Brexiteers and the ruse of the latté drinking cosmopolitan

Conjuring the image of the latté or cappuccino-drinking cosmopolitan is one of the most tired political ruses in the English-speaking world. Why is it back in vogue again in the Brexit era?

Jacob Rees-Mogg recently mocked Labour’s softer Brexit stance as pitched to “cappuccino drinkers in metropolitan areas.” This 2013 picture posted on the North East Somerset Conservatives website runs with the caption: “Espresso enthusiast Jacob Rees-Mogg MP visited Roundhill Roastery in Radstock last week, where Edward Twitchett, master roaster, is producing exclusive coffee for over 40 outlets in the country.”


Wednesday night, the pro-Brexit provocateur Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted a link to a Guardian article about a leaked Home Office plan to deter EU immigration, and commented: “You can almost hear Guardian hacks worrying about who will be serving them their skinny lattes in a few years time…”

Blaming latté drinkers is the kind of grievance peddling we’ve become used to in the Brexit era. A media personality or politician, attempting to align themselves with a perceived British everyman/woman, has a go at the mythical liberal elite, using the language of espresso drinks. Why does Hartley-Brewer, a self professed skinny latte addict herself, who frequently tweets about her fondness for the low-calorie espresso drink, indulge the conscious hypocrisy of such blether? As she later tweeted, “To take the piss out of Guardian journalists’ metropolitan elitist outlook.”

Right-wing political commentators and politicians have long used espresso-laced putdowns to demean liberals and lefties. Jon Kelly has a great piece on the BBC News Magazine site where he unpicks the history of the association between lattés and liberals and goes back to a 1997 David Brooks article that first put “latté liberals” into the political ether. Kelly then looks to the 2004 Democratic primaries when the fiscally conservative Club for Growth ran a famous attack ad on candidate Howard Dean. In the ad, the Vermont senator is associated with a “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak show.” The ad cemented in the English-speaking political imagination the image of the elitist and out of touch liberal cosmopolitan latté drinker. It helps, says Kelly, “that the words ‘latte’ and ‘liberalism’ alliterate.”

In Britain, on the pro-Brexit right, the latté ruse is deployed to render Remain supporters (and liberals and lefties in general) as out-of-touch, effete snobs. So much of who we are in the modern world is defined by our consumer choices. When the pro-Brexit right says those against Brexit drink lattés or cappuccinos—and the culprit always emphasises the Italian nomenclature—it is a claim about the drink and the drinker’s un-Britishness.

What makes the whole latté ruse so ridiculous, if not slightly pernicious, is that it’s a known lie where the teller and the listener both agree to disregard truth for the emotional zeal that comes with pretending it’s real. The important thing is that the language is always more important than reality. In the UK, over 70 million cups of coffee are consumed per day. People across all class and geographic backgrounds in the UK enjoy a cup of coffee. What matters is how the latté ruse evokes a story of them and us. Whether people drink lattés or not actually doesn’t matter.

Tory eccentric Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent jibe about Labour’s Brexit policy announcement makes the point well. Responding to Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer’s recent announcement that Labour would pursue staying in the single market and customs union during a transitional phase, Rees-Mogg said Labour had pitched to “cappuccino drinkers in metropolitan areas.”  That Rees-Mogg is pictured on his own website in front of a cappuccino machine at a coffee shop in Radstock in his own constituency, and captioned as an “espresso enthusiast,” makes no difference at all. It’s the grievance narrative that matters.

The argument being advanced from voices such as Rees-Mogg and Hartley-Brewer through the latté/cappuccino ruse is layered, but at the heart is a claim about British identity. It goes something like this. The Brexit referendum was a vote against a global paradigm that sees rootless, liberal cosmopolitans ruling across national borders. Congregated in metropolitan centres, these cosmopolitan elites have lost touch with common British values and tastes. Normal, tea-drinking, patriotic Brits in small towns across the country, working average jobs, pinching pennies to raise families, want their country back from the latté-sipping liberals who have upended their traditional way of life. And the latté is shorthand for the entire myth.

Thomas Frank in his seminal book What’s Wrong With America? calls this the latté libel, which he defines as a rhetorical maneuver insinuating that liberals are “identifiable by their tastes and consumer preferences and that these tastes and preferences reveal the essential arrogance and foreignness of liberalism.” The larger narrative that encapsulates the latté libel took decades of careful work, but by 2004, when Bush beat Kerry, it was clear right wing strategists had altered the political shape of the country, transforming traditionally radical, left-wing areas in the flyover states into solid “red states,” ie Republican strongholds. The right successfully changed the narrative and frame of debate from that of an unequal economy to one where liberals, with their tastes and values, destroy jobs, communities, and traditional family structures.

Using this story, the right gets low income voters to vote against their economic interest. The mechanism is fairly straightforward. Create a powerful sense of belonging by telling the story of an in-group under threat from a made-up, but plausible enough liberal elite. Create monsters and archetypal enemies. Then position yourself as a champion born from the people’s will. This has been the Republican strategy my entire adult life, and last year, Trump just took it one step further, and did it better than the GOP establishment. Brexiteers tell the same myth, just slightly recast. It’s fictitious, and knowingly hypocritical, but it works. It’s the meat and bones of demagoguery, a politics that, as Jennifer Mercieca describes it, “feeds on popular prejudices, makes false claims and promises, and uses arguments based on emotion rather than reason.”

It should be said that coffee aspersions also come from the left. Remember Andy Burnham’s hot take from April on new Tory immigration proposals? “Bit bizarre,” he said, “hearing these right-wing calls for a ‘Barista Visa’. God forbid the idea of waiting longer in the morning for their posh coffee.” There was also that weird moment when Labour leadership contender Owen Smith, in a botched bid to seem authentically working class, pretended not to know what a cappuccino was at all. Never mind that he participated in something literally called “Cappuccino interviews” on the BBC ahead of the 2015 election. Vice has a good piece on coffee and politics in which Tom Wyman makes a convincing point about Labour politicians participating in a well-versed web of tropes that project an “authentic” way of being working class (hint: lattés don’t make the cut).

Both Hartley-Brewer and Rees-Mogg love espresso drinks themselves and know very well how popular espresso drinks are in town, country and city across the UK. When I lived in rural County Antrim, farmers would roll up the small high street in tractors, pop into the coffee shop, then drive off back to the farm. When I worked at a Belfast call centre for minimum wage, half the staff got through their 10-hour shifts by knocking back sugary Costa Coffee drinks. When I worked as a builder on construction sites in Boston, the crew loved mid afternoon Dunkaccino breaks. Nurses, taxi drivers, builders, the list goes on and on. In the real world, we’re all knocking back coffee. Liberal elites? Espresso is the fuel of the shift worker no matter what the Brexiteers and phony class warriors say. Long live the latté.


  • Jim M

    I prefer a flat white (honestly, they’re nice, especially from Costa).

  • Yeah same, I made the FW switch some time ago.

  • Jim M

    I am pathetically heartened to hear that, as I have never known anyone else (apart from me and caricatured hipsters) drink one.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    On the subject of Rees-Mogg, would he ever be allowed to be UK PM given he’s a Catholic?

  • For extra metro-lib points I can say that I was introduced to the FW by a former (privately educated) black girlfriend.

  • Zorin001

    I’ve moved onto them too, good blast of caffeine to start the working day

  • Jim M

    I take it you’re trolling… The monarch can’t be Catholic (yes, that’s bad). The PM can be. Indeed, Tony Blair converted to Catholicism.

  • Zorin001

    Just for clarity that was after he had ceased being PM.

    However I believe your right that there is no stopping a Catholic becoming PM.

  • Oggins

    Cortado lads. Try that

  • Ha ha. I’m loving the flat white thread on here. ?

  • Aodh Morrison

    Adding milk to coffee is an abomination, akin to wearing socks in the bath. Just plain wrong.

  • Aodh Morrison

    As of 2016 espresso drinkers are banned from becoming PM. Far too European in attitude. Only true blue tea drinkers need apply.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque
  • ted hagan

    I’m a remainer, but isn’t this coffee business getting a tad too precious?

  • Zorin001

    Earl Grey naturally

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    If you can sit in Parliament you can become PM

  • Aodh Morrison

    Indeed. Accompanied by cucumber sandwiches (no peasant crust naturally) and a slice of tiffin or Battenberg cake to follow.

    Personally I’m non-u, couldn’t ever manage the extended pinkie style.

  • Brian Kann

    Actually, we’re way off the coffee thread, but you ask a valid question. Short answer is the state religion of the UK complicates things. There is at least no longer any strict legal impediment to it. As a matter if convention, it would be very tricky due to the PM’s role in making ecclestical appointments. So it’s very much a convention and conventions play a big role in the UK public and constitutional make up. Given there has never been a catholic PM we can’t say how this would be resolved exactly. There has been one Jewish PM at least, but maybe having a PM from of a faith that was the old enemy of the breakaway Church of England would still be politically sensitive. It’s no doubt the reason why Blair in any case did not reveal his faith until after his PM duties ended ( it was an open secret that he was a practising catholic).

    Mine’s a coffe with milk, btw.

  • A Bit Left and a Bit Lost

    Always though of myself as more of a prosecco progressive to be honest…

  • I know—but it’s just so irritating to see the same Trump-style culture war tactics deployed. For goodness sakes, leave the latté alone. I’ve had enough! We also have a newborn in the house and I’ve been up all night. Decided to write about coffee.

  • Salmondnet

    Its not so much the coffee drinking, its the implication (made explicit by the London Evening Standard, at least one Remainder lady on Question Time and Ozzy Osborne’s daughter, amongst others) that the coffee is of such overriding importance that any interruption in the supply of young, cheap, EU labour to dish it out to the coffee drinking classes is some sort of international disaster.
    Given that the equivalent Remainder tactic is to label Brexiteers as old, ignorant, uneducated little Englanders, they are getting off very lightly.

  • Gah, I really tried to appreciate the flavours of pure black coffee, but my stomach always gets upset. Milk smoothes out the experience!

  • What actually IS a cortado? A shot with foam?

  • Oggins

    Equal parts coffee with milk, rather than foam. Some establishments use cream as part of the milk section.

    I have to say the fresh cream makes it divine!

  • Aodh Morrison

    Do you need burped afterwards?

  • That’s a really well made point.

  • Georgie Best

    Anyone that drinks lattes, other than at breakfast, is not in the least bit cosmopolitan.

  • Aodh Morrison

    The UK does not have a state religion. The Anglican Church is established in England alone. The Church in Wales, the Episcopalian Church in Scotland and, ahem, the Church of Ireland are not established churches.

    The PM’s role in advising in the appointment of the ‘Lords Spiritual’ would, as suggested in the (many) Lords’ reform papers, transfer to Lords’ Appointment Committee.

    Recent polls show a majority of young people in the UK having, quite sensibly, no belief in any brand of a ‘God’. I doubt that whoever it is that arranges the arrival of men in frocks in the House of Lords is an issue for them. The very presence of Bishops in parliament might be the pertinent point they question.

  • Brian Kann

    The latté/metropolitan elite/media bias hook is symptomatic of just how much a propoganda war Brexit is. The remain camp are also guilty of it too – but it is essentially the single most important asset of the Brexit movement. It paints any criticism or skepticism of it into an easy, attackable group, and yet, also a powerful defence against any of its many dubious claims being questioned objectively, most infamously by any subject matter ‘experts’ or authorities who disagree, challenge them, or give a reasoned opinion on specific points that they have promised but which would be almost impossible to deliver. Trump is an expert at it too and openly admits to having learned from it.

    The whole thing is depressing. If you argue say, that leaving the EU does not in any way mean leaving the Customs Union or SM, and give examples for that, does that mean you sip lattés and are a part of this shadowy all-powerful elite?
    Or is it because you have spent your life studying this field and are entitled to state an informed opinion on it?

  • lizmcneill

    What do Brexiteers drink in this setup, instant coffee? (urgh).

  • Brian Kann

    You’re right sorry Aodh. I meant England but as the centre of the UK, and more, is England you know what I mean. Interesting points though and perhaps they would get around it that way. Fact it, it’s certainly the main historical reason why no open catholic has ever became UK PM. I’m not sure that is a primary concern nowadays for everyday voters but there is uncomfortable baggage there for any party to take a punt on a Catholic candidate. Rees Mogg would probably be sufficiently ultra British enough to get away with it.

    Incidentally by no means a UK only thing. JFk’s catholicism plagued him all through his electoral fights as an ‘agent of Rome’.

  • Nigel Tolley

    Blue tea drinkers? You’ve just admitted to actually being a Russian shillbot, or, even worse, you’re putting the milk in before removing the teabag!! 😉

  • Nigel Tolley

    Hold on. What’s a “flat white”, other than an incredibly unappealing name? Thought it was what everyone else just called “coffee” – coffee plus milk?

  • Nigel Tolley

    No. They won’t have that forin muck, only honest, local Yorkshire Tea, or perhaps locally sourced tap water with some boiled nettles.

  • sounds amazing

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Not trolling at all – genuine question.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Thanks very much for that. I was under the impression Disraeli converted to Anglicanism before becoming PM and that Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after his stint in the hot seat. It’s an interesting one!

  • Zorin001

    I’m a cosmopolitan and proud, enjoy coffee and think the rich should be taxed heavily.

    I understand that Steve Bannon wanted to tax the rich heavily, funny that.

  • hgreen

    Just the usual lazy stereotype. Brexit Tories love their coffee as much as anyone else.

  • hgreen

    I think he’d be banned because he’s a complete bell end.

  • Lord Ashcroft’s survey found old people (65+) voted 60-40 to Leave. AB social group, 57-43 to Remain; C2DE, 64-36 to Leave.

    Considering the funders (e.g. financiers) and promoters (e.g. right-wing Tories) of Leave are hardly friends of the working class I found the C2DE support baffling.

  • The Leave Alliance promoted the EEA-EFTA model that would allow the UK to stay in the Internal Market. But after the Referendum the ‘hard’ Leavers appear to have the upper hand.

  • Brian Kann

    That’s the problem. So many different groups and individuals made promises that influenced the vote, and yet there is no accountability for it. I think the SM was promised in the Tory manifesto in 2015 regardless of the vote. Now, all that can be easily forgotten and the government can just interpret that vote as it wants. Anyone uneasy with this, or who challenges that the constitutional framework is being run right over (remember May had to be taken to court to grant Parliament a vote on Article 50 -that’s still unbelievable actually) is somehow hunted by the UK Brexit press as a saboteur; thwarting the “national will”.

  • the rich get richer

    I can’t see the Eu Empire allowing British People to Drink Coffee after Brexit……….

    They May Allow British People To look At Irish People Drinking Coffee Once A Year Or So After Brexit .

  • The worm!

    ………….and quite right too!

  • The worm!

    “farmers would roll up the small high street in tractors, pop into the coffee shop, then drive off back to the farm.”

    Maybe, but I’ll bet they were only there for a sausage roll and a rocky road!

  • babyface finlayson

    On what grounds?

  • William Kinmont

    See them at the chip shop here not coffee.

  • William Kinmont


  • The worm!

    Yes, much more likely!

  • Excellent summation.

  • Oggins

    Try my best Matt

  • Old Mortality

    ‘When the pro-Brexit right says those against Brexit drink lattés or cappuccinos—and the culprit always emphasises the Italian nomenclature—it is a claim about the drink and the drinker’s un-Britishness.’
    Barton is clearly not a qualified metropolitan as he doesn’t know that latte does not carry an acute accent on the ‘e’. I think the acute accent is very rarely used in Italian.

  • Oggins

    Tiz grinding me down

  • Roger

    Dead right Comrade.

  • billodrees

    Cut and paste from the Daily Telegraph.
    Stephen Tiepple 10 Sep 2017 9:36AM
    What did the EEC/EU ever do for us?

    Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; access to European health services; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; strongest wildlife protection in the world; improved animal welfare in food production; EU-funded research and industrial collaboration; EU representation in international forums; bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO; EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; European arrest warrant; cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter terrorism intelligence; European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa; support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond; investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural

    All that for about 40 p per day per UK citizen.

  • Ryan A

    A decade of consumption of right wing media namely the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express telling them every problem they have is because of immigrants I believe.

  • Scots Anorak

    It’s an imported culture-wars meme and, as such, perfect for Brexit, the ultimate instance of the elite conning the peasants into acting against their own manifest self-interest. Interestingly, although one would think that coffee – a symbol of continental sophistication among the travelled middle class – is something the right uses against the left, it was also used by Hillary Clinton, on the centre-left, against the millennials who supported Bernie Sanders, whom she memorably termed “baristas and basement-dwellers”. Of course, if people with degrees are serving coffee for a living and can’t afford to buy homes, it’s no wonder they’re voting for the radical.

  • Jim Jetson

    It’s a little patronizing to imply that EU nationals in the UK are barristas. And a little self aggrandizing.

    The reality is EU nationals in the UK are more likely to have a university degree than the British population, pay more tax than the British do and are very likely to be your local surgeon, accountant and entrepreneur. But go right ahead and pretend you’re justified in trying to kick them out.

  • Reader

    Directly listing Espresso alongside Cappucino is a bit disingenuous.
    Though I understand that among the progressive metropolitan elite even the men drink cappuccinos and lattes. Is that true?

  • Reader

    GetTheGrade:Thanks very much for that. I was under the impression Disraeli converted to Anglicanism before becoming PM
    Disraeli’s dad converted to Anglicanism when Disraeli was 12. Which was either an act of supreme confidence and foresight or just one of those things…

  • Stifler’s Mom

    You’ve got a latté people frothing at the mouth about your coffee observations !