When the elite fights the elite

Highgate High Street in North London © Daniel Lynch/Evening Standard/eyevine

Years ago I made the mistake of telling friends on a WhatsApp group that I was meeting someone in west London. “Never heard of it,” came one of the answers, in less time than it took to read the sentence. Others included “Literally Never Been” and the almost profound “West London – Where’s That?”

All rich cities have a zone like this: white or maybe off-white interiors, people naming dogs as an interest, restaurants naming things like Gianni’s. Think LA west of Doheny. Or the Upper East Side. It is not a sin to live in these places. But if you do, it’s considered good manners to belittle other people’s housing choices.

Instead, Rishi Sunak, who lives in Kensington, is the latest British PM to blast “North London”. In code, that means smartass liberals, righteous celebs, state-school-for-you-but-not-for-me guys. At its geographical and spiritual core is Islington, a place that so irks people that I’m trying to spend more time there.

The attacks on this part of the city should stop for two reasons. One is the evil undertone. North London is not exceptionally wealthy, liberal or choosy by the city’s standards. It’s no more global than Kensington, whose cheekiness stems largely from the need for expats from around the world to find common aesthetic ground. It’s not hip either. That’s an Eastern or increasingly Southeast thing. What the North is – at least historically – is Jewish. I’m not suggesting that the politicians and editors who invoke it mean it pejoratively, or even understand the connotation. But parts of her audience understand this all too well. Accidentally blowing a dog whistle is no safer than the intentional kind.

The other reason? Let me appeal to people’s self-interest. Nothing is more revealing of elite status than knocking on north London. Differentiating one posh section of capital from another requires insider knowledge of the geocultural gradations within the upper echelons of society. I remember this episode of The simpsons where Springfield townsfolk turn against local intellectuals. “Let’s make trash out of these Litterati!” says one of the mobs, Carl, in a sentence that’s suspect in its euphonious cleverness. It qualifies him as one of the Eggheads. That earns him a caning.

A lot of people I know are at risk of meeting Carl’s fate. In the past decade, the most interesting class struggle in both America and Britain has been within the elite, not against them from below. The typical quarreler is a wealthy city dweller who enjoys the outrage of his more liberal peers. But she are peers. Having conservative politics in a left-leaning upper class doesn’t make you a burly heartland peasant. It’s not “hitting” if you are as rich or richer than the people you are hitting. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have the reality-altering brains to pull off this dangerous game. That doesn’t apply to most people who play it.

So some friendly advice to the right-wing hedgehogs, the Palm Beach courtiers, the tabloid writers, the weekend golfers who vote for Trump or Johnson to anger the more liberal breed of rich: hope your efforts incite anger at the elite to stoke, do no harm unsuccessful. Because when the mob comes, they won’t know or care to differentiate between different group muscles of the 1%. It will not storm Shoreditch House and leave 5 Hertford Street untouched. It will not ambush House of Koko and deferentially walk past Ned.

Is there a seething voter in an unfortunate mill town who thinks N1 is elitist but SW3 is fine, or has any idea what either means? Unlikely.

For self-preservation, more than goodwill, elite-on-elite aggro must stop. End the zip code wars. Every time North Londoners are mocked as snobs – for what? – own a book that isn’t sapiens, the damage does not affect a district, but an entire class. And at a difficult time for that. Check out the business news. There is a not inconsiderable chance of civil unrest against the haves in the coming years. How sweet to think that you’re going to be spared because you’re just rich and not rich and interesting.

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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https://www.ft.com/content/1b62b77a-4d96-4569-b76e-29d590c2d19d When the elite fights the elite

Adam Bradshaw

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