Knowing Your Place




It was inevitable that at some point I would hear a statement from Leo Varadkar and think “he’s got a point there.” Such things happen.

Sometimes a person or group you oppose politically have a belief or position that isn’t that far away from your own. It doesn’t change who I am, it just confirms that politics is a collection of values rather than adherence to a single rule book.

Even though I too would be a Latte Socialist, I still wasn’t offended. For the sake of accuracy, I’m technically an Americano Socialist, but used to be a Supermarket-Generic-Brand-Freeze-Dried Socialist. I like to think I’m self-aware enough to get the reference though.

Well-meaning types, patronising, lacking self-awareness of their own privilege as they express empathy and concern.

The type that will spend a night out on the street for charity and hope that we will all validate their sacrifice and intentions. One night. Kitted out after a long day in the North Face outlet at Kildare Village.

A Thermos filled with warm nutritious Keto Soup. Knowing that you get to go home in the morning and have a piping hot shower and the chance to get into your warm plush bed just before you update your Instagram with your few hours of virtue.

The homeless of Ireland thank you for raising awareness by your sacrifice. You get the bonus of mentioning it every couple of months and the kit from North Face can rest in the attic, never to be used again.

The point being that the voice of the working class or the struggling is often only heard through the filter of the middle-class. Either as politicians or as journalists or some other new media means.

But then that’s the problem, the voice of the haute bourgeoisie (for there is no nobility here) is only heard via the middle-class too. That’s politics. Politicians and journalists represent a form of Ronnie Barker in the well-known Class Sketch.

Some seek to protect their betters (on the off chance they may get there too) and some seek to protect their lessers (they’ve seen every movie of Oxford Graduate Ken Loach don’t you know).

One is deferential, one is patronising. One maybe sipping lattes in Avoca sympathising with the plight of the common folk (the nice ones though) but making sure the doors are locked in the car while waiting at the lights at Clare Hall on the way home.

But the other is no better. Petite bourgeoisie hoping to climb a rigged ladder they’ll never reach the top of by repeating the mantra of their betters. The learned hegemony they spew no less ill-informed and dogmatic as their college peers who stand with a toe on the left. The latte socialist comes from the same stock as the Audi Plutocrat.

Their ideologies are groomed on the campuses of TCD, UCD, or St Pats, inculcated while involved with the Student Union, ASTI, black-tie events with Young Fine Gael.

Most, but not all. Britain suffers similar, but more extreme woes whereby politicians from all parties (not just Tory) come from the public school, Oxford Philosophy, Politics and Economics few. Just as many Labour MPs have been through the process as the Tories, they just went to Harrow instead of Eton.

It doesn’t mean that those who are privileged are forbidden from holding views on social inequality, far from it, nor is using their privilege to raise awareness and effect change. But in fairness, we’ve given that process a good old whack this last century. It hasn’t really been that effective. Thanks for trying though.

It’s not that sipping lattes doesn’t give you the right to empathy or an opinion. It’s not that activity within the liberal circles of TCD doesn’t give you well-meaning ideas. It means you’ve been isolated from those you empathise with though.

That maybe what you think they want or require isn’t exactly what they want. That why they think a certain way isn’t because they’re ignorant or racist. That how you’re told the system works might not be how it should work.

Jeff Flake’s announcement on Tuesday of his intention to resign from his Senate seat gives us a clue as to the problems we face. It’s only in resignation that Flake can speak out against the Republican party and the President.

He had to resign to say what everyone else in his party is saying. He only resigned as it became obvious he was going to lose the next election anyway. If the polls were showing a margin in his favour, he’d still be there and dissenting voices would remain at two. The Party always come first. Never us. Never the country. Always the Party. Always power.

Not just America, but here too.

Labour and the Greens sacrificed principles to remain in government. Even when it was clear they were never going to wield any influence. It’s giving them a little bit of credit that they entered a coalition under the belief that they could have influence and not that they entered because it meant they were in power.

But it’s hard not to be cynical. The answer from the established political left has always revolved around benefits. Rather than fixing anything, boom years result in burying problems in deprived areas with benefits. No hope. No Jobs. No prospects. Just benefits. Benefits that go as soon as the economy collapses. Give them the opiates, get them addicted, then demonise them as you swipe it away. But it’s great that you get angry on Twitter about it, you empathise at least.

Politics isn’t about fixing anything, it’s just a Trinity Debate Society played out in a public forum and paid for by the public. It’s about winning the debate for your side, not coming up with anything to fix things.

The political left has been too focused on debasing the right and not focused enough on helping those they claim to speak for. Mr Smith could get to Washington, but not Leinster House.

At least the latte socialists have their hearts in the right place, but it still plays into the cultural hegemony. It’s still betters speaking down to proles about what is best for them without actually listening to them.

The policies still try to work within a status quo, whereby the existing system is portrayed as being correct and natural. It’s not a chip on my should by the way, it’s a triple-fried in imported French goose fat hand-cut Russet potatoes chip served up with a dollop of Merlot ketchup on my shoulder.

Pejoratives for middle-class “socialists” have been around for a long time, we’ve just got a new one. Sometimes they’re from the right, but most have their origins on the left. As a middle-aged, middle-class white man, it wasn’t easy or pleasant to be confronted with opinions and actions that were resulting from my privilege. Doesn’t mean the accusations weren’t correct. As painful as it was, I still had to listen.

Being affluent doesn’t preclude you from having or giving opinions on social equality. But it does get grating when that’s all it is: opinion and compassion. A national flag transposed over your Facebook profile picture.

It means nothing if it’s just words. It becomes grating when you debase working class people’s Euroscepticism as racist or ignorant, yet fail to accept your pro-European view might be based on a privilege working class people may never see or get.

It becomes a (Wagyu) beef when for all the progressive talk, it never translates to votes…unless the politician is similarly educated and similarly affluent. It wouldn’t matter if in a future Gerry-less Sinn Féin, Mary-Lou was given a calculator and actually made the numbers stack up for once. You still wouldn’t vote for them. You’d give Labour and the Greens another chance (this time they’ll change, this time they’ll be different) before them.

Whether your preference is for socialism mixed with champagne, lattes or smoked salmon, it’s still from a privilege those who would benefit from a socialist democracy will never know. It’s socialists who would have never spoken to a working-class person beyond the lady who comes in to do your ironing.

Opinions are one thing, getting to an equal society is different, that requires more than outrage, it requires more than hoping something will happen within the existing privileged political system to make a change. Life barrels on like a runaway train. Except with progressive hashtags.

The only way to prove we aren’t just latte socialists is to break from the hegemony and status quo and force change. Not, as in the past, wait until change comes in the form of someone like us where the change is simply watered-down rhetoric by another from the political class.

I admit there’s a chip on my shoulder, maybe a little guilt from betraying my roots and becoming the privileged socialist I am. And I am, lattes or not.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but that change is happening the working class aren’t waiting for us. There’s a small irony that where the populism is on the right-wing, it is still Marxist. It’s about the elites, the control, the bourgeoisie who facilitate and maintain it. Pure Marxist theory. The difference is (actual racism aside), the populists are speaking to the working class and listening to them. They aren’t speaking at them.

Maybe there’s something to take on board here, once we’ve expressed our outrage in Twitter thread of course.

Listrade can be found on Twitter @listrade