Sunday, December 25, 2016

Jonathan Freedland - Don’t be fooled by these dishonest attacks on the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’

Enough of this fraudulent talk of elites, metropolitan or otherwise. But what of that middle word, the meat in this rhetorical sandwich? What of “liberal”?.. Of course, more Britons voted to leave the EU than to stay, but nearly half of those voting chose remain. That is not a tiny metropolitan elite. In the US, 2.9 million more people chose Hillary Clinton than chose Donald Trump. That too is not an elite. In most democratic systems, such a margin would have been hailed as a victory and a mandate… After this year, especially, I think the word should be worn with pride. If  liberal means wanting to help children fleeing a dictator’s barrel-bombs, then call me a liberal…

… In August, serving as warm-up man at a Mississippi rally for Donald Trump, the then Ukip leader hailed the Brexit result as a victory for what he called the “little people, the real people ... the ordinary, decent people”. The implication was that those who had voted remain were unreal and indecent, that they were the big people, the representatives of the mighty and powerful.
Theresa May played the same trick in her party conference speech in the autumn, casting the opponents of Brexit (forgetting, of course, that during the referendum campaign she was one) as members of an exclusive, global club, denizens of Davos comfortable in the first-class lounge and utterly devoid of national allegiance – people who were, in her memorable phrase, citizens of the world and therefore citizens of nowhere. As I wrote then, she sought to rebrand the 48% as the 1%.

But it’s an absurd lie. Of course, more Britons voted to leave the EU than to stay, but nearly half of those voting chose remain. That is not a tiny metropolitan elite. In the US, 2.9 million more people chose Hillary Clinton than chose Donald Trump. That too is not an elite. In most democratic systems, such a margin would have been hailed as a victory and a mandate; only under the arcane rules of the electoral college could such a result have brought defeat.

So enough of this fraudulent talk of elites, metropolitan or otherwise. But what of that middle word, the meat in this rhetorical sandwich? What of “liberal”? After this year, especially, I think the word should be worn with pride. If  liberal means wanting to help children fleeing a dictator’s barrel-bombs, then call me a liberal. If liberal means believing that the peoples of a continent that for centuries was torn apart by war and bloodshed have found a new, peaceful mechanism for resolving their differences, and that Britain should play its part in that, then call me a liberal.

If liberal means holding true to the values of the Enlightenment, including a belief in facts and evidence and reason, then call me a liberal. And if liberal means cherishing the norms and institutions that protect and sustain democracy, from a free press to an independent judiciary, then call me a liberal. For those values are under assault just now, in a way few of us ever imagined.

So when it comes to “liberal”, we have nothing to apologise for. Sure, the remainers’ most public faces could fairly be described as both “metropolitan” and “elite” – columnists for London-based newspapers among them. But the same is self-evidently true of the other side, too. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are not exactly members of the lumpen proletariat, are they? There is no definition of elite or metropolitan that does not include those two… read more: