Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Examining Britain’s Populist Revolt

David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere goes nowhere worth following.

Jane Miller June 21, 2017

Two women stand in Boston, a Lincolnshire town where 75 percent of voters chose Brexit. Are they Somewheres or Anywheres? (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

There was once, appar­ent­ly, a gold­en age of uni­ty and con­sen­sus in British soci­ety. It cor­re­spond­ed — rough­ly and fan­ci­ful­ly — to the hey­day of the Empire, and pre­ced­ed, by a few hap­py years, our join­ing what was then the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty in 1973. Now, accord­ing to for­mer Finan­cial Times jour­nal­ist David Good­hart in The Road to Some­where: The Pop­ulist Revolt and the Future of Pol­i­tics, British soci­ety is wor­ry­ing­ly split. Not by class or income, but by edu­ca­tion and mobil­i­ty. He divides us into Any­wheres” and Some­wheres,” and claims that he began as the first, but is now sym­pa­thet­ic to the second. 

Goodhart’s is a disembodied voice, one that disavows its own ideological roots and its visceral hostilities.

Any­wheres are char­ac­terised by the length of time they’ve spent in school and their con­se­quent ease with being abroad.” Some­wheres, by con­trast, left school with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tions, have a lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence of oth­er places and peo­ple, and fear change. 

These camps are, of course, mapped onto the Brex­it split, and Good­hart also sug­gests that some such divi­sion might explain the rise of Trump and of so-called pop­ulism in con­ti­nen­tal Europe. 

Good­hart is deter­mined to believe that many Some­wheres vot­ed for Brex­it out of com­mon sense” and not racism, and that these decent” peo­ple have been patro­n­ised and mis­un­der­stood. The Any­wheres rule the land and ignore the needs and inter­ests of the Some­wheres, who are the major­i­ty, by refus­ing to accom­mo­date mod­er­ate nation­al feel­ing,” cyn­i­cal­ly pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and look­ing down on women who don’t work out­side the home. Most of them have been, in his view, Labour vot­ers. Odd­ly miss­ing are the lead­ers of the Brex­it move­ment: the Tory politi­cians, almost all of whom are uni­ver­si­ty educated. 

Goodhart’s vil­lains are the Labour Gov­ern­ment Any­wheres, who, begin­ning in 2004, let in a mil­lion Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean work­ers. He wor­ries that so many immi­grants will fail to assim­i­late. He blames left-wing coun­cils that bus­ied them­selves with cor­don­ing off minori­ties in their own dis­tricts with their own lead­ers and social cen­tres,” while schools encour­aged immi­grant chil­dren to wear nation­al dress and speak their moth­er tongues at home. (And so they should, by the way, bilin­gual­ism being an indu­bitably good thing.) In short, the Any­wheres con­tin­ued the colo­nial her­itage with a smi­ley face past­ed on.” This is clever, sub­ver­sive and unfair. At the very end of his book, and cir­cum­spect­ly, Good­hart con­grat­u­lates There­sa May on get­ting things right. He is a lot less neu­tral than he pretends. 

One thread runs through the book that is worth con­sid­er­ing. When I was at Cam­bridge in 1952, few­er than 4 per­cent of young peo­ple went to uni­ver­si­ty. Today the fig­ure is about 50 per­cent, and the major­i­ty are women. This has brought about sig­nif­i­cant changes; not least, a pre­pon­der­ance of rel­a­tive­ly well-off fam­i­lies in which both par­ents are pro­fes­sion­als, and who tend to be less reli­gious, less tra­di­tion­al, and more accept­ing of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and for­eign­ers. More impor­tant, per­haps, is that hav­ing a degree has become key to find­ing work. And that, com­bined with a huge reduc­tion in man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs and a fail­ure on the part of a whole string of gov­ern­ments to strength­en tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion and sup­port a robust appren­tice­ship sys­tem, puts the non-grad­u­ate sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion at a dis­ad­van­tage we’d not have thought inevitable in my youth. 

How­ev­er, I’m still not com­fort­able in Goodhart’s Any­where camp. I don’t recog­nise a shared pol­i­tics or expe­ri­ence or even vot­ing his­to­ry with more than a few oth­ers there. I do under­stand the fury that made peo­ple vote us out of Europe, though I wish they hadn’t.

Goodhart’s is a dis­em­bod­ied voice, one that dis­avows its own ide­o­log­i­cal roots and its vis­cer­al hos­til­i­ties. He is right to make much of the Labour Party’s fail­ure to keep the loy­al­ty of work­ing-class vot­ers. That doesn’t mean that Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ments mak­ing the poor poor­er and the rich rich­er is less cyn­i­cal and dis­hon­est than the Left’s record, or that we should stop resist­ing poli­cies that dis­solve the wel­fare state, increase inequal­i­ty and legit­imise chau­vin­ism. It’s pos­si­ble to feel relief as well as envy that France, at least, has refused the pro­pos­als of Marine Le Pen.

Jane Miller lives in Lon­don, and is the author, most recent­ly, of In My Own Time: Thoughts and After­thoughts (2016), a col­lec­tion of her In These Times columns and interviews.
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