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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Who are the Liberati?
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online political reporter

David Blunkett has always seemed to delight in his role as the chattering classes' worst nightmare.

David Blunkett
Blunkett: Scourge of the chattering classes?
Plain speaking, unashamedly populist and un-PC, the home secretary seemingly never misses an opportunity to take a swipe at any hand-wringing moral guardians, in his own party and beyond, who attempt to stand in his way.

In the past, he has referred to such people as "airy fairy libertarians".

But it now seems he has a new, far snappier, if more sinister-sounding, enemy - "The Liberati".

This shadowy group made their debut on the Today programme, during a debate with presenter John Humphrys on Mr Blunkett's plans to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.

I usually get the liberati on my back
David Blunkett MP

Mr Blunkett, it seems, would like to ban religious leaders he considers "dangerous" from entering the UK.

"Whenever I do this, by the way, I usually get the Liberati on my back for being against people being able to express themselves," he told Mr Humphrys.

Mr Blunkett declined to expand on this new social category, despite prompting from a clearly perplexed Humphrys.

So who on earth can the home secretary mean?

The word "Liberati" appears to be an amalgam of literari, or perhaps glitterati (defined by BBC News Online's dictionary as "highly fashionable celebrities; the smart set") and liberal.


In other words, they are an elite. Very possibly a "self-appointed" elite. Almost certainly a Metropolitan one.

They are also "liberal", in the broadest sense, perhaps the same "woolly-minded Hampstead Liberals" attacked by Mr Blunkett's predecessor Jack Straw, when in 1999 he faced criticism for attempting to remove the right of trial by jury for some defendants.

Or perhaps they are the "yoghurt-eating, muesli-eating, Guardian-reading fraternity", Labour MP Kevin Hughes referred to in the same year?

It is a confusing area, as the similar-sounding Libertarians tend to come from the right and believe in freedom-at-any-cost.

In the US, the Libertarian Party campaigns for an unrestricted free market, free speech, the right to bear arms and the legalisation of drugs.

By contrast the Hampstead liberals of political folkore are more generally portrayed as the fair-trade coffee-sipping, dinner-party attending middle classes.

A fine example of the genre is Labour MP Glenda Jackson, who first came to political prominence campaigning to stop a McDonald's restaurant opening in Hampstead, the area she now represents in Parliament.

Others often quoted include writer Fay Weldon and Labour peer Melvyn Bragg.

Compassionate Conservatives

In 2001, Mr Blunkett's Tory opposite number, David Davis singled out Oliver Letwin as the Tories' very own "Hampstead Liberal".

He meant it as a compliment - a sign of how far the Tories had come in their pursuit of "compassionate Conservatism".

Mr Letwin, then shadow home secretary, gained this reputation - and reportedly impressed Mr Blunkett - with his principled opposition to parts of the government's anti-terror bill, including, by coincidence, the creation of a separate offence of incitement to religious hatred.

Then, of course, there are the Liberal Democrats. The party has been a persistent thorn in Mr Blunkett's side over anti-terror legislation and many other issues.

But its Watford-born, comprehensive-educated home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, hardly fits the stereotype of the London NW3 dwelling Hampstead Liberal.

Who are the Liberati? Are you a member of it? Here are a selection of your views.

I heard the interview this morning. I immediately understood (rightly or wrongly) the handwringing members of organisations such as Liberty. Those that would sometimes seem to put the rights of the criminal above those of the wider community.
Paul, UK

I don't know who the Liberati are, so how can I know if I'm a member of it? It's all very worrying.
Bill C., Reading, UK

Oh, to live in a Liberati world, where there are no terrorists (was 9/11 a quantum spontaneous event?), all criminals are innocent (they fail to explain who does commit the crimes that occur), and the nearest they get to conflict is fighting with another 4x4 for that last bit of pavement to park on when dropping their mini-Liberati off at school. Wake up to the real world!!!
Tim, Birmingham (much too far outside Liberati-land)

David Blunkett is referring to the libertarian branch of the Illuminati, a well-known conspiracy dedicated to world domination through alfalfa salad and oatmeal jumpers. I can't believe he's rumbled us so soon!
Adam Weishaupt, secret location

According to my boyfriend I'm a "liberati" because I work for human rights causes and look carefully at the real and negative outcomes of each and every populist pronouncement to trip of a short termist politician's tongue. The weak etymology of the term should be a warning bell. Mr Blunkett has clearly coined the term "liberati" because it sounds good and plays to general prejudice; yet even he can't define what it means. All presentation, no substance. Doesn't that sound like his approach to policy too?
Christine Burns, Manchester, UK

I am a member of the Liberati. We are intelligent fair-minded people who think Blunkett is a megalomaniac, with all the thought capability of an amoeba.
John, Reading UK

Did David Blunkett mean to say "Liberace"?
Ashley , Manchester

If the Liberati are the people who think that Blunkett is a right-wing disaster for civil rights in this country then send me a membership form!
Stuart Cane, Cardiff, Wales

it's so easy. The liberati are anybody who is against the death penalty, that includes most of the political classes (left and right here are largely an irrelevance), a lot of the worlds journalists, the human rights mafia and all those self appointed guardians who think they know better than the rest of us poor, law abiding, tax payers who pay for it all.
David, London. UK

"Liberati" as coined by David Blunkett is clearly intended as a convenient term of derision to avoid him having to actually argue his case. By labelling anyone who disagrees with him in this way, hopes to plant in his listeners' minds the idea that their views are insubstantial and simplistic. In truth it's his ideas that are simplistic and unashamedly populist. It won't work, Mr Blunkett. We know your game. Now we just need to think of a good epithet for you and your ilk. How about "intolerati"?
John, UK

I am one of the liberati. I believe that laws should be a last resort, not a first one. I believe that there should be no thought crimes, that people should be free to express themselves without need for a licence or fear of prison. I believe that we should be free to do anything that doesn't harm others. But I recognize that I'm in the minority, that the political wind is blowing towards authoritarianism, toward centralized control. It's horrible having to wait for society to realize that liberty is something to be cherished, not sneered at on the Today programme.
Ken Tindell, UK

Those who think that freedom means stopping the Government banning smoking in public, letting possible terrorists into the UK, not having CCTV. They think that freedom does not mean not dying of lung cancer or a terrorist bomb. Or being free to walk the streets without being mugged. Funnily enough they usually work in smoke free offices and live in low crime areas and do not pay the price for their view of freedom.
David, London, UK

I'm opposed to Blunkett's left-wing authoritarianism on a wide range of issues. So, yes, I guess I am one. I can see this term becoming a badge of honour.
Alex Swanson, Milton Keynes, UK

As a member of staff of a large NGO, I am unquestionably on the periphery of it, and I can say that it is as much (if not more) of an exclusive clique as any perceived 'old-boys network' or other such networks. Membership seems to depend on arbitrary and superficial assessments of whether someone is doctrinally 'sound' - i.e. Guardian reading, muesli eating etc.
Anon, London, England

David Blunkett mis-pronounced the name. he meant "Liberaciti", a group dedicated to the works of Liberace and his tireless work for world peace, freedom and spangly suits. In the mean time, Liberati also means the people who could be seen as protected from some of life's rougher moments. As a result, they do not comprehend how much trouble and hurt can be caused to people who are not so well protected as themselves by upholding an ideal of liberty and free-speech. Such an idea would fit in with Blunkett's beliefs that crime - and by extent other disorder - hurts to poor and vulnerable the most. Whereas the liberati would complain (albeit politely)about not allowing a controversial Imam into the country, if he is permitted entry and trouble starts, it will be the poor and dispossessed who will have their lives interrupted and property destroyed. The "Liberati", living comfortable and protected lives in safe areas, would escape. I am not a liberati myself. I believe in freedom, the right to protest and speech, but being brought up in a poor family gives me a clear and painful set of memories of how much trouble can be caused by the loss of the smallest of things.
Lewis Graham, Stevenage, UK

I don't know about the others, but I'm quite proud to be part of the yoghurt-eating, muesli-eating, Guardian-reading fraternity. It is a worrying, yet telling, sign of things to come if Blunkett is afraid of a liberal literati, whose name suggests that their liberal views are a result of their intelligence. Perhaps Blunkett can't see the irony in giving the yoghurt-eating mob this title... but we do.
Mike, Armidale

You may not be able to describe on easily but you know one when you hear one. Obsessed with social issues and 'poor' people, forever worrying about Aids, smacking kids, discrimination against whatever, criminalising youth by punishing them and being politically correct. Oh, and anti Iraq war. Is that enough?
pete, Birmingham UK

I have never been to a dinner party in my life, don't live in Hampstead and hate muesli. But Blunkett's attempts to dumb down the debate on human rights like this are an insult to every right-minded person in this country, sandal-wearing or not.
matt, sutton

As I understand the word, the Liberati are typically a naive, limp-wristed bunch of hypocrites (and yes, usually TimeOut/Guardian-reading, Birkenstock-wearing well-off corporate types) who are obsessed with being seen as 'right on' and compassionate. Yet when push will come to shove in an increasingly dangerous world and action is needed to protect us, you can guarantee the Liberati will be safe and warm, cowering inside their Islington townhouses. I don't agree with everything Blunkett or the government does by any means, but nor do I want to live in a society where lax laws and double-standards favour the criminal over the victim, or the extremist over the moderate.
Konrad, London

I do not eat yoghurt or muesli, and I definitely do not read the Guardian. I am, if anything, rather authoritarian and right-wing. But even I am one of the "liberati" compared to Mr. Blunkett. His dictatorial politics are a danger to the British people. May he be punished by democracy.
Russ, London, UK

What is freedom? To me it means being able to not have to worry about the large gang of kids/young teens who hang around the corner shop throwing cans, bottles, stones, bit of wood etc etc. Some of which could damage my car and property. It means being able to go into town on a Friday or Saturday night and not see drunken yobs fighting/vomiting in the streets. Not having to worry about potential break ins or random muggings. If Blunkett's policies reduce thses things good on him!
Mike, Darlington, UK

Being a liberal is a view for the minority. Thinking that laws are not necessary apart from where people's attitude directly affects somebody is naive. Simply because everything that everybody does, does affect somebody. Why should I have to walk my children to school down litter strewn streets or have to listen to kids swearing next to my house or allow our children to eat poor quality dinners at school? There should be standards and standards need laws to enforce them. Bring it on Mr Blunkett!
Paul , Wokingham

The Liberati are a group of political elite who think they are more intelligent and sit above the people and have the right to shape our lives - well they don't. Most of them live in safe middle class areas where their liberal views don't catch up with them - they are hyprocrites with a capital H - wake up, smell the coffee and live with the rest of us in the real world where the legacy of liberal polices blight day to day life.
stephen, London

Liberati? Go for it. Be proud to stand up against the nonsense spouted by Blunkett and his tabloid-romancing ilk. Let them play to the gallery: we'll save the world over a bowl of semi-skimmed Arran-and-soya muesli. If only I didn't abhor violence so much, my copy of the Guardian would beat your red-top tabloid any day. Especially when I slip in a copy of the tabloid Independent for extra ballast. "We won't use guns, we won't use bombs, we'll use the one thing we've got more of - and that's our minds".
Ian, UK

The Liberati are the cartoon, extreme liberals, and are, in their own way, no less blinkered than the neocons they hate. They have a fondness for pursuing the lofty principle over the practical, however ludicrous that may be, have patronsingly idealised views of the working classes (despite usually being wealthy), and always take the moral highground. They hate Americans and their arguments seldolm hold water. Sadly, this, and their general bearing, tends to undermine the arguments of the more moderate liberal-types.
Mike S, Manchester

Is the "Liberati" a recognised minority? If so, can we have Mr Blunkett charged with inciting hatred against them?
Derek, Scotland

The liberati are people who haven't been mugged yet
julian davies, london uk

Cool, I'm a member of the Liberati! Thanks Dave, for defining who I am now, I feel so much better for it :). Perhaps Mr Blunkett is a member of Tablorati, as his main concern seems to be appealling to the tabloids, to further his career.
Steve Blaylock, Nottingham, Uk

Mike S inadvertantly hits the nail on the head - "cartoon, extreme liberals". The Liberati are straw men, pretend enemies to be used as easy targets. Blunkett's intention is of winning the argument by associating his real opponents with an easily dismissed group of cranks.
John Davis, Otley, UK

I'm noticing an awful lot of snobbery floating about. How very liberal.
Mike S, Manchester

A lot of the contributors here regard populist as a criticism. Surly when a policy by definition is held as a popular view by the majority of the people in this country it is correct to enforce it as law, I am thinking here of anti terror laws and outlawing of incitement to religious hatred. Or am I being simple minded and populist.
Nick Oliver, Kirk Michael Isle of Man

OK - so what price the Blunkerati, Bunkermentalitati, and cheap-jibe Blunderati too? If this man genuinely despises liberty and liberal views, and is allowed to express his contempt without rebuke from his boss, surely that tells us something deeply unsavoury about his party?
Leo, Lewes, UK

I have to admit that I rather like David Blunkett. He is a man with a very direct and honest approach to politics who isn't afraid to speak his mind - unlike most of England. I do have to admit though, there are times when I wish he'd just stick to real english and not rise to the recent political/american trend of making up words for the media.... Liberati? Oh, you mean those annoying people who have a different opinion to you? Maybe we could have a new law against them too... The new anti-liberati laws, I can see it now.
Cosmo , London

New religious hate laws unveiled
07 Jul 04 |  Politics


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