This 2017 book may use the same metaphor and evince the same interest as Snyder’s in the causes of the political alienation and turbulence of the past two decades but, otherwise, could not be more different in its scope and style. And its essential focus on the UK is only a small part of the difference.
Both books deal with the populist upsurge against mainstream politics but this one’s is a serious effort to understand why social democratic voters have deserted the party in droves since the early 2000s. And his treatment of European populism shows a firm grasp of the European scene…
David Goodhart was a leftist Think-Tanker who – in 2004 (before the “” became famous) - wrote an essay that earned him notoriety and no little ostracism in New Labour circles .
In “”, he argued that there was a trade-off between increased diversity, through mass immigration, and social solidarity, in the form of the welfare state. Goodhart said that for citizens willingly to hand some of their hard-earned cash to others via their taxes, they needed to feel a basic level of affinity with those others. He argued that in the homogenous societies of old that was never a problem: citizens felt the mutual obligation of kinship. But in the highly mixed societies of today, such fellow-feeling was strained.
He went on to write (2013) and last year produced which I find the most insightful analysis of contemporary British society I’ve read…..Such books tend to be written by economists, political scientists or journalists – people like Will Hutton, John Kay or David Marquand – and do not convey the same depth of familiarity with the thoughts of the average citizen as Goodhart.
Goodhart argues that the key faultline in Britain and elsewhere now separates those who come from Somewhere – rooted in a specific place or community, usually a small town or in the countryside, socially conservative, often less educated – and those who could come from Anywhere: footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated. He cites polling evidence to show that Somewheres make up roughly half the population, with Anywheres accounting for 20% to 25% and the rest classified as “Inbetweeners”.
A key litmus test to determine which one of these “values tribes” you belong to is your response to the question of whether Britain now feels like a foreign country. Goodhart cites a YouGov poll from 2011 that found 62% agreed with the proposition: “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition, it sometimes feels like a foreign country and this makes me uncomfortable.” Only 30% disagreed.
The book may focus initially on immigration but its analysis soon widens to cover key aspects of economic and social development in the last 25 years and the best part of the book for me is his critique of the new meritocracy; the inexplicable push for mass enrolment at universities; and the collapse of the commercial training system – with employers preferring to take the option of enthusiastic young central and eastern European graduates.
His initial is particularly strong on sketching just how dramatic the changes in our economic, social and cultural world have been since 1992 - the year of Maastricht and the European citizen; the year the Democrats arrived on the scene with “Robert Reich’s “The Work of Nations” reflecting the prevailing view that globalisation would allow agricultural workers to be transformed into IT workers – as did New Labour a few years later. Well it didn’t happen….the only country where it did was Germany…In 2001 China joined the WTO…the Euro came into existence….. in 2004 the first wave of central European countries joined the EU. In 2008 the global financial crisis hit us and 2015 the immigrant crisis…..”
The author is clearly well-versed in social surveys and his sense of how the world has so quickly changed very much gives me a sense of the in his recent “Defending Democracy”
An excellent, extended review in Spiked Online goes so far as to suggest that “ a new form of social solidarity lies at the heart of the book”
And here, I think, we approach the core of Goodhart’s recent work: the search for a new form of social solidarity. He is concerned with the rift between the Somewheres and Anywheres not in order to take sides with one against the other, but to bridge it, or, as “The Road to Somewhere” puts it, to ‘reconcile the two halves of humanity’s political soul’.
To this extent, Goodhart really is neither on the left nor the right – and you can understand why “The Road to Somewhere” was originally planned as a book on ‘post-liberalism’. He is concerned with establishing the basis for what he variously calls a new social contract, or settlement, one grounded on a political recognition of the ‘decent populism’ he regards as the attitude of the vast majority. ‘[It] refers to those who broadly go along with changing attitudes on race and sexuality’, he says.
‘They aren’t in the avant garde of liberalisation, but they have accepted most of those changes – perhaps in some cases with reservations, but they’ve broadly accepted them. They are not liberals in the Anywhere sense. They have views about the world rooted in place, and very strong national attachments; they place a strong value on security; they focus on national rights over universal, human rights; they worry about the lack of opportunities for those not going to universities.’
Yet in Goodhart there is sometimes a patrician-like air to his calls for a ‘new centre, common norms, things that will pull us together’, especially when he seems to want the establishment to provide it. And because of this, is there not a problem, too? How can a political class composed entirely from the Anywhere liberal section of society, incorporate the values and views of the majority of Somewheres, a majority on whom they have waged cultural war for decades?
Any move certainly won’t come from the Labour Party, at the heart of whose resurgence lies little more than an Anywhere restoration, complete with a determination to overturn the Brexit vote. As Goodhart himself writes,
‘the Corbyn movement could be described as populist in economics but extreme Anywhere in most other respects. What it has not done is change the social composition of the party – about three quarters of Labour Party members are middle class, about 60 per cent are graduates, and almost 40 per cent live in London and the south-east’.
And although he sees the Tories as closer to the Somewhere majority, ‘because they often are Somewheres, albeit more affluent than most’, there’s little evidence that they can break out of their political-class office of mirrors. He seems to admit as much: ‘Yes, I think [the political class] is almost entirely Anywhere – political activists, MPs, ministers, shadow ministers – all mostly university graduates, all liberal-minded Anywheres.’At points his argument can sound like wishful thinking. ‘The political class has been divided down the middle between the militant Anywheres and the admonished Anywheres’, he tells me.
‘And I think Theresa May is the most obvious admonished Anywhere. The admonished admit that they’ve got some things wrong, that there’s a chasm between the smart liberal people running society, and the rest, and it’s time we listened – and that’s what democracy requires. And then there are those, the militant Anywheres, saying we’ve given these idiots too much power, why did we call a referendum – the AC Grayling worldview. Those arguing thus seem almost to want to go back to property qualification for the vote, or that you must have at least a 2:1 before you get to cast a ballot. In other words, you’ve got to be of us before you vote.’……
‘Perhaps it’s as banal as doing things that matter to people, doing something about social care, housing, the post-school education landscape, which is hopelessly over-invested in universities, rather than vocational training and apprenticeships.’