The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics by David Goodhart
The Times, by Robbie Millen
David Goodhart doesn’t get it. If you are going to write about Brexit and populism there are only two registers of tone allowed — angry scorn or smug condescension; ideally you mix both. Well, he ignored the rules and has written a book that is thoughtful, well argued and dangerously moderate. It may even be an incitement to independent thinking.
Goodhart’s basic thesis is that Britain has split into two tribes: Somewheres and Anywheres. Last year’s EU referendum was the revenge of the Somewheres on the Anywheres. The big mission is to heal the divide — and that requires the Anywheres to stop being so heedless of the interests and voices of the Somewheres.
Anywheres — about a quarter of the population by his reckoning — are the exam-passing classes; those that believe in social mobility, meritocracy and the benefits of immigration; those that are doing well. They well may be you, dear reader.
The Somewheres, who make up half of the population, are more provincial, more rooted in their neighbourhoods, less well educated, poorer, more traditionalist. They are alarmed by rapid social change, such as from immigration, and believe such change brings loss.
Goodhart has left his tribe — the Old Etonian journalist son of a Tory MP describes himself as an “Anywhere apostate”. He founded the left-leaning monthly Prospect (it’s the kind of magazine that runs pieces headlined “Whither the Uruguay Welfare State?”); in it he broke free of liberal orthodoxy by writing an essay titled “Too Diverse?”. The gist of his argument was that a generous welfare state needs social trust and solidarity to maintain it but that is undermined by rapidly increasing ethnic diversity.
Naturally enough he was roundly assailed by the left, accused of “liberal Powellism” and “nice racism”, and quite possibly assaulted with a gluten-free French stick. (In this book he understatedly observes that “progressive Anywheres tend to be more socially tolerant than Somewheres but less politically tolerant”.)
In The Road to Somewhere, Goodhart strays even farther away from the liberal comfort zone. He repeats his arguments against large-scale immigration. “Societies are not just an aggregation of individuals who happen to live in physical proximity and into which millions of people from elsewhere can be easily transplanted,” he says, sounding like a Burkean Tory.
But he goes farther by questioning other Anywhere shibboleths such as the rapid expansion of universities which he believes has done harm to Somewheres. Somewhere wages have been stagnant — blame the decline in manufacturing jobs — but this is now exacerbated by the emphasis on elaborate qualifications for even basic jobs.
In 1984 there were 70 universities, now there are 170; 50 years ago 6 per cent of school leavers went to uni, now half do. The Anywhere preoccupation with university education meant, claims Goodhart, that too little attention has been paid to apprenticeships or vocational training. The half that won’t or can’t go to university are being locked out of decent jobs.
Social mobility has stalled. Goodhart argues that an elite upper professional class has reinforced itself through “assortative mating” — educated and successful people marry each other. “A generation ago male doctors tended to marry female nurses not female doctors, because there were so few of the latter, and businessmen married their secretaries. Men, in other words married ‘down’ in educational and status terms.” Now the offspring of double professional couples have double the contacts and connections. Little wonder Somewheres feel resentful.
What is to be done? “It is time that Anywheres stopped looking down on Somewheres and learnt to accept the legitimacy of their ‘change is loss’ worldview and even accommodate some of their sentiments and intuitions,” writes Goodhart. It is a particular challenge for Labour, who are losing their Somewhere vote.
In the 2010 general election, Labour’s middle-class vote of 4.4 million outstripped its working-class vote of 4.2 million for the first time. The party is skewed towards the Anywheres. Of its membership 75 per cent are middle-class and 40 per cent from London and the southeast. As Goodhart puts it “the somewhere voters have become an embarrassing historical legacy: the annoying, unsophisticated relatives one wishes one did not have to invite to family occasions.”
He does not regard “populism” as a boo-word. “Populism might even be seen as idealistic, another wing of ‘post-materialistic’ politics . . . a quest for meaning and collective identity in a secular, individualistic modern world.” He clearly approves when voters put cultural issues such as belonging, or the case for democratic self-control, above GDP and wages. “When people in Sunderland voted for Brexit apparently against their material interests it was considered stupid; when affluent people vote for higher taxes it is considered admirable.”
There is much to quibble about in the book (he is rather blithe about the consequences of trying to curb globalisation) but the overall point is powerful. “The holy grail of politics for the next generation must be the quest for a new, more stable settlement between Anywheres and Somewheres — reconciling the two halves of humanity’s political soul.”
It says a lot about our bad-tempered political culture that a well-reasoned appeal for reconciliation and unity will be met with scorn and sniping.