Between the shock of Trump and the likely pummeling of the Italian establishment in the country’s constitutional referendum on Sunday the metropolitan liberal elite have received a small boon in Richmond Park. While the defeat of a Tory former wunderkind is an odd platform for restoring order, the bi-election had become a proxy war between the well-to-do 48% and the self-righteous Brexiteers.
We’re still a long way from seeing a liberal elite fightback. There will surely be more upsets to the world order. A Lib Dem win in Richmond Park –the country’s wealthiest constituency and which overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU- is not quite the storming of the Bastille. But what this annus horribilis of 2016 has achieved –if nothing else positive- is to give the liberal elite a newfound sense of urgency.
The mythos of the liberal elite is that they are in control of our media and culture: they run the BBC (even though the popularity of shows like Strictly and GBBO show populism at the its finest), they run the media (even though the majority of newspapers are anti-elitist and conservative), they run the country (even though the votes of London –overwhelming Labour- haven’t been reflected by the make-up of governments for over ten years). But don’t let facts get in the way of a story. The perception is of an out-of-touch metropolitan class calling the shots.
Until now that is. These flat-white-quaffing, Guardian-LRB-reading, wheat grass-taking globalists have been running the world for so long they forgot how to be disruptive. Now on the back foot they must rediscover their mojo. Tony Blair –the bogeyman-in-chief of the liberal elite- has been an outcast from British politics since he stood down in 2007 under the ignominious shadow of Iraq. Now he has seized the moment to move on the centre ground and, in his words, “combat the new populism” across the world. This fighting talk shows how the liberal elite have become the new insurgents. They no longer influence policy. They are ignored by the media who fixate on their loud-mouthed and alarmist rivals in the illiberal elite.
This isn’t necessarily a cause for choking on your quinoa salad. Many major brands reach a point when they get too big for their own good. Ultimately the hubris bursts. Think of Apple. By the mid-90s the brand that was once synonymous with a product everyone loved began to cannibalise itself with lower-cost models. The same management that had infamously shown Steve Jobs the door introduced several new brands, selling largely identical machines at different price points aimed at different markets. By aiming for everybody they pleased nobody. Once Jobs was ushered back into the company there was a refocusing of efforts on a core of products defined by their beauty and simplicity.
The liberal elite is not of course a single entity and, often being a term of abuse, few would wear the moniker as a badge of pride. But there is a brand of identity politics –those who do think immigration and multicultural are unalloyed goods, who think centrist politics is best and are more or less content with the ways things are- that has a decreasing number of outlets for expression.
The illiberals have the upper hand when it comes to dominating forums on social media and their language seems to be mesmerize traditional media in a way that the tempered interventions of experts doesn’t. If liberals want to be heard they will have to articulate a fury to rival that of their opponents’. That anger you feel when discovering Ansel’s is all out of cronuts – channel it instead into an expression of self-righteous liberal outrage: NOT ENOUGH MIGRANT BAKERS IN BELGRAVIA. When your Whole Foods doesn’t stock biodynamic wine don’t just fret, fulminate online about the SHOCKING RISE IN PESTICIDES.