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  1. Politics
28 November 2014updated 24 Jul 2021 2:00am

“My sister’s no snob“: Emily Thornberry’s builder brother defends the MP

"Red van man".

By Anoosh Chakelian

No matter how much the Conservatives – and, rather counterintuitively, Labour – have tried to paint Emily Thornberry as the symbol of an out-of-touch, metro-liberal elite, it doesn’t change her background. Thornberry, who resigned over an ill-advised tweet depicting a white van outside a house bedecked in England flags on the day of the Rochester and Strood by-election, grew up on a council estate outside London.

Her background is clearly something the Labour MP and former shadow attorney general wants to make the public aware of, as her brother – a builder and truck driver – has leapt to his sister’s defence in the Islington TribuneThe paper is careful to point out his ordinary, hardworking credentials with the description: “High-vis-jacket-wearing and breakfast tea-drinking Ben has his home town of Guildford tattooed on his chest and does not use Facebook or Twitter.”

Ben Thornberry, now being dubbed the “red van man”, due to his relation to a Labour MP and the fact that he used to drive red trucks, told the local paper:

I couldn’t see that perception that she was looking down her nose at anybody. I just didn’t understand it. 

What is happening here is that some people – not Emily – do look down their noses at the people in the construction trade, and they feel bad about it. Then when someone takes a pic of a house with a white van outside it is a chance for them to criticise them.

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Someone right wing makes a fuss about it and won’t let it go, then it snowballs. It says more about their own perception, and their real feelings, rather than the person who took a pic of a house that looks like the one they grew up in with their younger brother who works in the construction industry.

The MP’s brother also blames “cut-throat and dirty politics”  and the right-wing press that has been “gunning” for his sister for years for the wild reaction to her tweet last week.

It’s unlikely his intervention will take the heat off Emily Thornberry, but his story again reinforced the irony that she has become the face of out-of-touch Labour – and it’s the Labour party’s fault for tearing itself apart over who, and what, it stands for.

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