. Ed agreed.”

Mr Miliband was reported to have “never been so angry” as when he gave close ally Ms Thornberry her dressing down.

The Labour leader has recently faced accusations that his party is out of touch with its traditional working-class support and reflects the views of a liberal metropolitan elite.

And party strategists are likely to be unhappy with Ms Thornberry’s appearance on the front page of The Sun newspaper under the headline “Only Here for the Sneers”.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt told BBC2’s Newsnight: “I think it’s very sad to lose a trusted and good colleague in the run-up to a general election.

“But we should also be very clear that we are hugely in favour in the Labour Party of people expressing pride in their national identity and national symbols.”

Labour’s Chris Bryant said Ms Thornberry had made “a bit of an own goal”.

Mr Bryant said: “I think the first rule of politics is you respect the voters and by Emily’s own admission her tweet clearly didn’t do that.

“I think she is a decent and honourable person. She did the right thing by apologising and now the right thing by resigning.

“The Labour Party was founded on the basis that everybody should be treated equally and that’s why Emily herself has said it’s a bit of an own goal.”

A party source pointed to the fact that Naushabah Khan spent the day campaigning in a white van and came from a modest background.

The owner of the house, Dan Ware, told The Sun: “I’ve not got a clue who she is, but she’s a snob”.

He said the flags had been left up since being raised when England played in the football World Cup in May.

“We will continue to fly it,” he added.

Mr Ware, a 37-year-old father of four, told the newspaper he could not remember when he last voted.

Published: Friday 21st November 2014 by The News Editor

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