Latte-sippers

You may have heard of Andy Burnham, the Labour MP who was obviously going to win the Labour leadership, until he obviously wasn't. Since he's refocused himself on winning the mayoral race in Greater Manchester, Burnham has really amped up his man-of-the-people, 'screw those politicians' schtick. Sometimes this takes the form of wrong-headed and xenophobic pandering to anti-immigration sentiment. Sometimes it's more entertaining:

Of course Burnham didn't invent the idea of cafe culture as a symbol of metropolitan elitism. The first time I remember coming across it was in Don Watson's 2003 book about political language, and you can find a New York Times article referring to "planet-saving, latte-sipping individualists" from 1994. Unsurprisingly, what was trendy and unusual in 1994 isn't in 2017, when every town in the country has a Costa and you can buy a latte in Tesco. This is a handy trope for politicians - remember old Owen Smith? - trying to get themselves on the right side of the ridiculous, perpetual authenticity and culture wars. Real people brew coffee on the stove, in the harsh morning light before they hit the road or head down the mine.

The politicians hoping to benefit from an anti-metropolitan-elite wave are themselves metropolitan elites, and totally clueless about what the real cultural markers of their elite status are. This is how you get people leaping all over nonsense about Easter eggs - because they're not 'common people', and actually quite condescending to most of the population, politicians end up willing to believe basically anything about what matters culturally. Everyone in Westminster goes to cafes and drinks, if not lattes, something equivalent. (Twitter is doing a good job digging out photos of Burnham with takeaway coffee.) So it's easy to believe that this a Westminster thing to do and to awkwardly try distancing yourself from it, even though in reality everyone outside Westminster does it too. And then people who are obviously elites themselves end up on Twitter, arguing at length that people really are passionate about making UK passports blue again, or splitting hairs endlessly over what counts as the 'real world' for the purposes of deciding whether coffee is posh.

This is the defining feature of the culture wars: desperate politicians, who can't or won't win over voters by articulating their policy vision, engaging in totally dishonest appeals to a culture they're not part of and have no idea how to genuinely connect with.

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