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Sipping a Flat White, MP Stephen Kinnock Says Coffee Culture Is Bad for Politics

Before leaning into a third-rate political trope, Kinnock could have remembered that he really loves coffee

Stephen Kinnock with a coffee
Photo by David Mirzoeff/PA Images via Getty Images

A week on from Labour’s disastrous return in the general election, competing voices are taking turns to diagnose strategic, demographic, and personality-based reasons for the defeat and its scale. Some, predictably, are using the hot beverage spectrum to euphemise and recycle class-based stereotypes.

Today it was MP for Aberavon, Stephen Kinnock, who told LBC radio: “Messages about fast-paced economic change/globalisation may go down well in coffee bars in London, but don’t speak to workers whose factories are closing down.”

In a tweet, he added: “No contempt. Hardly controversial. Blindingly obvious. #WakeUpAndSmellTheCoffee.”

Kinnock joined Ellesmere Port and Neston’s Justin Madders who told Labour List yesterday: “We won’t find the answers to our problems at the bottom of a cup of fruit tea in an Islington cafe. We will find them in Bolsover, in Crewe, in Bishop Auckland — in all the places we lost.”

Like lattes being liberal, this is not a new rhetorical device: based on the assumptions that the north is exclusively working class; northerners don’t drink coffee (or fruit tea); coffee culture itself is synonymous with condescending “metropolitan elites” who are sympathetic to Europe, it is a lazy lever in a discourse which serves only to simplify class dynamics and demographic change. What’s more, coffee shops actually do exist all across the U.K.

And so, since Kinnock chose this metaphor, it’s worth looking back at a close relationship with coffee over the last three years: “I grab a flat white from Costa in Westminster tube station. They know me now, so when I walk in I don’t even have to order,” he wrote in the Guardian’s “How I eat” column last June.

A flat white is described thus: “a no-nonsense option for those looking for a dairy beverage with a strong taste of coffee and is made with a small amount of steamed milk and a thin layer of microfoam.”

While in the months before the EU referendum, the Mirror reported that Kinnock “put a milk-frother on expenses so he can sip cappuccino in his office.” The report notes, specifically, that he’d been “reimbursed £34.99 for the gadget” which he’d claimed as a “start-up cost” following his election to Parliament in May 2015. Two months later, in March 2016, he’d used his personal Facebook page to congratulate Barista’s Coffee Shop’s relocation, about which he was “very glad.”

Finally, Guardian Opinion writer Aditya Chakrabortty referenced a peculiar irony in Kinnock’s cliche, pointing to Angela Hui’s exploration of the rich history of Italian restaurants, cafes, and ice cream shops in South Wales, which emerged following the arrival of Italian migrants in the early 19th century.

Aberavon, Kinnock’s constituency, is in South Wales.