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My sister Emily Thornberry is no snob, says ‘red van’ Ben

Ben Thornberry: ‘I cannot believe this wild reaction’

Ben Thornberry, pictured in a café near Old Street roundabout, said he ‘cannot believe this wild reaction’

Published: 27 November, 2014
>>TRIBUNE COMMENT: Free speech loses, hypocrisy wins (click here)

>>Chocs and flowers for MP Emily, victim of Twitter storm (click here)

EMILY Thornberry’s truck-driving, builder brother Ben has leapt to the defence of the under-fire Islington South MP, warning her critics that defending the rights of the working class is in her DNA.

Ben Thornberry, who grew up with his older sister in a council flat, said he was baffled by the “wild reaction” over the infamous Rochester tweet that forced the Shadow Attorney General’s resignation last week.

Speaking to the Tribune in a café near Old Street roundabout, the 50-year-old blamed a culture of “cut-throat and dirty politics” and warned that the right-wing press had been “gunning” for his big sister for years.

He said: “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. 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.”

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry

Mr Thornberry, who has recently returned to England after 26 years in America, works for a charity that gives disadvantaged young people a leg-up into the construction industry. In the States, he worked as a builder and freelance photojournalist, taking snaps of “gay rights, healthcare rights and activist kind of stuff”.

He said: “I have seen articles all around the world trying to explain how something like this can happen because outside of this country it is almost impossible to comprehend. It would not have happened in America. British politics is becoming increasingly cut-throat and dirty.”

“In America, I had two trucks with tools in. They were red, not white. From someone who is in the construction industry, and has been for many years in a foreign country, I cannot believe this wild reaction and how all these people are jumping on construed ideas. People are now taking a breath and saying: ‘What went on in those 24 hours?’” 

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. 

He said: “I see my friends sit and take photos of their food and put it on Facebook. I just can’t understand it. People develop a self-importance. Subtlety is lost completely, and irony. Self-deprecating sarcasm, you can’t get that over on Twitter. You can say one thing and mean exactly the opposite. People can completely misconstrue what is going on.”

The Thornberrys grew up on the Bellfields estate in Guildford and were raised by a single mother who became Labour mayor in a Tory council heartland.

Mr Thornberry said his family “had no choice” but to go on and help the poorest in society. “It is in our genes,” he said. “When our parents divorced, my mother Sallie raised us three kids. She did whatever she could for us. She got into teaching while our dad was off ‘saving the world’.” Cedric Thornberry moved to America and became the United Nations Assistant Secretary General.

Ben said: “I remember going with mum to drop her off at Canterbury University in Kent. We asked her: ‘What are you going to do next?’ expecting to hear she was going to lunch or something, and she said: ‘I’m going to become head of the NUS, then I’m going to be a barrister and then an MP’. 

“She is very driven. She gets that from our mother. And she got that from her mother, who lived in the East End and talked about a time when children couldn’t go to school because they didn’t have shoes.”

Not a Labour Party member, he admitted to “probably” being more left wing than his sister, who he said took him on his first protest march when he was 12. He recalled how they delivered Labour leaflets around Tory-controlled Guildford with their mother when they were children. 

He said: “There is a prejudice about Islington and a weird stereotype of the people of Islington. I don’t think Emily fits into that. She will spend hours making sure that someone’s kid is properly supported, or a woman who is a refugee will be able to enter the country with their child, instead of ending up in prison or being murdered. 

“She works very hard for the rights of the working class. The right-wing press have been gunning for her for years because she is an effective left-winger who supports Labour values. She is a strong woman and she will bounce back.”



Ben and emily

At the time of this interview I worked for build It, a london Youth programme that helped young people get into the construction trade. I was not Legally able to say this at the time or defend myself against such silly retorts as london youth restricted me due to w*****s like you. I was harraessed at home and work by the media. Shame it all ended with me dumping a bucket of water on a daily mail reporter's head at 10 pm Sunday who harraessed me to perform so. Emily, as you see..... Hahaha. What doesn't kill you ( apart from malaria) does make you stronger. Right wingnut job sraight males DOOOO so hate strong, elected strong left wing women. It's a shame. But so "quaint". The negative, short thoughted vitriol above show why. And to mention my attire? GIRRRRRLFRIEND! Shame . Odd . Very odd that you can't allow in your mind the idea that a guy can be a photographer and a builder. Visit provincetown where I lived for 20 years.... Then get back to me, ok? Ben Thornberry.

How is it possible for

How is it possible for someone from a humble background to end up so out of touch?

It's a bit depressing when you think about it...

Thornberry memories

As a seventen year old living in Guildford, I babysat for Mr and Mrs Thornberry. The first occasion when little Jimmy was in (the local NHS) hospital and they needed to visit him and then thereafter, as required.
I was thrilled by their obvious enthusiasm and devotion to political means of changing the world to a 'better' place, and because of baby Benjy, the sweetest, happiest little boy, called my own son Ben. Emily was a serious little girl with impeccable manners. They lived then in a well-off part of Guildford, as did my family.
I know nothing about them other than that, and seeing Emily on media interviews, but shall always hold them in the highest esteem. Older and wiser (!) and still sure the world can only benefit from sensible, reasoning people with 'good' values, and feeling sorry that one such person has been maligned (why so quickly and unnecessarily in these uncertain times!) due to her humourous tweet.

Humorous tweet? Can you

Humorous tweet? Can you explain how this tweet was funny because it isn't immediately obvious.

Parading your photographer brother dressed as a builder in front of the press, now that is funny...


This really does read as pathetic and desperate.

Did the Tribune check out Ben a bit before they printed this as he is not quite the builder he looks like in this piece? Or where they just sold a pup? It's a bit embarrassing for the paper...

What's the obsession with a 'council estate/house'?

What are Ben and Emily, aka Lady Nugee, trying to make out with this piece and its pics straight out of central casting? That they're working class?

The Thornberry parents split up when they were children, and the newly single-parent family was re-housed by the local council. Councils gave priority to single-parents at the time - a good policy. End of story.

Emily Thornberry's political machine has been pushing the council-estate line as long as she's been vying for the Islington South parliamentary seat. Is she trying to say 'I'm one of you, I too grew up on an estate'? Sounds more like mischief-making to me. Isn't it time Ms T explained the circumstances of her moving to an estate, so that Islington South's constituents can make up their own minds about what otherwise seems like spinning? A reminder: Ms T's electoral majority is small.

Look at the body language

I have never seen a 'proletarian builder' have such slouchy body language, leaning their face on their hand like that. Someone needs to do some digging on this guy. I'm getting a whiff of a £million trust fund and possibly a RADA education.

she grew up in a single parent family

Did not matter what her Dad did he left them.

If you want to see how honest she is, go look at her mp expenses in 2010, no extra houses, no family employed.

She is always out working with her constituents, and has a genuine care for global issues. She's helped us in the past and if you looked at the good she has done compared to many other MPs you might have a different view.

I would vote her back in for Islington without question....

'No extra houses'?!

Here's Ms Thornberry's entry on the parliamentary register of members' interests:

'Flat in Guildford, Surrey, from which rental income is received'

So what?

I don't understand. Does growing up in a single parent family matter? Does it mean that it is impossible to make a snide tweet just because of her upbringing? Does a clean MP's expenses record mean that she is incapable of ill-judgement on Twitter?

She made a mess of this plain and simple, her upbringing and expenses' record are irrelevant.

Surely working for her constituents and not over claiming expenses is the very minimum we should expect from our MPs, not the gold standard.

Personally, I want someone with more judgement representing Islington, not someone who has has become the laughing stock in the media.

This is embarrassing

Too funny - they really don't realise how see through this is.

Spinmeisters they ain't!

Spin over substance

Looks like the labour spin department has swung into action, he does take a good photo though

Love how they dressed him up

Love how they dressed him up for the photoshoot... in a spotlessly clean day glo.

Not fooling me

A bit like Hyancith Bouquet saying she's related to Daisy, Rose and Onslow to prove she's not a snob.

An intolerable snob - as her Labour colleagues recognised

Anyone who has ever seen Thornberry on Question Time would know that she behaves as though she is superior to everyone. She looks down her nose as she speaks to both the audience and her fellow panellists and throws out the usual insults at any political party that doesn't chime with her 'mass-immigration has enriched us all' mantra. There was no doubt what her photo tweet meant - and her Labour colleagues (who obviously know her well) were the first to jump on it. As for the builder brother... What sort of mugs do you take the voting public for?

So much bile

I respect Emily and her brother appears to be a genuine man. I find the comments on here to be vindictive, sneering, unjustified and nasty. It reflects exactly what Emily's brother is talking about - cut-throat politics. People need to use a bit of common sense.

What story are you commenting on ?

'Wood' and 'trees' spring to mind. This amazon of the masses who lives in a £3 million house in Islington is the worst sort of champagne socialist.
I suspect her brother is not entirely impartial in his views ...

Emily Thornberry

Come on Emily, can't you use your own name?

Emily Thornberry

Why, why did she take the photograph?

No he's not - look at the shoulder creases

The 'brother' has just put on a brand new high visibility vest to fool fools like you. Look at the shoulder creases. What a despicable PR stunt by another despicable Labour MP.

So, if Nigel Fararge had

So, if Nigel Fararge had twitted a picture of a house in Tower Hamlets that had a Palestinian flag draped from the window that would have been acceptable by the likes of yourselves ? Didn't think so


He still hasn't explained why his sister took the picture, which was politically loaded and in no way like someone tweeting a picture of a cake.


Exactly right - and look at the brand new high visibility vest he is wearing to fool us all into thinking he is working class.

What a load of sour comments

If anyone needed a lesson in how to sneer it is provided in this string. I like that her brother stands up for her, and I believe they are a family of strivers who know about hard times, and whose hearts are in the right place. I think the storm over this has been ridiculous, but she was fired because of the damage the fuss was doing to the Labour party. You have to pick your fights, and Ed M. has picked some good ones. I don't doubt Emily T will find her way back to doing good things.

What a laugh

This could have been written by Labour Central Office.

Free of academic jargon? No

Free of academic jargon? No it wasn't. There's no pre-distribution in sight.


Why sack her then write this? Your comment could have been written by Conservative Central Office.

Does he put on that Jamie Oliver mockney accent too?

"Mr Thornberry, who has recently returned to England after 26 years in America, works for a charity" - so not really a builder.

"In the States, he worked as a builder and freelance photojournalist, taking snaps of 'gay rights, healthcare rights and activist kind of stuff'." - just like your average brickie, right?

Mum was the mayor, dad was United Nations Assistant Secretary General. Sounds as working class as they come to me ;)

"a charity worker speaks up for a Labour politician"

Explains a lot really ...

Emily the Builder

You don't fool me Emily.

Even though you have tried to disguise yourself bypPutting on a viz jacket and a beanie, it is still obviously you.

And of course your van is RED

Perhaps the word of a brother

Perhaps the word of a brother who's lived abroad for 26 years shouldn't be taken as particularly strong evidence of Thornberry's character

Her father was the Assistant

Her father was the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations!!!!
You Islington folk have got your self in a muddle again trying to pretend she has any connection to ordinary folk.
At least Tony Benn never tried to pretend he was anything but a toff.

Save the Labour Party: Stop the Islington Madness


Mr Thornberry, who has recently returned to England after 26 years in America, works for a charity that gives disadvantaged young people a leg-up into the construction industry. In the States, he worked as a builder and freelance photojournalist, taking snaps of “gay rights, healthcare rights and activist kind of stuff”.”

A “builder brother” – yeah, right.


Mr Thornberry, who has recently returned to England after 26 years in America, works for a charity that gives disadvantaged young people a leg-up into the construction industry. In the States, he worked as a builder and freelance photojournalist, taking snaps of “gay rights, healthcare rights and activist kind of stuff”.”

A “builder brother” – yeah, right.

a champion of the working class


Interesting - but still missing the point.

The initial Tweet may have been innocuous but what she and Miliband did next was not.

I was not aware of Emily Thornberry before the issue but had seen the Tweet she had earlier posted with a picture out of the train window looking across the River Medway - which was reminiscent for me as I regularly made that journey between 1970 & -1973 - so it 'registered' with me.

I first saw the fatal photograph when I got the news she had resigned - thereafter there was a tumult of stuff orchestrated by all those who fear a Labour majority at the General election.

Emily Thornberry should have known by the time she set out on that journey, that she is NOT just another anybody, like me or her brother, but a very important person, not just in the 'world' of the Labour Party, but in the 'world' of the the State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Until her resignation she was potentially and very likely the next person who would be giving the final legal advice to the Government of the UK of GB&NI about the most critical of issues, such as should the nation go to war or not, therefore not surprisingly everything she did publicly was likely to be closely scrutinised. If she did not realise that and was consequentially not cautious about ALL that she does in public - including Twitter - she was NOT up to that job.

That picture could have been 'read' a number of ways in the context of the Rochester & Strood by-election . That she said the house was in Rochester and not Strood, where it actually was - also suggests she was not alert enough to know where she was being taken - another job disqualifying feature - I suggest.

One way it could be read was that she was sneering at the sort of people who are likely to vote for UKIP. When she tried to qualify the reason for her interest - about she had never seen a house decorated like that she again revealed her lack of worldliness. As it happened an English football team had beaten a Scottish team (the auld enemy) the night before, so it was very likely some houses in some parts of England would have been emblazoned similarly - did Emily stay indoors whilst England were hosting the FIFA World Cup? Her response was frankly pathetic, trying to say the right thing rather than be honest - it was compounded by the response of Miliband.

To my mind it reveals the Labour Party as being out of touch with its roots as established by the likes of George Lansbury in Bow, whose influence presumably reached Emily Thornberry's mother. If you walk around Bow and Poplar the Lansbury legacy is still there.

So my suggestion is that Miliband should resign immediately and then the Labour party can be honest with itself and the public, rather than just try to scrabble enough votes to lead the formation of a Government in 2015.

UKIP lack the depth to even give a clear indication of how they would run the country, except to bring us out of the EU, Labour have more substance - just! However, we need a full reformation of UK Governance - maybe Emily Thornberry now she is freed of office can be part of that rather than a Party Hack.

I am anti Conservative, Anti Labour Party anti UKIP, Anti the LibDems as they have become, mostly pro The Greens and the Nationalists but may myself need to spoil my ballot paper to properly represent myself at the General Election!

Correction: England has not

Correction: England has not hosted a world cup since 1966.


She saw the flags, she thought 'EDL' and she tweeted it. Don't even try to pretend otherwise. This is not about vans, it is about leftist maligning of the values of the English.

Too right!

That is exactly what it was.

Just because someone, somewhere in her family once came from a questionably working-class background, doesn't mean the current issue are above snobbery and not part of the Islington Set.

The Thornberrys

“part-time labourers” don’t own two lorries, and they usually don’t moonlight as photo-journalists.

Why did he need a high-vis vest to drink tea at a cafe on the new IT hipster Old Street?

Yeah right

He sounds like a rich dropout with a trust fund. Also he works for a charity. He is not a "builder".

Mr thornbury

What charity does he work for please?

He would, wouldn't he?

I guess Emil's brother would say that, wouldn't he? So what exactly was the meaning of the tweet then, Ben? We read about your mom being poor and you being a protester, etc. but if your sister is not a snob then why was she sneering at a white van with an English flag? When is the last time you saw Emily with an English flag?

This rather begs the question

This rather begs the question then; why did Ed Miliband throw her under the bus if it was simply right-wingers gunning for her? Surely it couldn't be that he's utterly gutless!

O Tempora O Mores

Her brother is defending her? Quelle surprise.
Even Milquetoast Milliband saw through her sneering view of the proles.

Ref her upbringing. Mater was a teacher and labour councillor and mayor and Pater a university lecturer and lawyer who went on to become UN assistant secretary general.
Not exactly horny handed sons and daughters of toil then.

Ben & Emily Thornberry

Having read the article, Ben seems to be under a misapprehension. His sister was sacked by Ed Miliband, not by any right wing conspiracy. If there was such a thing, surely Ed would have leapt to her defence. Wouldn't he?

Really down to earth

having the Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations for a father.....


She didn't grow up with him, she grew up with her mum in a council flat. Her father got this position way after the parents split. And btw, a lot of UN officials have a working class trade unionist background, especially at the ILO. Don't look down on them just because they worked hard to make a difference in the world and got a foot into an organisation where they can make things happen. The UN is no upperclass picnic.

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