MP Thornberry stuns fringe meeting as she attacks Lib Dems and rejects a future coalition
Published: September 29, 2011
THE woman who could become the first MP other than Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson to represent parts of Camden at the House of Commons in more than 20 years has unleashed an uncompromising tirade against the Liberal Democrats.
Emily Thornberry was invited to speak at a conference fringe meeting here in Liverpool about the potential for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to work together in the future.
But instead of offering olive branches and moving to patch up scarred relationships, she reinforced her reputation as a “flat-earther” rigidly opposed to discussing compromise and common ground with the party that almost ousted her in Islington South.
Ms Thornberry could become an important figure in Camden politics as well, as her constituency is due to spread over borough borders to take in wards in King’s Cross and Holborn at the next general election under suggested boundary changes.
At the same meeting, organised by the Fabian Society, Labour councillor Jonathan Simpson claimed the Lib Dems were impossible to work with because they used “race” and “sexuality” in election campaigns.
Both spoke at the lunchtime fringe meeting on Monday in Liverpool’s ornate Town Hall.
Even host Iain Dale, the LBC radio presenter, and former Labour minister Ben Bradshaw, also sitting on the panel, looked surprised at Ms Thornberry’s unforgiving attitude.
Mr Bradshaw is an advocate of developing common ground with the Lib Dems in case there are discussions over a coalition in the future, and a possible Lib-Lab pact at any stage. “Coalition politics are here to stay,” he insisted.
When Ms Thornberry was criticised at the meeting for turning people off politics with tribalism, Mr Bradshaw suggested she had been scarred by “Islington Lib Dems, who are the most hideous of Lib Dems”.
Ms Thornberry said she was so adamant because only Labour offered a “progressive” approach.
“There were people during the election campaign who were saying that the Lib Dems were in some way more left wing than Labour,” she said. “I told them, ‘if you vote Lib Dem, you’ll get a Conservative government,’ and that’s what they got. I’ve known Lib Dems in many different areas. I’ve known Lib Dems in Ilford, in Tower Hamlets. I’ve known Lib Dems in Kent, I’ve known them in Islington. They are all different. They all say what they want to get power and once they get power they don’t know what to do with it.”
She added: “What the British public want, I think, is for politicians to be clear about what their policies are and what they stand for. The advantage we have is that we are the progressive party. People know we are the progressive party.
“The Liberals will not survive the next election.
“People will not forgive them for propping up the Tories, allowing them to cut public services so fast and so hard. If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems, the government would not be able to behave in the way it is, cutting public services. The Lib Dems are allowing themselves to be used as human shields by the Tories and people won’t forgive them for that.”
Ms Thornberry extended her majority at last year’s general election but only after pundits and bookmakers tipped Lib Dem rival Bridget Fox to poach the seat from her.
Relations between Labour members and Liberal Democrats in both Camden and Islington are neither universally bad nor good on an individual basis but election fights have left ill-disguised bitterness, not evident elsewhere in the country. Labour in Camden walked away from a potential “rainbow” coalition with both the Lib Dems and Tories to run the council in 2006, claiming they had been offered deliberately unacceptable terms.
In a precursor to the national situation, Lib Dems and Conservatives formed a coalition to run the borough for four years. The history in Islington is similar with the Lib Dems winning control of the council before losing it to Labour again last year.
From the floor, King’s Cross Labour councillor Jonathan Simpson, who defected from the Lib Dems five years ago, accused his old colleagues of dirty tricks.
“There is a minority of MPs that are courageous against this government; most are complicit,” he said.
“The fundamental issue is that whatever noble ideas that Lib Dem MPs have, that message never gets down to the activists.
“An example from Camden is that in some parts of the constituency they were giving out leaflets outside mosques saying Lib Dems are very concerned about the situation in Gaza and with Israel, and outside some synagogues in the north of the borough where there is a high Jewish population they were giving leaflets saying they were supportive of Israel. I just think you need to be honest and stand on one issue and that needs to get down to your members.
“They shouldn’t use sexuality, they shouldn’t use race, they shouldn’t use all the dirty things that happen time and time again.”
John Leech, a Liberal Dem MP from Manchester, who is in favour of future discussions between the two parties, said Cllr Simpson’s claims were “simply not true”.
He said that it would be more beneficial to British politics if Mr Bradshaw sat on Labour’s front bench again, rather than Ms Thornberry.
Mr Leech pulled faces expressing his incredulity as he later sparred with Ms Thornberry, leaving the session muttering that she was “unbelievable”.