If I hear the phrase ‘political elite’ one more time I swear I shall go pop!

On the face of it, it seems an innocuous enough phrase. A simple telling it like it is without being too specific or a way of summarising all those professional politicians and others in the orbit of government. It’s handy when the column inches are tight. So why am I so vexed with this now? After all the phrase and the theory behind it isn’t a new one as it has been around since the middle of the 20th century. Why now?

Because in the last few years its usage has been subtly usurped and now it hides a whole series of insinuations that undermine many of the core principles not just of those who read this here but of anyone of any political stripe who takes what democracy gives us to heart.

I’ve heard it used more recently but here is a good example of how the phrase has been corrupted. Nigel Lawson (a member of the political elite if ever there was one) on Question Time.

  1. A lady asks a question to do with issues around Europe.
  2. Nigel Lawson responds by blaming the ‘political elite’.
  3. The lady’s question is based on her understanding of a binary ‘us and them’ scenario but surreptitiously his response has changed this to a trinary ‘you and I against them’ condition.
  4. He then goes on to state his own opinion.
  5. He and the lady nod as if agreeing although their interests are poles apart.

Or to put it another way:

  1. A difficult or unsupportable issue is raised
  2. Someone from the political elite points the finger at the political elite (usually with the companion phrase ‘broken politics’) the inference being the questioner is powerless.
  3. The politician then claims to be on the side of the questioner.
  4. As the politician and questioner are now allied, the further inference is “my opinion equates to your opinion” even though evidentially they are completely at odds with each other.

Now that may be just psychological sleight of hand or clever debating to ‘win the point’ but it hides something much more pernicious. There has been no agreement or move to reconciliation at a later time only the illusion of settlement. And, this happens repeatedly from church halls to TV studios the same people pulling the same trick again and again. A constant reinforcement of the message “you are powerless – there is an untouchable elite”. If via this tactic the elite become convinced they are untouchable and if the electorate become convinced they have no power, then we will be in a very sorry state.

So next time you hear this duplicitous phrase challenge them as to why they say they are acting in your interest whilst furthering theirs. And remind people they aren’t powerless. Every 5 years (maybe sooner) they can remind the ‘elite’ who exactly it is they serve.

* Phil Craxford is a new member

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23 Comments

  • Richard Easter 8th Oct '16 - 1:10pm

    The political elite are the bunch who are on the revolving door between elected politics, the House of Lords, the EU Commission, World Bank, IMF, WTO, various multinational corporations and investment banks, think tanks and generally participants in Bilderberg / Trilateral Commission meetings, and largely use their influence and power to promote the interests of multinational corporations.

    Of which many Tories fit into perfectly!

  • Phil Beesley 8th Oct '16 - 1:41pm

    See also:
    * Political correctness. My understanding — one that extends to the sensible wing of the Conservative party — is that political correctness amounts to good manners. It’s talking about disability, differences, discrimination etc using polite language. The concept isn’t about denying speech or truth.
    * Health and safety ‘gone mad’. H&S protects workers from unnecessary unsafe practices and has protected many people. Under H&S, employers conduct risk assessments and run their businesses, whether they be amateur theatre or blowing up redundant industrial plants, on the basis of necessary risk. In life, some activities are unsafe and we rely on professionals who take H&S seriously to minimise risk.
    * Talking cobblers. Some people find it hard to do their jobs. Conker fights are allegedly banned on health and safety grounds; it eventually emerges that somebody found it inconvenient when children make a mess. Junior police officers and social workers feel unable to report child abuse to their superiors; the superiors, so called, feel unable to challenge politicians because they don’t know much about politics or about child safety. So they just talk cobblers.

    The ‘political elite’ insult is a new form of talking cobblers.

  • I have the same problem. The minute I hear Liberal Metropolitan Elite or Left behinds I stop reading or listening. I think they’re ways of blocking arguments off by attributing them to imaginary groupings of bossy or irrational people. They’re modern equivalent of dismissing those you disagree with as snobs and peasants.

  • Barry Snelson 8th Oct '16 - 3:54pm

    Phil,
    Then please give us another term which means exactly the same thing.
    We are living in a period of incompetence, corruption and cronyism unsurpassed since the time of Emperor Commodus.
    The House of Lords is widely despised by the general population and the decent ones are tarred with that brush. How do we remind the members of that particular institution of whom they serve and at what interval are they replaced by our votes?
    You may continue to use Nigel Lawson (Baron Lawson of Blaby) as example of the power I have over him.

  • “I have the same problem. The minute I hear Liberal Metropolitan Elite or Left behinds I stop reading or listening.”

    Well,.. the good news : …is that voters have now adopted a reciprocal arrangement, whereby politicians that stop listening,… stop getting votes,.. and politicians that *do listen*,.. do get votes.?

    And the bad news : …is that elites refusing to listen, always ends badly. Is it not,.. the stuff of all revolutions, when an ‘elite’ refuse to listen, and instead adopt a ‘let them eat cake’, mentality.?

    Smart liberals [elite, metropolitan, or otherwise], surely, ought to recognise the correlation of a 6% rating,.. with a refusal to listen.?

    But something else,… a quiet revolution,… has begun to disturb the once cosy, elite political ether…..
    ————–
    “Every 5 years (maybe sooner) they can remind the ‘elite’ who exactly it is they serve.”

    Well they can now,.. That is,.. now that voters have ‘twigged’ the *Third Way Centrist Scam*, that Blair imported from Bill Clinton some 25 years ago.? You know how the story goes………..

    A Red Centrist,.. a Blue Centrist, and an Orange Centrist, walk into a bar. The Red Centrist says, “O.K,.. who’s turn is it to be PM this time.?” And ‘the establishment’ pipes up,… “Who the hell cares ?,.. Point is,.. you’re all *Praetorian Centrists*, and you’re simply there to protect our wealth and interests,.. but the really clever bit, of our Third Way Centrist scam, is that voters are hoodwinked into thinking that they *actually made a choice!* of red,… blue… or orange.? I mean seriously guys, these knuckle draggers, really think that they’re going to get….hope and change…?”

    Oh,… how the elites laughed….. back then.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 8th Oct '16 - 6:38pm

    We have Political Elites, The Establishment….next we need as Liberals Democrats to been as “The Power Base” which is a source of authority or influence, especially in politics, founded on support by an organized body of voters, ethnic minority, economic class, etc. What do you think? Good idea huh?

  • J Dunne.
    I just don’t like these reductionist buzz words and memes . I think they’re designed to short circuit thought by creating bogeymen of differing types according to whatever political position is being flogged. Most of them seem to stem from newspaper columns and punditry which require people to sound off on demand as part of the remit.
    I voted Leave. I don’t believe Remain voters are bad or part of some imagined elite. I just disagree with them about the EU and the role of the nation state.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Oct '16 - 11:33pm

    Phil
    Well done , but it goes even further !

    Us and them, indeed, just watching question time , the Welsh secretary, bonding with the audience and his party conference approach, refers to rich people in their yachts!In an answer to show where the Tories are going to come on strong on the side of the working class !

    Surreal !!!

  • I cant get rid of my MP as it is a safe seat.

  • I’m in a constant state of amazement at how seriously powerful and influential politicians, often from very privileged backgrounds, still manage to call those with other views ‘the establishment’. Using “elite” as a term of abuse is a short-cut to avoid having to deal with difficult questions, or concept that are less tangible and more difficult to understand.

    Much easier to talk about things being “common sense”. That requires no pesky evidence, and everyone likes common sense. Collecting and evaluating evidence is for the ‘political elite’.

  • I must add, in spite of my pedantic annoyance at the abuse and manipulation of such terms for lazy, and hypocritical abuse by people who know exactly what they are doing, we do need to recognise that there is a reason it works. There are a great many people who like the idea of being anti-establishment, and that’s a fact of life. If you are already in power, it comes with the added bonus of being able to blame others for anything that goes wrong.

    I also recognise that it’s not enough to have great ideas, with the figures to back it up. It’s important to be able to communicate those ideas outwith our own echo chamber. Many voters don’t have the time or inclination to read long essays, and consider Guardianista a term of abuse. We need to remember that many don’t care for abstract ideas, but want tangible policies with tangible outcomes.

    The LibDems often do better at local and by-elections, and we’ve all discussed the many reasons for this. But without doubt, we seem to be better at communicating what we stand for at this level. There are issues with the way the national media work, but beyond that, we seem to be better at communicating what we stand for in these more intimate environments. Can we learn to be better at communicating without sounding like a text book, or do we need to create opportunities where more time is available to discuss more complex ideas?

  • John Dunne – I am assuming from the tenor of your posts, or perhaps I remember from things you have said, that you are a supporter of UKIP, a party whose leadership is from the ‘elite’ you despise, and whose policies if enacted would promote a neo-liberal hegemony even more effectively than the Conservative Party will. In fact it is only Jeremy Corbyn who is at present seriously challenging the political status quo: the problem is that he is not very effective at doing so.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '16 - 11:07am

    Tim Farron is not metropolitan and not elite.

  • Peter Watson 9th Oct '16 - 11:16am

    @Alex Macfie “Tim Farron is not metropolitan and not elite.”
    And Nick Clegg?

  • Metropolitan is easy enough to define – evil people from cities.

    But elite? It’s traditional meaning is for those people or things that are much better than the average. Being an elite athlete means you are one of the best in the world at your chosen profession. At my (comprehensive) school, being an elite student meant you did the best in exams, and were encouraged to study the tough subjects at university, and it was something to be proud of.

    Sometimes ‘elite’ is used to describe something expensive, or the wealthy, or those who are in an exclusive club. It’s just a vague word which can be used as either criticism or praise, depending on context and your intentions. Ultimately, it’s an empty criticism, but one that chimes with people who are feeling a bit insecure about their own situation.

  • Not for nothing did Cameron declare himself the ‘heir to Blair’..?

    Strangely, we never really questioned why a Tory would see himself as the inheritor of Blairism.? On closer inspection however, Cameron was merely stating the obvious. He was telling us openly, that for the purposes of [the scam], which is to maintain a political status quo for the establishment,.. then a Blue Centrist is wholly interchangeable with a Red Centrist,… and even better if you can get a coalition with an Orange Centrist to come on board, and on-message.?

    This scam worked for 25 or so years. Thus,.. the voters got the illusion of a change and of having a choice, but the day after the election, the status quo prevailed, and ‘the elite’ got a Centrist in Downing street to look after their establishment interests. For the establishment, it was a good ruse while it lasted, but it left voters scratching their heads as to why they kept voting red, blue or orange, but still got,….. *establishment*…?

    Well, the game is up,.. That establishment inspired, Third Way Centrist scam is now well and truly busted.
    If you consider yourself a centrist or worse, a Blairite, you might as well clear your desk by 2020. Have you noticed how many of the Labour PLP’s are eager to declare themselves NOT a Blairite.?,.. and even T. May is at pains to shift away from Cameron’s Centrism, towards what she calls the *New centre ground*.

    No-one who is cognisant of the political,.. and social revolution under way, wants to declare themselves ‘heir to Blair’ anymore.?

  • I hope it goes without saying, that in my last comment above, you can pretty much swap out [ Downing Street ], with [ The White House ], and it sums up why Americans are so angry with exact same Third Way Centrist Scam, that has been perpetrated on them also, for 25+ years. So angry are they, at the political deceit,.. that they are seriously considering voting for an… over-sexed narcissist Orang-utan, because they are fully aware that voting for Hillary Clinton, represents a continuation of the fraudulent Centrist scam, whose singular purpose is protecting the interests of the establishment elite.

    Americans have a very difficult ‘rock and a hard place’ choice, but I believe that a non-violent political upheaval is the better ‘revolution option’, when you are really desperate to knock the establishment off their perch.? I hope Americans seize this one time only,.. non-violent opportunity, and go vote for the narcissist Orang-utan.

    And yes,… I know how crazy it all sounds, but in order to build an ‘escape velocity’ from the establishment, we newly enlightened voters, realise that extreme measures are sometimes [unfortunately], necessary..?

  • Simon Banks 9th Oct '16 - 5:38pm

    In every fields there are elites. They’re not all bad: I don’t think any academic field, for example, would work so well without an elite of academics; and an elite sculptor is simply a sculptor who is widely recognised in the field as very good indeed.

    The question about elites is the extent to which they may be impervious to interested outsiders. They may be self-selecting oligarchies or they may be out of touch with trends and concerns among the broader mass. So talking about a political elite is legitimate. But I agree with Phil: the term is generally being used dishonestly by people who are part of that elite – the editor of the Daily Mail, say. Powerful and well-connected people obscure their own undue power by pointing the finger at others who disagree with them. Just as bad is that term much loved by Nigel Falange and allies, “real people”. So anyone who disagrees with them is an unreal person.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 9th Oct '16 - 6:38pm

    “The Liberal elite – that crowd of luvvies and lefties who think that they are so superior to the rest of us that they can tell us what to do, think and say!”

    This gets said alot, but non-conformity is part and parcel of being a Liberal Democrat and to be a non-conformist your leftiness and/or being a luvvy must have some rebelliousness to it too to make the grade of an Liberal Elite person and in a manner that deems it free thinking and to say it not in superiority but with a forethought that makes it common sense and rational. Would that be a Liberal Elite….only if you ask politely.

  • Maybe the political elite would include the likes of Steve Hilton, Cameron advisor, campaigner for Brexit, and proud owner of Brexit buyers remorse judging by his response to Amber’s “drivel of Rudd” speech.

  • A Trump supporter on BBC Breakfast just talked about the “Coastal Elite”, which is a new one for us. Apparently it’s that sort of American that doesn’t like the language of Trump.

  • A few days ago on BBC Breakfast a personal finance journalist from the FT was discussing the impact of the fall in the value of the pound. The journalist said that if you own a holiday property in France or Italy and you have a euro-denominated mortgage on it, then the costs of servicing that mortgage have now increased in sterling terms.

    What percentage of the audience sitting at home watching BBC Breakfast considered this example relevant to their own lives? Would those who are affected by issues of this type qualify as the “elite”?

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