Friday, 11 November 2016

A Dirty Word

This was originally posted on LibDem Voice on 10th November 2016.  This is the extended, personal version...

There has been an upswing in certain sections of the press of the condemnation of a particular demographic: the “liberal, metropolitan elite.” 

When did 'liberal' become a dirty word? Why is it being used as a word to mock, or incite loathing? It is defined by the OED as a willingness "to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different to one's own..." and as someone who is "open to new ideas". That all sounds great. Perfectly reasonable.

Why is this a bad thing?

It's concerning, then, that the word is being twisted to suit an agenda that runs on stoking fear and hatred. When it becomes disgraceful to show empathy with those who are suffering, just because those people are not from your country of origin, that is scary. When people who have gained positions of responsibility are told that it is because they are part of the 'system' (alright, sometimes that's correct!) rather than because of their own merits and work ethic, that's disturbing. And when a politics of scaremongering, scapegoating and 'other-ing' becomes acceptable, and electable, rather than a politics of understanding, rationality and inclusivity, then I worry for the future of the world.

Politics aside, I would say that most of my friends, acquaintances and family members would identify with the OED definition of the term 'liberal'; believing in equality, and willing to respect other people's views, opinions, lifestyle choices, religions, etc. 

So when, and why, did having a liberal outlook become something that others believe we ought to be ashamed of? When did a pluralistic, optimistic, inclusive agenda become something to be vilified, and an insular, nationalistic, blinkered view become the accepted norm? That people who hold liberal views are somehow not "normal", or have led privileged or sheltered lives, or don't understand how "ordinary" people live, and think, and work, and worry. 

It's wrong, it's deeply troubling, and something that needs to be countered at every turn.
I rent, can't afford to buy, feel as though I am being priced out of a city that I love, and work part-time in a service industry.






You see;
I am a working-class white girl from a small Northern city. I grew up on what could be termed a council estate (it was a lovely estate, don't get me wrong, but all of the houses were council-built, and my parents camped out overnight outside the housing offices to be first in line for one, as previously they had been living in a caravan on my grandparents drive).
I went to a normal primary school and a normal secondary school, and was on Free School Meals for the first three years due to my family and living situation which was, let's say, unstable for a time.
Due to the same circumstance I was eligible for full financial assistance when I went to college, and I always had a job at the same time. I was once unemployed for several months and it was the worst.
I love the monarchy and believe that democracy is the best workable form of government. I watch TV like Bake Off and Strictly, and enjoy chilling out in a pub with friends, drinking shandy or cider and gossiping about who got voted off this week.
Therefore I am, I guess, "Normal, Honest, Working-Class, Hard-Working, Decent and Ordinary."


Image Source: motherjones.com

I live in London. I work freelance in the arts and cultural industry. I trained in Musical Theatre and worked as a Cabaret performer throughout my twenties. I have friends from outside of my own age-range, class, faith, ethnicity and experience.  I read The Guardian, The Independent and The Stage, and books about politics, dramaturgy, theatrical theory, history and dystopian fiction. I like to go to cocktail bars, or wine bars and discuss things like this over a glass of prosecco. I go to the theatre as often as I can, and visit museums and art galleries for fun rather than because I feel as though I *have* to, or *ought* to. 
I sponsor several charities and support community initiatives. I am a feminist, and believe in true equality regardless of gender identity, age, ethnicity or any other arbitrary assignation. I have a degree. I am a Liberal Democrat voter. I believe that Parliament, and our elected representatives, have the responsibility to act in the best interests of the country and not according to the whims of the country. I voted Remain because I think that, in an interconnected world, we should be aiming for closer bonds and not isolationism. I passionately believe that we should do more to help those suffering, both here and abroad. 
I am, by almost every media standard, a reviled "Liberal", part of the "Metropolitan Elite."


Image Source: wiskundemeisjes.nl

I find labels a lazy way of attempting to define how another person fits into your own view of the world. I've written before about how I find some forms of specification limiting, and I believe that they can often become debilitating, both to the person being defined (i.e. offensive), and to the person defining (i.e. unwilling to consider viewpoints other than ones own) - and thus, we have come full circle.

Maybe, instead of either slapping a label on a person, or taking self-defined labels and attempt to turn them into ill-thought-out, poorly researched insults, we ought to practice a little more empathy and liberal thinking.

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