Hereditas Historiae

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The Sunday Times (section News Review) - 5 March 2017


“The great British divide”

The Anywheres have ridden a wave of change, seeing themselves as citizens of the world, while the Somewheres are more deeply rooted in tradition and have felt powerless — until now. David Goodhart identifies Britain’s two tribes and the dangers posed by the widening rift between them

By David Goodhart


'Brexit and the election of Donald Trump — the two biggest protest votes in modern democratic history — marked not so much the arrival of the populist era in western politics as its coming of age.

Since the turn of the century, western politics has had to make room for a range of voices preoccupied with national borders and pace of change, appealing to people who feel displaced by a more open, ethnically fluid, graduate-favouring economy and society, designed by and for the new elites.

Many liberal-minded people in Britain and elsewhere have been uncomfortable about granting space to these political forces and regard hostility to the openness required by European integration and a more global economy as simply irrational, if not xenophobic.

Some of those remainers reported waking up the day after the Brexit vote feeling, at least briefly, that they were living in a foreign country. If that was, indeed, the case, they were merely experiencing, in reverse, what a majority of people apparently feel every day.

For several years now more than half of British people have agreed with this statement (and similar ones): “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition; it sometimes feels like a foreign country and this makes me feel uncomfortable.” Older people, the least well educated and the least affluent are most likely to concur, but there is quite widespread support from other groups too.

Even allowing for the querulous spirit that opinion polls often seem to inspire, this is an astonishing thing for the majority of the population to agree to in a country as stable, peaceful, rich and successful as today’s Britain. It is a similar story in America, where 81% of Trump supporters said life was better 50 years ago. What is going on?

The old distinctions of class and economic interest have not disappeared but are increasingly overlaid by a larger and looser one — between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere.

Anywheres dominate our culture and society. They tend to do well at school and then usually move from home to a residential university in their late teens and on to a career in the professions that might take them to London or even abroad for a year or two.

Such people have portable, “achieved” identities, based on educational and career success, which make them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people.

Somewheres are more rooted and usually have “ascribed” identities — Scottish farmer, working-class Geordie, Cornish housewife — based on group belonging and particular places.

One core group of Somewheres has been called the “left behind” — mainly older white working-class men with little education. 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.

Somewhere ambivalence about recent social trends spreads far beyond this group, however, and is shared by many in all social classes, especially the least mobile. Despite recent increases in geographical mobility, about 60% of British people still live within 20 miles of where they lived when they were 14.

Of course, few of us belong completely to either group — we all have a mix of achieved and ascribed identities — and there is a large minority of Inbetweeners. Even the most cosmopolitan and mobile members of the Anywhere group retain some connection with their roots and even the most small-town Somewhere might go on holiday abroad.

Anywheres and Somewheres do not overlap precisely with more conventional social categories. Rather, they are looser alignments of sentiment and world-view. Both groups include a huge variety of people and social types — Somewheres range from northern working-class pensioners to home counties market town Daily Mail readers; Anywheres from polished business executives to radical academics.

The two value clusters are clearly visible in a host of opinion and belief surveys — with Anywheres making up 20-25% of the population, compared with about half for Somewheres (and the rest Inbetweeners).

My new book, The Road to Somewhere, is a plea for a less headstrong Anywhere liberalism. The Anywheres have counted for too much in the past 25 years — their sense of political entitlement startlingly revealed by their reaction to the Brexit and Trump votes — and populism, in its many shapes and sizes, has arisen as a counterbalance to their dominance throughout the developed world. It can be a destructive counterbalance, but if we are to be tough on populism we must be tough on the causes of populism too — and one of those causes has been Anywhere overreach.

The Anywhere ideology — or “progressive individualism”, as I call it — is a world-view for more or less successful individuals who also care about society. It places a high value on autonomy, mobility and novelty and a much lower value on group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family).

Most Anywheres are comfortable with immigration, European integration and the spread of human rights legislation, all of which tend to dilute the claims of national citizenship. They are not in the main antinational — indeed they can be quite patriotic — but they also see themselves as citizens of the world.

Work, and in fact life itself, is about individual self-realisation. Anywheres are comfortable with the achievement society; meritocracy and most forms of equality (though not necessarily economic) are second nature to them. Where the interests of Anywheres are at stake — in everything from reform of higher education to gay marriage — things happen. Where they are not, the wheels grind more slowly, if at all.

By contrast, the Somewheres are more socially conservative and communitarian by instinct. They are not on the whole highly religious, unlike their equivalents in America, and only a small number on the far-right fringes are hard authoritarians or consistent xenophobes. They are moderately nationalistic and if English quite likely to identify as such.

They feel uncomfortable about many aspects of cultural and economic change — such as mass immigration, an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve, the reduced status of non-graduate employment and more fluid gender roles.

They are also, in the main, modern people for whom women’s equality and minority rights, distrust of power, free expression, consumerism and individual choice are part of the air they breathe. They want some of the same things that Anywheres want, but they want them more slowly and in moderation. Their world-view is best described by a phrase that many would regard as a contradiction in terms: “decent populism”.

The powerlessness of British Somewheres in recent times is shown by, among other things, the miserable state of vocational education and apprenticeship provision in a graduate-dominated society; the double infrastructure failure in housing (in the southeast of England) and transport (in the north); and the policy bias against domesticity and family life.

Both Anywhere and Somewhere world-views are valid and legitimate, and their divergence from each other is neither new nor surprising. What has changed is the balance of power, and numbers, between them.

Until 30 or 40 years ago, the Somewhere world-view was completely dominant. It was British common sense. Then, in the space of two generations, an Anywhere common sense has risen to challenge and partly replace it.

This is thanks, above all, to two things: the legacy of baby-boomer 1960s liberalism and the expansion of higher education, which has played a key role in disseminating that legacy.

The helter-skelter expansion of higher education in the past 25 years — and the elevation of educational success to the gold standard of social esteem — has been one of the most important, and least understood, developments in British society. It has been a liberation for many, and for others a symptom of their declining status.

For Somewheres, post-industrialism has largely abolished manual labour, reduced the status of lower-income males and weakened the national social contract — neither the affluent nor employers feel the obligations towards “their” working class that they once did.

The Anywhere ideology is invariably a cheerleader for restless change. When change seems to benefit everyone — such as broad-based economic growth or improved healthcare — the conflict between the two world-views recedes. But when change does not seem to benefit everyone — as with the arrival of a mass immigration society and a mass higher education system for almost half of school-leavers — the restrained populism of Somewheres can find a voice.

Somewheres are often said to be myopic, unable to see that accepting change brings longer-term advantage. Yet it is also the case that the people from Anywhere with more fluid identities and an educational passport to thrive are well equipped to benefit from change, while the people from Somewhere are often not, even in the long run.

Anywheres tend to see Somewhere conservatism as irrational or as a backlash against the advance of liberal social values. It can be that, but it is also to be expected that people who feel buffeted by external events with little political agency, social confidence or control over their destinies will cling all the harder to those spaces where they can exercise some control — in the familiar routines of their daily lives and beliefs.

Somewhere conservatism may have shed many of the historical trappings of mid-20th century classic working-class conservatism — the Protestant faith, jingoism, white supremacy — but the instinct to stick with the familiar and to those small zones of control and esteem means Somewheres are often hostile both to market change and to top-down state paternalism.

Most Somewheres are not bigots and xenophobes. Indeed, much of the “great liberalisation” of the past 40 years in attitudes to race, gender and sexuality has been absorbed and accepted by the majority of Somewheres. Yet compared with Anywheres, the acceptance has been more selective and tentative, and has not extended to enthusiasm for mass immigration or European integration. Somewheres are seldom anti-immigrant but are invariably anti-mass immigration. They still believe there is such a thing as society.

Eric Kaufmann, a leading authority on nationalism and ethnicity, has shown that the Brexit and Trump backlashes were not only about education and mobility but also about a core values divide, relating to order and authority, that cuts across age, income, education and even political parties in western democracies.

There is a cluster of questions that pollsters ask about the importance of children being obedient, support for capital punishment and so on — known as the authoritarian-libertarian axis — and a position closer to the authoritarian end of the axis turns out to be the key predictor of whether someone voted for Brexit or not.

Strong authoritarianism is the instinct of only a small minority but the broader desire of Somewheres for a more stable, ordered world is now being heard in the parliaments and chancelleries of the developed world. And Generation Z, everyone born after 2001, seems to confirm this new tilt towards caution and conservatism.

Kaufmann emphasises the ethnic aspect of this shift: “As large-scale immigration challenges the demographic sway of white majorities, the gap between whites who embrace change and those who resist it is emerging as the key political cleavage across the West. Compared with this cultural chasm, material differences between haves and have nots . . . are much less important.”

For most of my adult life I have been firmly in the Anywhere camp, and by background and lifestyle remain so. In the mid-1990s I was the founder-editor of Prospect, the monthly current affairs magazine, that was loosely affiliated to the liberal centre-left and endorsed new Labour’s arrival in 1997.

But while editing Prospect, I also began to detach myself, intellectually, from orthodox liberalism — in particular after writing a rather speculative essay for the magazine headlined “Too Diverse?”. It raised questions about the conflict between rapidly increasing ethnic diversity and the feelings of trust and solidarity required to sustain a generous welfare state.

The essay caused an almighty row, at least on the centre-left. I was accused of “nice racism” and “liberal Powellism”. That brief notoriety triggered a lasting interest in immigration, race, multiculturalism, national identity and so on. And the more I studied these things and tried to defend my initial, rather accidental, scepticism, the more I became convinced that the left had got on the wrong side of the argument on mass immigration (too enthusiastic), and integration of minorities and national identity (too indifferent).

On matters of culture and community, the sometimes socially conservative intuitions of mainstream public opinion came to seem to me at least as rational and decent as the individualistic egalitarianism of the middle-class, university-educated left that now dominates the Labour Party.

Dogmatism and groupthink are not the preserve of poorly educated Somewheres. Indeed, progressive Anywheres tend to be more socially tolerant than Somewheres but less politically tolerant.

I am a kind of Anywhere apostate but I like to think that I can see the point of both world-views. My social networks still largely comprise Anywheres but when the conversation turns to politics I often find myself looking on as an outsider.

That does mean I sometimes hear Anywhere views in their most unvarnished form — my email inbox was full of angry contempt for the ignorant masses from left-wing professors in the days after the Brexit vote. […]'

© David Goodhart 2017

Postscript by Irène Diependaal, written for Hereditas Historiae

The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics is published at 23 March 2017. This publication was part of a prepublication by The Sunday Times.

David Goodhart is the founder and former editor Prospect Magazine. In the past has also been the director of Demos thinktank

David Goodhart - photograph by Karen Gordon