Friday, 21 October 2016

On being upgraded to the liberal elite

I am a member of the liberal elite. 

I know! Who knew? 

When I was a kid, I definitely was not one of the liberal elite. The people in power wanted us to be very clear on that. My brother and I were raised by my mum and her partner. Under a Tory government in the 1990s, being a young divorced mum of two and in a gay relationship to boot wasn’t easy. To say there was stigma attached to such things is an understatement. But as regular blog readers will know, we had a great childhood in a supportive and loving home. We didn’t want for love and care and support. We were encouraged to pursue our creativity – to write and to read and to paint, and we spent lots of time in libraries. Libraries were free, after all, and they were full of our favourite thing: books. 

But we weren’t the liberal elite, that’s for damn sure. We were coming up against institutionalised and legalised homophobia. We grew up under section 28, during a time when being gay was still criminalised in the military, when civil partnerships were a distant dream – let alone actual marriage! Gay couples couldn’t adopt, the age of consent was still uneven – all of these law changes that I think many of us take for granted now are still so, so new. So new. Homophobia was the norm. Being treated like a second class citizen, like a second class family, was the norm.   

Still. What does any of that matter. 

Because now, NOW, I am in the liberal elite. 

I know I am in the liberal elite because the political party who during my childhood sneered at my family, enacted laws that discriminated against my family members and blocked changes to laws that would have improved our equality: that party tells me I am. 

The party that deliberately enacted laws that institutionalised homophobia throughout my childhood now say that I am in the elite, and they – they! – are the party of the oppressed and the silenced. 

The party of privilege, the party that has used their privilege to stomp on the rights of the oppressed and silenced, they have the fucking GALL to call those who voted Remain ‘the elite’. 

The party that shut down the steel works where my granddad worked, that provoked the war in which my dad’s ship was bombed, that slashes the benefits which once helped families like mine – benefits which helped me go to sixth form* and therefore on to university – they have the fucking GALL to rebrand me as ‘the elite’.

That takes some ovaries of steel. That takes some massive cojones, right there. 

The re-casting of 48% of the electorate as the ‘liberal elite’ is the current method to dismiss any criticism of Brexit. It suggests that anyone questioning the sense of committing economic self-harm on the UK; anyone wanting to hold their friends and relatives from the EU tight to them; anyone who thinks that freedom of movement is a brilliant and exciting opportunity; anyone who points out that free fruit picking labour is not going to fix the problem of driven down wages; anyone who points out that Hard Brexit more closely resembles a helter-skelter of freefalling chaos than anything else – everyone who does this is now accused of being a sneering elitist. 

It would be bad enough. But the people accusing me and nearly half the electorate of being sneering elitists are members of the Tory Party. Are multi-millionaires who funded UKIP. Are a public educated ex-stock broker. Are tabloid newspaper proprietors who avoid tax and publish p0rn mags. 

Those accusing me and nearly half the electorate of being sneering elitists are those who are prepared to try and shut out and ban some of the most vulnerable and frightened and persecuted people in the world from coming to our country. 

They’re those who look at the faces of those vulnerable, frightened and persecuted people and demand we check their teeth. Like they’re cattle

And those accusing me and nearly half the electorate of being sneering elitists are those who are prepared to smash up the life-support system of people struggling in poverty and desperation. Labelling them shirkers. Forcing those with terminal illnesses to have endless health assessments. Taking away the support of those who need help, and casting them as villains. 

Those who attack the vulnerable, the poor, the persecuted. They accuse me of being in the elite. 

The fact is, I am kind of in the liberal elite. I am a middle-class white woman, and a writer to boot. I own my flat, I went to top-notch university and, apart from a brief period on the dole following redundancy, I have always been gainfully employed in the creative industries. I enjoy many of the benefits membership of the EU brings. My niece and nephew are in my life because of freedom of movement – it has enriched my life. And, of course, all this privilege shields me in lots of ways. 

But I am also the girl who grew up under a government keen on institutionalised homophobia. I am also the girl who grew up under a Tory party that shut down the steel works where my granddad worked and put in the order that led to my dad’s ship being bombed. 

And so I will not have those people tell me that I am elite. I will not have those people who have used their power and privilege in such destructive and cruel ways, people born into power and privilege that most of us can never imagine, tell me that my support of the EU makes me one of the elite. 

*as a sixth former I had a travel grant to get to school and when I was at university fees were still means tested in a meaningful way. 

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