Liberal elite (also metropolitan elite or Islington set in the United Kingdom) is a stereotype of politically left-wing people whose education had traditionally opened the doors to affluence and power and form a managerial elite. It is commonly invoked pejoratively, with the implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the ruling classes and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect.
Because the label is a rhetorical device, it carries flexible meaning depending on the circumstances in which it is used. The concept arose in the United States, but has spread to other English-speaking countries, where the term metropolitan elite is more common because liberal can have the opposite meaning, depending on country.
In the United States
In the United States, the apocryphal lifestyle of the liberal elite is often referenced in popular culture. Columnist Dave Barry drew attention to these stereotypes when he commented, "Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying roadkill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks; or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?"
A 2004 political advert from the right-wing organization Club for Growth attacked the Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean by portraying him as part of the liberal elite: "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs."
Those Americans who equate intellectual pursuits and careers with elitism often point out American intellectuals, most of whom are upper-middle-class not upper-class, are primarily liberal. As of 2005[update], approximately 72% of professors identify themselves as liberals. At Ivy League Universities, an even larger majority, 87% of professors identified themselves as liberals. People with post-graduate degrees are increasingly Democratic.
In Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter with Kansas?, the idea of a liberal elite is compared to George Orwell's character Emmanuel Goldstein in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional hated enemy of the people. Frank argues that anger directed towards this perceived enemy is what keeps the conservative coalition together.
In the United Kingdom
Emily Thornberry, Labour Party MP for Islington South and Finsbury, resigned as a member of the Shadow Cabinet on 20 November 2014 during the Rochester and Strood by-election, in which she tweeted a picture of a house draped with England flags and a white van parked outside with the caption 'Image from Rochester', thought by many to be a snobby jibe. Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, commented that Thornberry's tweet furthers the perception that the Labour Party "has been hijacked by the north London liberal elite".
Furthermore, the term 'Hampstead Socialist' is often used synonymously, referring to the North London area of Hampstead, despite the fact that the Conservatives represent all the constituent wards of the area. However, the wider constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn has often elected Labour MPs, including the 2015 incumbent, and the seats in Hampstead Town ward have previously been won by the Liberal Democrats, making the similar term Hampstead liberal somewhat more accurate as a description. The term was also regularly used by Nick Griffin, the former leader of the British National Party and the phrase "North London metropolitan liberal elite" has been used by Home Secretary Priti Patel. Due to the high Jewish population of this area, references to "North London" elites have been accused by some, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, as a form of coded antisemitism.
Toby Young of The Spectator made a similar claim of metropolitan elitism regarding Gordon Brown over the Bigotgate affair. On the campaign trail for the 2010 United Kingdom general election, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a conversation with a voter who expressed concern about immigration, before describing her as "bigoted" whilst being driven away in a car with a microphone still transmitting. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail was even more direct in his criticism of Gordon Brown as being a member of the metropolitan elite.
Toby Young also used the expression whilst writing in the Daily Mail to refer to Sacha Baron-Cohen, a comedian whose alter egos Borat and Brüno have focused on Deep South residents. The article was entitled "It's Bruno who's sick, not the ordinary people he treats with contempt", during which he wrote "Baron Cohen is encouraging the sophisticated, liberal elite to look down on those in a lower-income bracket".
In India, the concept is associated with Nehruvian socialism and Marxism, as well as with much of the mainstream intelligentsia and the ruling political class of India, since its independence in 1947. 'Indian National Congress', often referred to as the 'Grand Old Party' of India, is a left-liberal party, which has dominated the Indian politics for much of its independent history.
A similar concept exists in Irish politics in the form of the "Dublin 4 accent" and worldview (an area code in the affluent south of Dublin). The reference to this manner of speech highlights a difference between the metropolitan elite and the ordinary people (whether urban working-class or rural "culchie").
In Hong Kong
Leftard (Chinese: 左膠) is appearing in Hong Kong media and the virtual community starting in the 2010s, as a political term. It often refers to unrealistic leftists or left-wing activists who are idealistic, as distinguished from traditional CCP loyalists. They advocate peace, rationality, nonviolence and non-profanity (referred to as "Chinese: 和理非非"). Some critics say that the people they call "leftard" are too idealistic and have unrealistic ideals, sometimes giving up social justice in the pursuit of equality, love, and peace movement.
Canadian news outlet CBC reported on an event for supporters of Doug Ford (the premier of Ontario). A supporter described elites as "Those that think they're better than me". Doug Ford also described elites as "people who look down on the average, common folk, thinking they’re smarter and that they know better to tell us how to live our lives". Alex Marland of the Memorial University of Newfoundland commented on Justin Trudeau's popularity with "liberal elites in metropolitan cities" in an article published on Researchgate entitled "The brand image of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in international context".
- Aggravation of class struggle under socialism
- Bobos in Paradise
- Champagne socialist
- Chattering classes
- Clinton family
- Culture war
- Gauche caviar
- Jewish left
- Left Coast
- Limousine liberal
- Massachusetts liberal
- Nehru–Gandhi family
- New class
- New Democrats
- Radical chic
- Regressive left
- Useful idiot
- San Francisco values
- Social justice warrior
- Virtue signalling#Pejorative usage
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