The Sneering Liberal Elite

liberal-elite

Divide and rule has been the Conservative Party’s strategy since the beginning of time – nothing unites people more than a common enemy.  In the ’60s it was black people and all their crimes – those who were around at the time of 1964 elections will remember that they distributed leaflets that said, “If you want a coloured for your neighbour – vote Labour. If you are already burdened with one – vote Tory” In the ’80s it was gay people and their promiscuous lifestyles and diseases that were the problem – nothing that Section 28 couldn’t sort out. Immigrants from Pakistan, India, Poland and Turkey have all been made scapegoats for the country’s problems by Conservative politicians. Last week Theresa May announced the latest enemy of the state: The Liberal Elite.

It’s a term we’ve heard before. During the EU Referendum campaign it was one of Nigel Farage’s catchphrases, second only to, “Austrailian-style points system.” You can say what you like about Theresa May but she is a very shrewd politician. She knows that UKIP pose the greatest threat to the Conservatives at the next General Election and is attempting to attract those voters by creating the illusion that the Conservatives are the party for the working class. In her speech, May talked about creating a country “that works for everyone.” She said, “That means tackling unfairness and injustice, and shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people. Giving them access to the opportunities that are too often the preserve of the privileged few.” words one is more accustomed to hearing from Labour, not the Conservatives. Incredibly, May plans to create a more equal and fair country whilst building new grammar schools, refusing to raise inheritance tax or building affordable housing. I digress.

May continued, “They [the Liberal Elite] find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal,  your attachment to your job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than seventeen million people voted to leave the European Union simply bewildering.” You can almost hear the Daily Mail whooping with joy.

So who exactly are the “Liberal Elite” and what can we do to defend ourselves from them? I spent the afternoon reading a range of blogs, articles and essays on this subject – at one point I even googled, “Why do people hate the liberal elite?” (Yes, I’m still on my honeymoon – am I not doing it right?) I’ve trawled the best (and the worst) of the internet to find out more about who this dangerous group really are.

First off, they live in cities. You won’t find the Liberal Elite in Clacton or Hartlepool, you have to look in cities like Manchester, Sheffield and York . London in particular, is infested with them; UKIP’s Suzanne Evans blames them on her party’s poor polling in the capital arguing that, “The educated, cultured and young are less likely to vote for us.” Politically, the Liberal Elite tend to be left-of-centre, but not exclusively. They are open-minded, believe immigration is, on the whole, a good thing, they are pro gay marriage, are more concerned with reform than retribution in the justice system, more likely to identify as feminists and they voted Remain in the referendum. They read “The Guardian”, drink flat whites and their breakfast, sorry “brunch,” is likely to be something to do with avocado. In their spare time they read, attend the theatre, go to museums, watch the BBC and travel. Bastards.

It gets worse. They buy free-range, sometimes eat kale by choice and tend not to smoke. They worry about the environment and global warming  – which is why so many of them own a bike.  By day they are nurses, writers, teachers, lawyers, actors, social workers, doctors and charity workers; some have their own businesses, others even work in the financial services. By night, they go to trendy restaurants and gastro-pubs where they hand over £7 for a glass of Malbec without flinching. If you’re still struggling to picture this dangerous group of individuals they are almost perfectly represented by the family in the sitcom, “Outnumbered.”

Oh and they sneer. A lot. In fact sneering is their main pastime other than drinking their fair trade coffee and quoting Stewart Lee to each other. I’ll be honest – I’ve not actually witnessed a lot of sneering myself but the Daily Mail said they do it so it must be true.

These are the wankers who have ruined the country. Even though those wankers tend to have a history of voting for the country to be more equal. They give money to charity, campaign to keep libraries open and to protect the NHS. They must be stopped.

I’ll be honest, apart from the “ruined the country” part – most of that is fairly accurate. Although I’ve yet to meet anyone who is happy about paying £7 for a glass of wine. Particularly when a bottle from the newsagent costs a fiver. Being part of the Liberal Elite isn’t about wealth; remember that due to exorbitant rents very few young people in London have money to burn. If I could whittle it down to just two traits it would be: tolerance and open-mindedness. It’s why the sneering comment is so unfair, as a group we’re incredibly accepting of people, whether or not they are similar to us. It’s just that, if you want to be tolerant, the one thing you can’t tolerate is intolerance.

We’re often criticised as being “out of touch” with the concerns the rest of the country has about immigration. The Express in particular likes to paint a picture of us sat in our ivory towers, in our elite bubbles, calling anyone who has concerns about immigration racist.

I live in a one bedroom flat in Wood Green, Haringey – one of the few parts of North London a teacher can live in and still afford to eat. In Wood Green only 23% of the population identify as White British, which is significantly lower than the London average of 45%. Until recently, I was an assistant head teacher in East London. I taught English to children (and parents) who had just moved to the UK. I ran after school sessions and gave up my weekends and my holidays to make sure those children could succeed. To say I am liberal in my views because I don’t understand the issues of immigration is not just ignorant – it is ridiculous. Particularly when you compare Wood Green to Clacton, UKIP’s one constituency, where the percentage of people who identify as White British is 93%. For those who like a visual – I’ve created some pie charts:

clacton-pie

wood-green-pie

Which of these demographics is less likely to understand the issues surrounding immigration?

So yes – we do like delis, bicycles and flat whites but we are kind, open-minded and tolerant people – and we will never apologise for that. Theresa May is playing a very clever game and, like so many other previous scapegoats, the Liberal Elite are being framed for a crime we did not commit.

 

Trying To Make Some Sense Of It All

brexit

It’s taken me a few days to put this post together. I first started it at 5am on Friday morning as I sat in tears, having had just two hours sleep, trying to make some sense of what had happened. Reading it back it read much like one of those unhinged post-break up emails that you send to an ex after too much rum. Saturday afternoon I tried again but it ended up as 900 words of: “OF COURSE BORIS WAS LYING TO YOU, YOU UTTER, UTTER MORONS – THAT’S WHAT BORIS DOES!”  Back to the drawing board. Four days in and I’m still trying to come to terms with the decision Britain made last week.  I feel desperately sad about it. I’m sad that ignorance won over reason, fear won over unity and hate won over compassion.

I walked around London yesterday trying to process the last 24 hours. Everything looks the same: the buses are still red, the weather is still unpredictable, the grass is still green, Oxford Street is still unbearable – it’s all still there. But something has shifted. We’re a little less open as a nation, slightly more afraid, more inward looking and, worst of all, we’re almost completely divided in two.

Perhaps this needed to happen. The referendum did not create the divisions in this country it only exposed them. At least we now know what the picture is – we may not like it but we can’t heal a rift without first acknowledging that it exists. Whether or not it can be healed at all I have yet to decide. My gut reaction is to get as far away from the UK as possible as it no longer feels like home. The country I thought I lived in was tolerant, vibrant and open – it would have chosen union over separation.

Leave voters have talked a lot about feeling as though their “National Identify” has been eroded in recent years. I don’t know what this means.  If I’ve learnt anything in the last four days is that National Identity is entirely subjective. For some, National Identity is the good old days of local pubs full of familiar faces, knowing your neighbours and children playing out on the street. For me, our National Identity is as a progressive, multicultural inclusive society in which communities aren’t defined by where we live but by the values that we share. However, it turns out that my National Identity is as foreign to half the country as theirs is to me.

I think back to the 2012 Olympics and how proud we were to host an event that represented the best of internationalism. From Boyle’s opening ceremony to the very last race, the Olympics was our chance to show off the best of Britain. The message was loud and clear: we are multicultural, progressive and tolerant – and we welcome you with open arms. We won the hearts of the world and people from every nation lined our streets, ate in our restaurants and drank our Yorkshire tea.

We cheered passionately for Mo Farah, who arrived in the UK from Somalia at the age of 8 with only six word of English, who could not have been prouder to wear the Union Jack on his vest. Did these in our country divisions exist then? Of course they did they were just harder to see. We were all cheering on Great Britain but perhaps for slightly different reasons. Were there some people cheering simply for the fact that hosting the Olympics, to quote one Leave voter, “put us back on the globe”?  We mocked Aidan Burley for dismissing the Opening Ceremony as “multi-cultural crap” but was he just voicing what millions were thinking? Perhaps we just weren’t listening. Now we are forced to. We do not have to agree with their fears about immigration but we have to listen to them and we have to try and understand them. The future of the country depends on it.

It isn’t helpful to call voters with anxieties about immigration racist. Whilst they may not share his views, with their vote Brexiteers have legitimised the views of Nigel “I’m not racist but…” Farage. The man who claimed that if we stayed in the EU we could see an increase in sexual assault on women. The man who argued that employers should be able to choose their employees on the basis of their nationality.  The man who stood proudly next to a poster closely resembling Nazi propaganda just to remind people that they are right to be scared of immigrants. The problem is this: once you vote for somebody this extreme it legitimises those views. Others with racist views no longer feel as though they need to keep quiet if Nigel Farage can go on TV and say he would be concerned if a Romanian family moved in next door.

Sadly, for a small but vocal minority of Leave voters Nigel Farage isn’t extreme enough. There are some who genuinely believed that by voting Leave they weren’t just voting to stop immigration completely but to actually start sending immigrants “back.” In the last four days there has been an increase in racially motivated attacks. From people being told to “go home” to anti-immigration leaflets that read: “Leave the EU – no more Polish vermin” being distributed outside of a primary school.

I have no interest in demonising Leave voters. For some communities this referendum was the first time in 40 years that they felt as though they had a voice. It’s just a shame that the only person listening to them was Farage who opportunistically took on their problems, made them his own and offered them a false solution. Those communities have voted to be more vulnerable, poorer and further neglected. They were lambs, so distracted by the bleating about cows coming into the field and eating all their grass that they didn’t realise they were following Farage into an abattoir.

Of course there were reasons for voting Leave that were not about immigration. Some people didn’t want Brussels deciding how powerful our hoovers could be or setting the standards for imported fruit. Others were worried about those “faceless bureaucrats” making decisions about pollution levels – just to be clear – they’re not faceless – they have faces. I checked. Some claimed it was about democracy, sovereignty and control.  Never have such powerful words had so little meaning. It turns out a catchy three-word slogan will trump wordy but rational arguments every time. This referendum wasn’t won on reason it was won with soundbites and few memorable lies: “£350 million a week for the NHS” being the most prominent. Sadly, those who swallowed Farage and Boris’ lies are now learning the hard way the importance of fact checking. Those people who genuinely believed that there would be more money for the NHS are not fools but they didn’t bother to check and Michael Gove told them to ignore the opinions of experts.  Any attempt to point out the truth behind the lies or warn of the risks of leaving was shouted down as “Project Fear”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Remain campaign was equally abysmal. Corbyn, a man voted in by the young, was unable to even feign the enthusiasm and energy required to fight for the EU. Cameron had an even more difficult job. Having spent the last 6 years making people’s lives worse, closing their libraries and leisure centres, cutting their pay and running their schools and hospitals into the ground he had to somehow convince the general public that Brexit wasn’t worth the risk. Of course a leap into the unknown is worth the risk when you have nothing to lose. Cameron couldn’t say: “The reason your life is so hard is because my party destroyed your industries in the 80s without any plan and you never really recovered. Oh and then since 2010 I’ve bled you dry with my austerity agenda”. Corbyn could have said it though and he should have.

The more rational Leave voters are now on social media saying, “Look we know things are difficult at the moment: the pound is the lowest it’s been for 31 years, the Prime Minister has resigned, the opposition are collapsing and racism is back but if we work together we can make this work for us” yet they weren’t willing to apply to the same philosophy to the EU. They choose division and now want everyone united to steer us through this turbulent time. Even the most confident Leave voter must be slightly unnerved as they watch Gove and Boris squirming as they explain that no, Brexit won’t mean exactly what we told you it would mean. Immigration won’t end and the NHS won’t see any of that money. Oh and the most terrifying truth of all – there is no plan for what happens next. Nothing. Nada.

They’ve taken back control of our country. Yet, as I suspected, they have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Let’s make Britain great – not Great.

Britain

There must be a PR mastermind working in the Vote Leave camp because “Let’s make Britain Great again!” is a very strong slogan. It sounds good, doesn’t it? So powerful, so positive so…  just great. However, what has become increasingly clear over the last few weeks is that it is JUST a slogan because what hasn’t been made clear by the Leave campaign is in what way we will be “great” if we leave the EU.

Great is a term being used by Gove, Farage and Johnson to evoke images of a Britain that simply does not exist anymore, if it ever did. It creates feelings of nostalgia for a life that never really existed and never could. For some that life is the white picket fence days when people were friends with their neighbours, children played in the street, everybody knew your name at the local and there was all the cricket. For others, it’s the days when Britain was free to take anyone’s land and resources in the name of the “Empire”. And for a small, bigoted, but growing group of Leave voters “Great Britain” simply means “more white”. Don’t get me wrong, it is not fair or helpful to say that all Brexiters are racist- far from it- but to paraphrase Billy Bragg: all racists will vote to leave.

Of course not all the arguments for leaving the EU are about immigration. Some are about democracy. Do I wish our political system were more democratic? Absolutely. Our first-past-the-post system is hugely flawed. Only 24% of those eligible to vote actually turned up and put a cross next to the Conservative candidate last May. That leaves 76% of registered voters (before you even consider the rest) with a government they haven’t chosen.  This is more worrying to me than the fact that the Prime Minister gets to choose the EU commissioners.  I would accept the democracy argument had I met a Leave voter who was equally passionate about electoral reform in the UK and who also opposed the Head of State and the House of Lords being unelected.

It is an understatement to say that I am incredibly worried about the mood of the country, from the behaviour of the far-right hooligans singing xenophobic chants in France to the meteoric rise of Nigel Farage and his thinly-veiled racism. The fact that UKIP are no longer a party to be ridiculed but a prospect to be feared is mind blowing to me. How have we let this happen? Fear is winning and it’s breeding hate. Alongside that, there’s the arrogance that of COURSE we’ll be able to negotiate better deals for ourselves once we’re out the EU because we’re Britain- we’re great – who wouldn’t want to work with us after we’ve left in a strop?  To the rest of Europe, we must look like a petulant teenager screaming “I’m leaving! You can’t tell me what to do!” whilst the EU quietly recommend air pollution regulations that could save our lives. I’ve never been particularly patriotic but at the moment I feel embarrassed about that fact I’m British. I don’t want to have to make the choice but, if forced to, I’ll choose being an EU citizen over being a British one.

You know what I think would be great?  A Britain where the poor aren’t demonised and treated as scapegoats for the country’s problems. What would be great is a country where the interests and wealth of the top 5% weren’t considered more important than those of the 95%. A country where politics isn’t treated as a football match where the winner takes all but as a system that represents the people is serves. What would be really great is a country where MPs aren’t shot for doing their jobs. Or where disabled people don’t starve to death. Or perhaps a country where having a warm, safe home wasn’t treated as an achievement but a basic human right. Of course, David Cameron can’t talk too much about the fact that these issues have nothing to do with EU membership because they have everything to do with his Conservative government.

It’s not the EU we should be bowing out of, it’s the “Global Race”, which appears to me to be a competition to see which country can generate the most wealth for its richest citizens at the cost of the mental health and safety of the rest. Let’s forget being Great with a capital G and let us, instead, focus on making Britain a truly great place to live. A place that celebrates its diversity and is proud to be home to people of all races and religions. In a world that seems to be becoming increasingly hostile let’s set an example for others with our tolerance and compassion. Let’s invest in the people that live here by funding schools, the NHS and public services. Let’s make sure everybody has a place to live. Let’s not believe for one second that the reason Michael Gove wants us out of the EU is so he can finally give more money to public services he has helped destroy. Let’s build a reputation as a country of intelligent, rational people who care about others. Let’s celebrate our nurses, social workers, teachers and doctors rather than shaming them in the media. Let’s be proud that we’re so great that other people want to move here and call our country their home.

Let integration be our focus and the message coming from Britain be this: if you are tolerant, compassionate and believe in equality then there is a place for you in the UK. You will need to contribute and you will need to share our values but you are welcome to make this country your home.

Let’s not kid ourselves Britain, we’re not even great with a lower case g at the moment so let’s focus on that. If we cut ourselves off from the EU we could be left as a very rainy, racist, right-wing bit of an island with a cruel government who will be more powerful than ever before.