The men in the white vans

Should I be surprised that after living in this country for seven years there’s still a lot that I don’t know about the culture? I was genuinely confused by the furorethat led to the drumhead expulsion of Emily Thornberry from the Labour shadow cabinet, following her tweeting this picture.B25NbWHIUAAJxsy.jpg-largeThere was no text, other than a note that this was from Rochester yesterday, where the anti-immigrant UKIP was expected to win a by-election. Yet, everyone seems to agree that publishing this photograph shows elitist contempt for the good people of Rochester. It’s not clear that anyone can explain it to me either. Ed Miliband told the press

Asked what reaction he felt when he saw such an image, Mr Miliband said “respect”. He added: “I thought there was nothing unusual or odd, as her tweet implied, about having England flags in your window. “That’s why I was so angry about it and that’s why I think it’s right that she resigned.”

Now, granted that Ed Miliband is not the most eloquent speaker, or the most coherent thinker, but if his reaction to the image was “respect”, and that “there was nothing unusual or odd”, how did the tweet imply that it was unusual or odd? It reminds me of the joke about the woman who rings the police to complain about the man who regularly walks by her house whistling dirty tunes. (It’s a bit of a “protests too much” response, since it is surely a bit odd to have two very large flags hanging on the house, one of which is completely blocking a window.)

Part of the response seems to follow from the stereotype that hovers around the white van in the driveway, which I had never heard of, but according to Wikipedia the driver is

perceived as selfish, inconsiderate, mostly working class and aggressive. According to this stereotype, the “white van man” is an independent tradesperson, such as a plumber or locksmith, self-employed, or running a small enterprise, for whom driving a commercial vehicle is not the main line of business, as it is for a professional freight-driver.

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