This week, Dominic Raab stood in for Boris Johnson at Prime Ministers’ Questions whilst the PM was at the NATO summit. Given Raab’s reputation for putting his foot in his mouth, I assume his main job was to demonstrate exactly why Boris is still Prime Minister. He didn’t disappoint. Convention meant that if the PM was deputised for then so too the leader of the opposition. Step forward Angela Rayner. Apparently, Rayner has recently been to the Opera.
Now, a deft politician might have been able to use that against her. Raab might have commented that he was pleased to see her enjoying the finer things in life, that this was what the Conservatives were about, that levelling up was working. Instead he attacked her for being at the Opera whilst others were on the picket line and called her a Champagne Socialist. The result was that by implication he suggested that she was enjoying a lifestyle out of reach of striking rail workers -when his government has been insisting that they don’t need a pay rise. Secondly, he came across as mean spirited and hypocritical, especially when Rayner countered with reference to fund raising banquets.
Champagne Socialist is an insult that was coined to described people who are wealthy and enjoy the finer things of life, especially when they haven’t made their own fortune, whilst advocating for socialism. The suggestion is that they want to impose policies and rules on others such as high taxes and wage caps that they seek to evade for themselves. Further, that whilst they talk about helping the poor and sharing wealth equitably, they show no intention of sharing out their own wealth. Labour pre Tony Blair were perceived as suspicious of wealth and success to the point where, rightly or wrongly, it was believed that they were against people succeeding in business. So, in addition, another image was used of people wanting to climb the ladder and then pull it up after them.
Given, that Angela Rayner is someone who has come from a tough background and despite the reputation of champagne and opera, bottles and tickets aren’t that expensive relatively speaking, the attack didn’t really stick. It’s probably cheaper to cap off a night at the opera with a glass of champagne than to fill your car with petrol these days. Indeed, as I said, it made Raab look mean spirited. It suggested more of an attitude of “who do you think you are muscling in on those privileges? They aren’t for you.
Further, given that the Conservatives have pursued more interventionist policies and claim to be on the side of the working classes from the old red wall constituencies, they need to be careful. If they claim to be “levelling up” but people are struggling with the cost of living and they do nothing to help, if they continue to enjoy the privileges that follow on from an Eton and Oxbridge education ad if they are seen as the ones who partied in lockdown whilst you and me were compelled to forgo even hospital visits, then who are the Champagne Socialists now?
And here we get a taste for what is going on with Champagne Socialists and with privileged politicians who don’t keep their own rules. We are seeing a form of what we might call secular legalism. Legalism works on the basis that I am able to judge and control others and it it often comes with a heavy dose of hypocrisy. I expect people to forgo things whilst I find ways to indulge.
Well, we cannot expect anything more from the secular world, a world where grace does not exist but let’s be careful that whilst we judge the world around that we are not guilty of the same things. In what ways might we be tempted to impose expectations and restrictions on others that we would not undergo ourselves?