I’ve been wrestling with the idea of the ‘liberal elite’ for some weeks now. As I rattle around on a train bound for London, to participate in an international conference on the role and importance of ‘memory’, I am forced to ask, am I the liberal elite? The evidence does not stack up favourably against me. After all, in my day job I am a university lecturer. I teach on a history degree, Early Modern stuff mostly (though I do moonlight on archaeology and heritage from time to time) – what in other countries would be loosely described as a liberal arts degree. Holding a PhD with a growing publishing record, I imagine I fall into that much-maligned category of expert – so two strikes against me. Of course, I am also about to attend a humanities conference, on a weekend of all things, so surely I am doomed – I must be the living embodiment of the liberal elite.
That being said, I rarely feel elite; certainly, not in terms of fiscal considerations. Having lost one job (well, my liberal elite university was closed down by financial manager types, so it wasn’t really my fault), I had to give up the home I could no longer afford to run and move back to the old family home (three generations under one roof, that’s some 1960s style quality of living). I now conflate a variety of part time teaching jobs to sustain myself, but that is what I do, I am sustained, I exist – and before you ask, the only way I can do this conference and cover travel is through research funding. Based on my own financial status, I would not be able to afford it. So, I’m definitely not a financial elite.
So perhaps I derive my power, as a liberal elite, over the political spectrum. Over the years I have voted for the Lib Dems (still feeling hurt), Greens (worth a shot, once), Plaid Cymru (still in hope) and there was even a time when I voted for Labour (I was young, and in south Wales – where you did as you were told). In all that time, I have never, not one single time, seen a candidate I voted for returned into power. In Wales, we have regional ‘top-up’ proportional representation seats, and I have been ‘proportionally represented’ in that regard, but otherwise, I am still in want of a voice in political power. The same might be said of the island wide referendums of late – AV = failure, Remain = failure. Indeed, if I try to find a period in my entire life when there was a ‘liberal’ voice in the ascendance, it must have passed me by (the coalition governments featuring Lib-Dems serving as a very poor substitute). So, no sense of the elite in terms of national politics.
Is it in the media perhaps? Well, as I walk past newsstands, I tend to see a flurry of prominently placed, bold black type, statements of hate and isolationism, as the dominance of the right-wing print media squeezes the sector. I find television newscasters falling over themselves to promote the voice of the far right in popular politics, while anything centre left and beyond, appears to be a comic irrelevance. If the liberal elite control the media, then they are doing a remarkably good job of disguising the fact.
Ultimately, I can only conclude that when the ‘liberal elite’ are cited, what people are actually citing, are struggling academics whose voice are not represented at any prominent level of government and who barely make an impact in the media. Heck, I can say confidently that, as a lecturer, the last decade has suggested to me that us lecturers are not always particularly welcome in the university sector either. I am liberal, but in no way practical way am I an elite.
The other popular definition, most recently reinforced by our unelected Prime minister, is that the liberal elite pour scorn on those whose views conflict with their own – namely, spouting derision at those to have voted for Brexit. Well, you know what, I suppose this is where I really am guilty, because I consistently pour scorn on those who voted for Brexit. I had the displeasure of an evening in the company of a Brexiter a few nights ago. He could not contain himself in saying the national courts should back off [specifically stating that ‘that was democracy’, seemingly blissfully ignorant of his own hypocrisy] and that within ten years Britain would be entering a golden age (perhaps Golden Dawn would be more appropriate) of prosperity by being ‘out’…before citing that we would always be travelling freely in Europe and that ‘they’ would always trade with us on our terms because ‘they need us more’…I was on best behaviour. I could have ruined the evening, but I held my tongue – what a well behaved liberal elite I was that night… But no, his conflation of being ‘out’ with a classic retention of rights regarding all the things that the EU have cited could not be retained, is the exact sort of moronicry (yes, I am that much of a liberal elitist that I am creating my own words) that I can’t stand. The rationale presented to me that night, during the campaign, and beyond, has felt nothing short of moronic, isolationist and damaging. I’m yet to be convinced that not being willing to accept spurious through to stupid arguments makes you in some way a bad person, yet that is what the liberal elite are, in this instance, made out to be.
Should I care about the consequences? Well, because as a member of the ‘liberal elite’, I am also held to account over being concerned about the well-being of others. Yes folks, that is part of the definition, that the liberal elite profess to care about others beyond themselves – what terrible people we are! Surely it would be much better if we got on board with the popularist rages of the day, that solutions are only to be found in the punishing of, or demonising the ‘other’, that all societal ills can be rectified by a symbolic withdrawal from a union that our politicians are now scrabbling to retain trading links with. No, I do not believe in any of that. I believe in the exact opposite, and I will not compromise my views to appease a vocal right wing media. And yes, I do care about others. However, I’ve done my days on constructions sites to earn a living, I’ve served food to wealthy (no doubt members of the liberal elite) shoppers in Cardiff when I lost my teaching job, and I’ve gone through the shame inducing punishment laden benefit system when employment opportunities dried up – yes, I’m liberal in my politics and yes, I’m elite in my judgement of stupid voting decisions, but my care for others is informed not by long distance ‘liberal preconceptions’, but by my own experience of being in the same position of poverty that so many others in this country find themselves today. I was lucky – I had the support of family and, in the end, a job in a field where I can actually use my knowledge and skills. That does not render worthless the experiences I went through when times were not so good. I know what it is like at that end of society, I care about those in it, and I will not support a political mandate that will, indeed can only result in the increased marginalisation of those worst off now.
So, you know what, screw it, I am the liberal elite. If you voted for Brexit, I do judge you and I, categorically, do not respect you and question your judgement and, in part, morality. Yet, unless the unelected leader of this country decides to formally dispense with the thin veneer of democracy that remains on this island, I am well within my rights to have these feelings, to express these sentiments and to not be cowed by the, what is it, ‘minority…minority’? Is that the opposite of the ‘liberal elite’? Put to one side, I suppose, the fact that the ‘minority minority’ run government, run the media and have dictated the future economic course of the country for the foreseeable future, essentially, running everything outside of contemporary art prize funds (though it is only a matter of time). No, I will speak, and I hope and pray that the rest of the ‘liberal elite’ embrace what they are, and keep speaking and keep judging. The second we stop, then there really will be no opposition, and the demonising of immigrant/foreigner/disabled/poor will only continue to the point when we really would need an insurrection to re-set the country. That, perhaps, is a thought for another time…if there is another time…as a historian, and as part of the liberal elite, one wonders how long we have left, before the black shirts come knocking.