British politics, like any national political arena, has always been quite bizarre but in the Brexit era of post-truth, further shaken up by the upcoming snap election, everything has become even more ridiculous and the claim that an undemocratic “metropolitan elite” is successfully undermining the “democratic” mandate of Brexiteers perhaps best encapsulates this growing irrational rationale.
Who constitute this “metropolitan elite” and who is throwing around the insult left, right and centre (no pun intended)? Oddly, it is often those who actually constitute the “elite” who make these claims about others.
Despite going against almost all historical evidence, Tories and Ukipers have astonishingly (partially because of how right wing Labour are) and successfully taken up the mantra of populism and anti-elite rhetoric. Let’s not forget that Ukip donnor Arron Banks, a multimillionaire, supporting the millionaire, privately educated Nigel Farage, commented, without a hint of irony, that he was bankrolling the Leave campaign to cause a “peasants’ revolt“.
In this situation the peasants are always racialized as white, with the “white working class” moniker becoming increasingly prominent in post-Brexit discourses (something referred to by Theresa May in her maiden speech as Prime Minister).
Such posturing is obviously ludicrous, disingenuous and intentionally divisive. Who are the metropolitan elites? Well clearly they’re the ruling class, the Oxbridge, public school educated politicians and Whitehall mandarins who have for so long ruled Britain and whose friends and former class mates write the headlines.
The best example of this collusion has to be George Osborne who became the editor of the Evening Standard whilst still acting as an MP and advising investment firm Blackrock on a part time basis for £650,000 per year.
However, instead of targeting those with actual power, the label is routinely directed at anyone who disagrees with right wing common sense ideals and increasingly people of colour.
Ash Sarkar of Novara Media was recently labelled a part of this elite and accused of “niche politics” on Sky News after raising the fact that there had been a 41% increase in hate crimes since Brexit. Whilst Faiza Shaheen recalled in the Guardian how “Recently an Etonian called me (the daughter of a car mechanic) the elite. Apparently my ethnicity and London upbringing make me the enemy of the population that matters most right now: the white working class.”
How did such a turn of events occur? How has a situation emerged whereby people of colour are being marred as part of the elite, yet the likes of Farage, Boris Johnson, Theresa May et al (including many Blairite Labour MPs) are positioning themselves as anti-elite?
Part of it is to do with outright racism and the continued use of ethnic minorities as scapegoats within a wider context of harsh austerity measures. We’ve argued before that the only thing connecting an actual member of the white working class with May/Farage is their whiteness.
But regardless of the how, suggesting that people of colour, en masse, are a part of the “metropolitan elite” is an utterly ridiculous argument that must be debunked. It is well documented that austerity has hit BAME people harder than their white counterparts. On top of this, BAME people are the victims of the etho-nationalistic turn Britain has taken over recent years – Islamophobia has increased by 326% from 2015-16 alone.
These statistics aren’t a part of some elite conspiracy, they reflect the reality people of colour have to live with in Britain – a society that is increasingly hostile to their presence. It’s far too easy to forget that most people of colour are working class. They didn’t arrive off the boat driving Bentley’s and sipping champagne.
Like most people coming to this country, my Grandparents came here and worked in harsh conditions in foundries. They were the working class. This is why the label of “white working class” is an inherently divisive one as it allows for a complete erasure of the working class people of colour who operate under precarious conditions and are at the blunt end of austerity and government cuts.
Of course individual people of colour, such as say Sajid Javid or Pritti Patel can be accused of representing elite interests, but on a structural level it is bizarre to suggest that there is a cabal of people of colour conspiring against the white working class and dining off of the fruits of capitalism.
The reality is that barring “whiteness”, people of colour have far more in common with the white working class than the elites who are labelling anyone they can think of as a members of the “metropolitan elite”. Sadly such labels have to date severely limited any efforts to build any real solidarity.