Kate Fox: We're not getting a true picture because we are distorting it ourselves

Poet and Journal columnist Kate Fox on the saga of Emily Thornberry's career-ending tweet and the falliut from it

@EmilyThornberry Labour MP Emily Thornberry, Shadow Attorney General, posts an image from Rochester, Kent, on Twitter on polling day in the by-election triggered by Mark Reckless's defection to UKIP. The picture and its snobby implications were widely condemned, and angered leader Ed Miliband forcing her resignation from her Shadow post. Twitter screen grab @EmilyThornberry
Labour MP Emily Thornberry, Shadow Attorney General, posts an image from Rochester, Kent, on Twitter on polling day in the by-election triggered by Mark Reckless's defection to UKIP. The picture and its snobby implications were widely condemned, and angered leader Ed Miliband forcing her resignation from her Shadow post. Twitter screen grab @EmilyThornberry

Apparently noticing things can be dangerous. Taking a photograph is an act of noticing and it might get you into trouble. It might even cost you your job as Labour Shadow Minister Emily Thornberry has found out.

My phone, and the cameras of others, have been busy this week:

Click! I noticed that a shinily refurbished Gateshead school has got a flight of stairs so high, pupils are allowed to go up it, but not down it. I concluded that some architects need to think about the real world a bit more.

Flash! I noticed that parents who would bring their children to a poetry workshop at Sunderland Central Library are a varied bunch of ordinary people, not just the type of tiger parents who make their kids learn the piano, run a marathon, practice their vowels and apply to twelve Oxford colleges before tea time every day. I concluded that I am an inverted snob and that on ever-reducing funds, libraries still do great work.

Snap! I noticed that three female writers and one male writer on a bill at a literary event in Newcastle excites comment in a way that three male writers and one female writer still wouldn’t. I concluded that gender equality still has some way to go.

Say cheese! I noticed that our dog Norbert looks really good in his Christmas pudding coat, I concluded that some people have got too much disposable income to spend in Pets At Home.

Of course, the conclusions other people might draw from the photographs on my iDevices this week, would be completely different. Especially if I only gave them the places they were taken as a caption.

Perhaps a Ukip politician, such as North East MEP Jonathan Arnott, might have noticed the gleaming school stairs and concluded that grammar schools and the eleven plus should be brought back to improve social mobility for some kids and give others a lasting sense of failure and frustration.

Perhaps his party leader, Nigel Farage, would have noticed that some of the children in the library picture appeared to have been born to immigrants and thus should be classed as migrants themselves, in line with his pronouncement this week. One that makes his own two children, born to a German mother, migrants too.

I have no idea what Ukip’s policy on dressing up animals in clothes is. Perhaps someone looking at my dog might notice that cocker spaniels in costume are about as sensible as Ukip’s manifesto policies on the privatisation of the NHS.

My point is that it’s all a question of perspective if you only have a geographical caption and an image to guide you.

I think if Emily Thornberry had captioned her photo of a house with multiple St George’s flags in the window; “Bigoted patriots who’ll probably be voting for Ukip, the numpties”, then she would have been seen to have been imposing her own conclusions on it.

As it was, the snap seems to have become a terrible mirror for all the worst fears that the Labour Party have about themselves. They think people see their politicians as snobbish and unsympathetic to ordinary people’s fears about immigration.

So they, or specifically Ed Miliband, over reacts when confronted with a photo. But that led to the unedifying spectacle of Thornberry’s background becoming another cracked mirror for everything the party hopes and fears it is.

“She was brought up in a council house” protests Alan Johnson. “Her parents were a lecturer and a teacher” says a newspaper profile, “She’s a champagne socialist” says a unionist.

As so often, when we look through the distorting lens of somebody else’s vision, it is ourselves that we end up seeing staring back at us.

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