The political commentariat thinks that those who despair of Brexit and President-elect Trump are the “liberal elite” and that those who have voted for either are the “left behind”. Deep political, philosophical, cultural and, I’d say, spiritual angst, are being reduced, wholeheartedly, to a dangerous binary that exploits the overlaps and suppresses the nuance.
I’m fifty years old. I was born in the South-East of England. I come from a loving, blue-collar to fairly ambitious middle-class family. We moved around the country a fair bit, when I was a child, for opportunity’s sake and I had some adventures, travelling abroad when I was a young, independent adult. I now live in Cornwall, having arrived here through marriage, twenty-plus years ago and then not leaving, when it ended.
I’ve been to eight different schools: two of them in Scotland and two of them small, private ones, in England – an infant/junior and a secondary. I know a bit about being “the new girl”. Albeit a bit disjointed, I still had a pretty good education. I went on to college, all expectations on me to go to University but I chose a badly fitting course and left to join the London commute when a job with professional opportunities was offered.
I’ve done a myriad of jobs, from menial to skilled, waged and salaried, both front of house and behind the scenes. I’ve been paid and voluntary. I’ve been trained, respected, cheated, head-hunted (not for anything particularly exceptional), bullied, well-rewarded and undermined along the way.
I’m a divorced, single mother of grown-up children, for whom I was, pretty much, the only unconditional, available and accessible constant, during their childhoods.
Since a stupid accident, these last few years, I have daily issues with pain and mobility and all the fatigue, frustration and depression they bring. I’ve had to battle my way through the constant stress of uncertainty and hostility of DWP assessments.
Just before I started this blog, I achieved a first class honours degree from the Open University.
It’s rare for me to reveal personal information, so why am I telling you this? Why the sudden, potted overview? Because each side of the binary that thinks it has me pegged, speaks of me but does not speak for me and is barely even speaking to me.
For one: I am not the “liberal elite”. ‘Liberal’ is not quite the same as just do anything you want and ‘elite’ is as different from elitism as ‘popular’ is from populism. I am liberal because I value the freedom of will and expression of everyone and I only wish I were an elite because it would mean I am actually, truly excellent at something.
And two: if there is a tick-box form to qualify for the Brexit/Trump “left-behind” – a clear demographic of the “forgotten” – I can probably tick a lot of their boxes. I’m a straight, white, middle-aged (I hope!), financially poor, vulnerable, female, single parent, with a good degree, living under years of governmental incompetence and malfeasance, in an area of the country quite lacking in ethnic and cultural diversity and with serious issues of neglect, poverty and deprivation, that voted for Brexit, despite years of EU funding.
But I do not like UKIP. I don’t like the Conservative Party (though I like some individual MPs). I’m monumentally disappointed with Labour, yet I’m not “a Blairite” and I don’t support Jeremy Corbyn (though I did try, for a little while). I think he fronts the kind of populist Left that leads, ultimately, to the same effects as the far right: oppressive bureaucracy, authoritarianism, virtue-signalling, censorship and fear.
I don’t think Capitalism is an evil, of itself (what we currently have is not even proper capitalism, anyway) but I don’t think it is the panacea for a sustainable and ethical socio-economic system, either. I’m not against making healthy profit. Just against profiteering. I have no problem with other people having more than me. Just not at my expense; by exploitation.
I think globalisation makes the World connected and accessible. I think that where it has undermined my quality of life, it is because of the policies of governments and international entities. The likes of Amazon, Sports Direct and Uber can only exploit me because my government lets them. Wealth and influence take unfair advantage because they can.
I believe in and love Humanity, Liberty, Law and Justice. I believe in universal Human Rights and equality of respect and dignity, regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, politics or religion – particularly and at least under Law and from those who administer policy and public service.
I respect and revere Science and the Arts. I believe in God and the sacredness and divinity of all things but I’m not religious and I support pluralist, secular governance. I believe in the State because I believe, perhaps poetically that, in a democracy, the People are the State.
I’ve become more cynical than I really want or ever expected to be but I don’t have a tin-foil hat.
I love my country, not blindly but warts and all. I bear her shame as I enjoy her pride. I am not a traitor to my country or an enemy of the western world because I cannot and will not compromise my principles to appease misguided hysteria and foolish vitriol, sweeping up with a jingoistic broom. Being concerned, even fearful about my country’s current trajectory and those of my neighbours, is not unpatriotic.
I am not “the liberal elite” that half of the political commentariat likes to imagine I must be. I am more like one of the “left behind” that the other half likes to patronise, fret over and console themselves with.
But I didn’t vote for Brexit and I would never have voted for Donald Trump and I despair of the crony socio-economic status quo as much as anybody. So, who, in Power, speaks for me? Where do I fit, in my country? Is this my country?