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Anywheres vs Somewheres: the split that made Brexit inevitable

David Goodhart's provocative take on the UK’s new tribal divisions is sure to become a private manual on Mrs May’s brand of conservatism.

The EU referendum vote was the biggest democratic rebellion in modern British history. It was also the biggest defeat for the broadly liberal, outward-looking “cognitive elites” (cleverer, better-educated folk) who have dominated politics since the 1960s. Understanding Brexit, explaining it – and trying to chart ways forward after it – have become some of the highest duties for serious commentators. Big word, “duty”. But if the wrong lessons are learned, or no lessons at all, this may be just the beginning of an epoch that will be rawer, much more turbulent, and more dangerous.

Meanwhile, everyone even vaguely involved in politics knows how potent and important naming can be – look at the subtle intimidation of Remainers, melted down into “Remoaners”, or the acrid battles fought over the adjectival advance guard for Brexit: hard, soft, clean, dirty . . .

This book by David Goodhart, the founder and former editor of Prospect, is, before everything else, an act of naming. The new tribal division is pretty clear. On the one side stands the liberal Europhile establishment, comfortable about immigration and globalisation, and on the other are those Britons, often far from the metropolis, who are anything but comfortable, who feel left out and left behind. One frequently used shorthand is between “open” and “closed” groups of voters but that also seems mildly propagandistic: “Shall I just put you down as a Closed-Minded, then?”

Goodhart renames the new tribes the “Anywheres” (roughly 20 to 25 per cent of the population) and the “Somewheres” (about half), with the rest in between. And it broadly works. Those who see the world from anywhere are, he points out, the ones who dominate our culture and society, doing well at school and moving to a residential university, and then into a professional career, often in London or abroad. “Such people have portable ‘achieved’ identities,” he says, “based on educational and career success which makes them . . . comfortable and confident with new places and people.”

The rebels are those more rooted in geographical identity – the Scottish farmer, working-class Geordie, Cornish housewife – who find the rapid changes of the modern world unsettling. They are likely to be older and less well educated. “They have lost economically with the decline of well-paid jobs for people without qualifications and culturally, too, with the disappearance of a distinct working-class culture and the marginalisation of their views in the public conversation,” Goodhart writes. He argues that this distinction, emerging from a melange of social and cultural views together with life experiences, matters more than old distinctions of right and left, or social class.

Socialists would instinctively disagree, but Labour canvassers in Stoke-on-Trent Central will be well aware that there is an underlying truth here. Core, working-class Labour voters do often have views, such as suspicion of mass immigration and hearty enthusiasm for the armed forces, which aren’t reflected by the party’s liberal intelligentsia. Indeed, Labour’s current agony, torn between its Brexit-voting constituencies and its passionately pro-EU wing, is well described in Goodhart’s book. And Theresa May’s optimism about capturing Labour voters, first advertised in this journal, derives from its arguments.

The connection between cultural conser­vatism and hostility to the EU seems to be solid: for instance, support for the death penalty is the most reliable predictor of anti-Brussels voting, more than income, geography or anything else. All of which leads to the queasy possibility that the liberal elites are going to have to acknowledge, or even kowtow, to the views of the more ­numerous authoritarian, poorer Somewheres.

Yet that is unlikely. The liberal elites are so certain of themselves and they have become so used to thinking they are on history’s sunny side, that the very idea of such an accommodation sends them into a vituperative frenzy. Witness the jeering at pro-Brexit voters for being stupid about the economy and the almost gleeful enthusiasm for loss of their jobs as a result. Goodhart quotes a Bulgarian political scientist: the outcome is a sort of struggle in which populists are becoming openly anti-liberal, and elites are becoming secretly anti-democratic.

So this book will make some people very angry. Nowhere is it more provocative than in Goodhart’s assessment of the huge postwar expansion in British higher education. He rightly points out that our somewhat unusual tradition of “boarding universities” separates young people from their parents and communities in ever greater numbers. Universities become the prime seeding ground for liberal/Anywhere identities: indeed, according to a recent survey, only 11 per cent of academics voted Tory in the last general election, and 90 per cent voted to remain in the EU.

How to resolve this? Exclude more working-class kids from university? The problem with The Road to Somewhere, which I predict will become a private manual for Theresa May’s conservatism, is that it underplays individual historical events to portray a seemingly inevitable shift. And, having done so, it does not quite provide a convincing solution for the problem. Had we not had poor financial regulation just ­before the globalisation of the money markets, leading to the financial collapse of 2008, public hostility to the top class of financiers would be nothing like as strong as it is now. Nor do I think that Somewheres (or anybody else) would have been as contemptuous of parliament, had it not approved the Blair government’s armed intervention in Iraq in 2003, and had this not been followed by the relatively minor local scandal of MPs’ expenses.

And then, of course, if David Cameron hadn’t decided to hold the referendum in the first place, the voters wouldn’t have had their chance and Goodhart et al wouldn’t be writing books of this sort now. Without the wonderful opportunity of the referendum, the Anywhere/Somewhere divide would have remained buried, if perhaps pullulating, inside the bodies of our political parties. In short, the Brexit rebellion arose less from the vast forces of modern globalisation than from the awkward decisions, wrong turnings and mistakes of specific British politicians from the early 1980s onwards.

Nor is it quite the case that the elites have snootily ignored the cultural conservatism of those left behind. As Goodhart acknowledges, the British enthusiasm for large, crammed prisons, the tone of the debate on immigration, growing hostility to international aid, and an increasingly tough line on welfare are all wins for the supposed Somewhere mindset. One of my BBC colleagues argues that Tory Britain is now hopelessly divided between the conservatism of the Daily Mail and that of the Economist. It’s a neat formulation and, if it is so, then Paul Dacre seems to be winning (and he has his Prime Minister) while the Economist is losing (and doesn’t have the premier it wants).

Where next? Many of Goodhart’s proposals are already close to the heart of the May administration. A big drive to create more apprenticeships, more generous support for technical training, better links for northern cities and more patriotic procurement are all pretty much mainstream ideas today in Whitehall. Other ideas, such as restricting public-sector housing to people who have been living in Britain for at least five years, or trying again to introduce proportional representation in an effort to put a wider range of voices in the Commons, are unlikely to enthuse many Tories yet.

But there is one idea mentioned in the book which is certainly on the way. After we leave the European Union, and particularly if Scotland breaks away, Britain is much likelier to bring in a system of compulsory identity cards. That would make it easier to check who was working where, and would be used to restrict access to public services to British citizens, too. It could even make Labour’s new idea of a varied, regionally based immigration policy workable. ID cards were mooted by the New Labour government in 2002 and roundly rejected, but if there really is a gulf between the globalised elites and those determined to assert the value of locality and community in fast-changing times, this could become the signature policy.

So, watch this space. And as you do, start to follow the progress of the Somewheres and the Anywheres in British political debate. There are still some holes in Goodhart’s thesis, but The Road to Somewhere has the feel of a book whose timing, at least, is pitch-perfect.

David Goodhart takes part in a “Brexit: What Next?” panel at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 23 April. For details visit: cambridgeliteraryfestival.com

The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart is published Hurst (240pp, £20​)

Andrew Marr is a broadcaster and journalist. Formerly the BBC’s Political Editor, he presents the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sundays and Start the Week on Monday mornings on Radio 4.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.