Open main menu

Liberal elite (also metropolitan elite[1][2] or Islington set in the United Kingdom) is a stereotype of politically left of centre people whose education had traditionally opened the doors to affluence and power and form a managerial elite. It is commonly invoked pejoratively, with the implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the ruling classes and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect.

Because the label is a rhetorical device, it carries flexible meaning depending on the circumstances in which it is used. The concept arose in the United States, but has spread to other English-speaking countries, where the term metropolitan elite is more common because liberal can have the opposite meaning, depending on country.


In the United StatesEdit

In the United States, the apocryphal lifestyle of the liberal elite is often referenced in popular culture. Columnist Dave Barry drew attention to these stereotypes when he commented, "Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying roadkill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks; or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?"[3]

During the 2008 presidential election, Republican candidate John McCain likened Democratic candidate Barack Obama's celebrity appeal to that of pop star Britney Spears and socialite Paris Hilton.[4]

A 2004 political advert from the right-wing organization Club for Growth attacked the Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean by portraying him as part of the liberal elite: "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs."[5]

Those Americans who equate intellectual pursuits and careers with elitism often point out American intellectuals, most of whom are upper-middle-class not upper-class,[6] are primarily liberal. As of 2005, approximately 72% of professors identify themselves as liberals. At Ivy League Universities, an even larger majority, 87% of professors identified themselves as liberals.[7] People with post-graduate degrees are increasingly Democratic.[8][9][10][11]

In Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter with Kansas?, the idea of a liberal elite is compared to George Orwell's character Emmanuel Goldstein in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional hated enemy of the people. Frank argues that anger directed towards this perceived enemy is what keeps the conservative coalition together.[12]

In the United KingdomEdit

Emily Thornberry, Labour Party MP for Islington South and Finsbury, resigned as a member of the Shadow Cabinet on 20 November 2014 during the Rochester and Strood by-election, in which she tweeted a picture of a house draped with England flags and a white van parked outside with the caption 'Image from Rochester', thought by many to be a snobby jibe. Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, commented that Thornberry's tweet furthers the perception that the Labour Party "has been hijacked by the north London liberal elite".[13][14][15]

Furthermore, the term 'Hampstead Socialist' is often used synonymously, referring to the North London area of Hampstead, despite the fact that the Conservatives represent all the constituent wards of the area. However, the wider constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn has often elected Labour MPs, including the 2015 incumbent, and the seats in Hampstead Town ward have previously been won by the Liberal Democrats, making the similar term Hampstead liberal somewhat more accurate as a description. The term was also regularly used by Nick Griffin, the former leader of the British National Party.[16][17][18]

Toby Young of The Spectator made a similar claim of metropolitan elitism regarding Gordon Brown over the Bigotgate affair.[19] On the campaign trail for the 2010 United Kingdom general election, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a conversation with a voter who expressed concern about immigration, before describing her as "bigoted" whilst being driven away in a car with a microphone still transmitting. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail was even more direct in his criticism of Gordon Brown as being a member of the metropolitan elite.[20]

Toby Young also used the expression whilst writing in the Daily Mail to refer to Sacha Baron-Cohen, a comedian whose alter egos Borat and Brüno have focused on Deep South residents.[21][22] The article was entitled "It's Bruno who's sick, not the ordinary people he treats with contempt", during which he wrote "Baron Cohen is encouraging the sophisticated, liberal elite to look down on those in a lower-income bracket".[23]

In IndiaEdit

In India, the concept is associated with Nehruvian socialism and Marxism, as well as with much of the mainstream intelligentsia and the ruling political class of India, since its independence in 1947. 'Indian National Congress', often referred to as the 'Grand Old Party' of India, is a left-liberal party, which has dominated the Indian politics for much of its independent history.[24]

In IrelandEdit

A similar concept exists in Irish politics in the form of the "Dublin 4 accent" and worldview (an area code in the affluent south of Dublin). The reference to this manner of speech highlights a difference between the metropolitan elite and the ordinary people (whether urban working-class or rural "culchie").[25][26][27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Speaking as a member of the liberal metropolitan elite…". Daily Telegraph. 8 February 2015.
  2. ^ Chakelian, Anoosh (13 June 2014). "'The party's been hijacked by a metropolitan elite': Labour MP Simon Danczuk". The New Statesman.
  3. ^ Barry, Dave (19 December 2004). "An Off-Color Rift". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  4. ^ "McCain ad compares Obama to Britney Spears, Paris Hilton". CNN. 30 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  5. ^ Tierney, John (11 January 2004). "THE 2004 CAMPAIGN; Political Points". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  6. ^ Thompson, W. & Hickey, J. (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, Pearson.
  7. ^ "Kurtz, H. (29 March 2005). College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds. The Washington Post". 29 March 2005. Retrieved 2 July 2007.
  8. ^ "Election Results 2008". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  9. ^ "CNN. (1996). Exit Poll". Retrieved 11 July 2007.
  10. ^ "CNN. (2004). Exit Poll". Retrieved 11 July 2007.
  11. ^ "CNN. (2008). Exit Poll". Retrieved 12 October 2008.
  12. ^ Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas?, Henry Holt & Company, ISBN 978-0-8050-7774-2
  13. ^ "The metropolitan elite: Britain's new pariah class". The Guardian. 13 March 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  14. ^ "Emily Thornberry: How one tweet led to her resignation - BBC News". 21 November 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  15. ^ Michael Rundell. "Political incorrectness gone mad: the myth of the metropolitan elite". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  16. ^ Helen Pidd, northern editor. "Nick Griffin concedes European parliament seat as BNP votes fall away | Politics". Retrieved 22 May 2015.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "British National Party". Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  18. ^ Waterfield, Bruno. "BNP's Nick Griffin defends jailed leader of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  19. ^ "Voting Remain is an act of heartless snobbery". The Spectator. 14 May 2016.
  20. ^ "If this woman's a bigot then I'm proud to be one too". Daily Mail.
  21. ^ "Ali G star opens old wounds in the Deep South". The Telegraph. 24 July 2005.
  22. ^ "Sacha Baron Cohen is Brüno: Achtung Baby!". The Telegraph. 5 June 2009.
  23. ^ "It's Bruno who's sick, not the ordinary people he treats with contempt". The Daily Mail. 17 July 2009.
  24. ^ Shekhar Gupta. "Saving Indian liberalism from its left-liberal elite". India Today. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  25. ^ "Dublin English: Evolution and Change - Raymond Hickey". Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  26. ^ "'Avant Garde Weirdness' in an Irish Accent". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  27. ^ "Irish English: History and Present-Day Forms - Raymond Hickey". Retrieved 30 May 2015.

Further readingEdit

  • Bartels, Larry M. (2006). "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas?". Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 1 (2): 201–226.
  • The Economist staff (18 November 2004). "The Fear Myth". The Economist.