Why are there so many Champagne (Panettone) Socialists in Singapore?

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Bernie Sanders, US politicians and self-described Democrat Socialists, have in recent years been lampooned as Champagne Socialists. 

Among AOC’s sins include her fourteen-thousand dollar ensemble for a recent Vanity Fair cover, one merely borrowed for the shoot. (Did she dance in those Louboutins?) 

Bernie, meanwhile, triggered moralisers in 2016 when he bought his third home, this for some six-hundred-thousand dollars on Vermont’s Lake Champlain. Presumably the cantankerous grandpa should be living in a forest cabin, Unabomber style.

The label is as old and tired as it is persistent, over the years spawning countless others such as Gauche caviar and latte liberal. Despite its obvious inherent fallacy—supposedly only the poor have the moral right to fight for equality—it always elicits a sort of frenzied smugness among conservatives who are against greater redistribution. There are few more galvanising ripostes, more rewarding forms of “Got you!”, than the exposing of a political opponent’s apparent hypocrisy.

One wonders what those who brand their opponents “Champagne Socialist” really want. Would they rather the socialist forgo all trappings, and lead society through an agrarian Pol Pot-style revolution? Black pyjamas, sickles, onward to the countryside.

Perhaps the Champagne Socialist label is best viewed simply as a symptom of capitalism. As long as there is inequality, there will always be some further up the income ladder who are uncomfortable with the privilege of their class, with perceived injustices. Their attempts to promote greater social justice will, in turn, inevitably invite scorn. 

“…it forms an ugly paradox that applies only to the left,” writes Elizabeth Bruenig of The Washington Post. “If you care about material equality and you aren’t destitute, you’re a hypocrite; if you care about material equality and you are destitute, you’re never going to have a real shot at political engagement to begin with.”

Last week in Singapore Jamus Lim, a Workers’ Party (WP) member of parliament and chief advocate of a minimum wage, sparked outrage through a social media post about eating panettone this Christmas. 

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The last time Liverpool won the league

The last time Liverpool won the league I had just entered secondary school in Singapore. And my dreams of playing football were about to be crushed. 

The father thought that football would distract me from my studies. And the principal thought that football would distract us from rugby. St. Andrew’s School, founded in 1862 by the British, had a rich rugby heritage that seemed to be in decline, caught pincer-like between traditional rivals Raffles and the new upstarts at Dunearn. 

Harry Tan, an ageing patriarch with viewpoints as stiff as his weak back, one day decreed that he was banning school football so that young athletes could focus on rugby. Upon hearing the news Indra Sahdan Daud, the football phenomenon in our team who would go on to captain Singapore, packed his bags and left for St. Gabriel’s.

So while we played rugby inside the school, we played football outside the school, using a plastic ball that drifted in the wind, on a cement handball court that was primed for bruises and sprains, smack in the middle of Potong Pasir, then proudly the only opposition ward in the whole country. 

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A free ride: Singapore’s prime minister in a muddle

Often when Singaporean politicians stray from the script, they produce gems, phrases for the ages, words destined for internet meme stardom.

Yesterday I was on my way home from town when four buddies messaged me on separate chats: “Did you hear what he just said?”; “Did you see the exchange?”; “Free riders? Hmm.” 

Like the fan who is late to the game and has missed the opening goal, I scoured YouTube as soon as I got home. 

I watched Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, describing a segment of opposition voters as “free riders”, in a parliamentary exchange with Pritam Singh, the leader of the opposition.

Mr Lee was specifically referring to Singaporean voters who voted for the opposition even though they expected the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to win the election.

“But if you say, vote for for me, somebody else will vote for the PAP, and therefore the PAP will be the government, that, the economists will call a free rider. It means that you’re taking advantage of somebody else who’s doing their duty of electing a government for the nation.” (Video at the bottom.)

This is an awful thing for a country’s leader to say about its voters. Here are five reasons why.

Continue reading “A free ride: Singapore’s prime minister in a muddle”

Why always Indians?

Anti-Indian sentiment is rising in Singapore; opaque data fuels it; Singaporeans deserve transparency and inclusive public discourse.

“Oh no, we don’t mean you! We like Singapore Indians. It is the India Indians who are the problem.”
I have long heard some form of this and it always makes me a bit uneasy.

“India Indians”, for those unversed in the intricacies of ethnicity here, is our colloquialism for newer Indian migrants, to differentiate them from “Singapore Indians” like myself, born and brought up here.

Of course it’s a spectrum. I always joke with my mum, who moved here from Calcutta in 1974, that she is stuck somewhere between the two. (My dad is a third-gen Malayan, whose family moved here from Selangor in the 1950s.)

Yet that statement makes me uneasy largely because I can empathise with my fellow Singaporeans. There are many seemingly legitimate grievances here that have not been given a fair hearing.

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Join me on a live video chat this coming Sunday

Happy National Day! Celebrate Singapore’s 55th birthday with Jack and Rai, Singapore’s most famous ageing boy band, and me, as I appear on their weekly Sunday night chat show, “Live and Late with Jack & Rai”. The show begins at 930pm and I will probably come on at 10ish. You can watch it on the Jack and Rai Facebook page. We will generally be talking … Continue reading Join me on a live video chat this coming Sunday

What’s next for “SudhirTV”?

Dear friends, supporters, viewers,

Following the modest success of my GE2020 videos, many of you have asked me to keep producing written and video content on Singapore. And the assorted social media gurus in my life have told me I need to keep up “engagement” and what not. Thanks so much for the support.

Well, unfortunately, I am soon going to retreat into my writing shell. I must finish my China-India book, which is almost done. But I’ll probably need another four to five months at least, perhaps more. Aside from the odd post about food or my unwashed hoodie, you won’t hear from me regularly during this time.

Continue reading “What’s next for “SudhirTV”?”

Autographed books on sale now

Dear friends and readers, In recent weeks, some of you have asked about my two published books, Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore and Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus. As always, for those who want to read but not buy, you can find both books at most libraries in Singapore; and I’m always happy to lend you mine. For those … Continue reading Autographed books on sale now

Mindless bullies: How some PAP fans try to silence me

“Sud, you better lay low,” one of my buddies said in May, after Foo Teow Lee, Singapore’s consul-general in Hong Kong, wrote a letter to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) questioning my integrity and motives. Another friend said “they will come after your family.” Another one said: “Eh, your videos are getting more radical ah.” “Which video?” “The one on race you just published.” … Continue reading Mindless bullies: How some PAP fans try to silence me

GE2020: What fundamental socio-economic tension is at the heart of this election?

If we take a moment to try and cut through the blur of COVID-19, the uncertainty of bubble tea, and the endless stream of police reports, I believe this is it: what level of social protection is adequate for Singaporeans in the future?

All the opposition parties essentially offer a vision of a society with greater social protections than what the People’s Action Party believes is best. This is true from the well-oiled machinery of The Workers’ Party—yes, Jamus has done his math—to fledgling outfits like Red Dot United.

(I like Michelle Lee, one of the best speakers I’ve heard in the past year. But every time I hear her new party’s name, I can’t decide if she’s angling for parliament or Jalan Besar Stadium.) Continue reading “GE2020: What fundamental socio-economic tension is at the heart of this election?”