After all the verbiage expended and hot air vented ahead of the Nov. 20 by-election in a constituency in southeast England called Rochester and Strood, a picture turned out to be worth a thousand words — and then some. On the day of the special election, prompted by the defection of a sitting Member of Parliament from the ruling Conservatives to the insurgent United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a prominent member of the opposition left-of-center Labour Party tweeted a series of photographs as she toured the area canvassing support for her party’s candidate. One apparently innocuous post encapsulated so many uncomfortable truths — about Britain, its old wounds and new fractures, and the global crisis of trust in the political mainstream — that within hours the tweeter, MP Emily Thornberry, had resigned as a member of Labour’s front bench team. The controversy eclipsed a result that in its own way told the same story of fragmentation and tumult: victory for the anti-immigration, anti-European Union UKIP.
Here is Thornberry’s tweet. Look closely. If you even begin to understand why this picture caused offense, you are either from the U.K. or have spent more than the occasional vacation in its temperate, if increasingly distempered, climes.