Champagne socialist is a political term commonly used in the United Kingdom. It is a popular epithet that implies a degree of hypocrisy, and it is closely related to the concept of the liberal elite. The phrase is used to describe self-identified socialists whose luxurious upper middle-class or "preppy" lifestyles, metonymically including consumption of champagne, are ostensibly in conflict with their political beliefs as understood by their critics.
The term has been used by left-wing commentators to criticise centrist views. Some traditional left-wingers regard the first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald as a "champagne socialist" who betrayed the Labour movement. MacDonald's lavish lifestyle and his mingling with high society is supposed to have been a corrupting influence that led to the end of the Labour Government in 1931 and the eventual formation of the National Government. More recently, the epithet has been levelled at supporters of the New Labour movement which brought Tony Blair to power in 1997.
In an article about Oscar Wilde's 1891 essay "The Soul of Man under Socialism", political commentator Will Self expressed the view that Wilde could be considered an early champagne socialist because of his aesthetic lifestyle and socialist leanings.
In the fourth series of the British television comedy Absolutely Fabulous, Saffron is offered a job with New Labour. While she is at pains to avoid being seen as a champagne socialist, her grandmother considers the family to be "Bolly Bolsheviks".
The label has also been applied to the Labour politician Geoffrey Robinson MP on account of his large personal fortune. Singer Charlotte Church has described herself as a "prosecco socialist", referring to the increasing popularity and lower price range of non-champagne sparkling wines such as prosecco and cava.
In the UK, the term is often used by right-wing critics to disparage more progressive political opponents. This argument claims that the champagne socialist espouses leftist views while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle; one example might include Labour Party supporters who stereotypically live in Inner London and consume highbrow media.
Australia and New Zealand
In Australia and New Zealand, the variant "Chardonnay socialist" was used, as Chardonnay was seen as a drink of affluent people. By the late 1990s, chardonnay had become more readily available and generally consumed in Australia; today it is the most dominant white wine variety produced in the country. As a result, the drink's association with elitism has faded.
Australian left-wing "true believers" used the term against supporters of the failed republic referendum of 1999, where the vote was split not along conventional party lines but socio-economic divides. The rich overwhelmingly supported the change; the less well-off were opposed. Staunch Australian right-wingers also used the term to deride those who supported what they considered "middle-class welfare"—government funding for the arts, free tertiary education, and the ABC.
Current Affairs ran a lighthearted article featuring a political cartoon of guests at a Marxist gathering dressed in fancy attire and sipping on champagne. The central argument was that conspicuous consumption was not inherently antithetical to leftist values so long as luxuries were shared equally. As the magazine put it, "When we say let them eat cake, we are serious: there must be cake, it must be good cake, and it must be had by all. The reason Marie Antoinette needed beheading was not that she wished cake on the poor, but that she never actually gave them any."
The term appears in Blind Alleys, a 1906 work of fiction by the American author George Cary Eggleston which distinguishes the "beer socialist" who "wants everybody to come down to his low standards of living" and the champagne socialist who "wants everybody to be equal on the higher plane that suits him, utterly ignoring the fact that there is not enough champagne, green turtle and truffles to go round".
The term is broadly similar to the American terms "Learjet liberal", "limousine liberal" or "latte liberal", and to idioms in other languages such as the Spanish Izquierda caviar, the French Gauche caviar, the German Salonsozialist, the Portuguese Esquerda Caviar, the Italian Radical chic and Polish kawiorowa lewica. Other related terms include "Hampstead liberal", "Gucci socialist", "Gucci communist", "Neiman Marxist", "cashmere communist", in Ireland, "smoked salmon socialist", and in the Philippines, "steak commandos."
- Moore, Matthew; Graham, Sarah (14 July 2010). "Champagne socialists 'not as left wing as they think they are'". The Telegraph. London, England: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Rooksby, Ed (16 April 2013). "So what's the problem with champagne socialism?". The Guardian. London, England: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- "Ken Follett: Novel activist". BBC News. London, England: BBC. 3 July 2000. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
Taking "Champagne socialist" jibes on the chin - "I've always been enthusiastic about Champagne" - the Groucho club member is no fair-weather friend of the party.
- Khorsandi, Shappi (2 November 2018). "'As a proud champagne socialist, I know that having money doesn't have to stop you believing in equality'". The Independent. London, England: Independent Print Ltd. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
- Jones, George; Laville, Sandra (3 July 2000). "How Blair's New Labour went flat for champagne socialists". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
- Self, Will (1 May 2015). "Will Self: Oscar Wilde, champagne socialism and why I'm voting Labour". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
- Jones, Ted (15 October 2012). Florence and Tuscany: A Literary Guide for Travellers. I.B.Tauris. p. 189. ISBN 9780857731272. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
- "Absolutely Fabulous Episode Guide: Parralox". bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 11 April 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
- "Robinson: The ultimate champagne socialist". BBC News. 23 December 1998. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
- Sully, Melanie A. (2000). The new politics of Tony Blair. Boulder: Social Science Monographs. p. 75. ISBN 9780880339858.
- "'Champagne socialist' Charlotte Church 'more of a prosecco girl'". 12 May 2015 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- Moran, Caitlin (March 2016). Moranifesto. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 9780091949051. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
- "Australian Words: C-G". Australian National Dictionary. Australian National University - Australian National Dictionary Centre. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- AAP: Australian Associated Press (25 January 2003). "Have a Captain Cook at this new Strine book". The Age. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- Dale, David (12 November 2003). "Raise a glass to the big white". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- Rolfe, Mark (2007). "Days of Wine and Poseurs: Stereotypes of Class, Consumption & Competition in Democratic Discourse" (PDF). A Paper Delivered to the Australasian Political Studies Association Annual Conference 24–26 September 2007, Monash University. Monash University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 August 2008. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
(from pages 24-5) From his first day in parliament as leader in March 1995 until the election, Howard courted the strong public perceptions of Keating arrogance that were evident in party polling. This was the context to the ad hominem of 'chardonnay socialist' that was extended to any Labor speaker and to the whole ALP in an attempt to undermine their ethos through associations with self-indulgence, selfishness and lack of concern for the people. Frequent deployment of these terms by the media provided a further convincing context for this rhetoric. Kim Carr was called a 'Bollinger Bolshevik' by Vanstone (Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates [CPD], Senate, 13 May 1997) and there was 'Chardonnay Cheryl' Kernot, the 'shadow minister for the selfish "me generation" yuppies' with her 'list of hors d’oeuvres for the next caucus radical chic soiree', said Richard Alston (CPD, Senate, 4 March 1998; 23 March 1998; 30 March 1998). She could be seen with Mark Latham, said David Kemp, 'on the patio sipping their wine, complaining about the excesses of capitalism' (CPD, Senate, 22 October 1997).
- "For A Luxury Leftism". Current Affairs. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
- Eggleston, George Cary (1906). Blind Alleys: A Novel of Nowadays. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard co.
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