Understanding Brexit and the Populist Revolution – the Post Mortem

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Are you highly educated, value openness and autonomy, and are happy to up sticks and move wherever your career takes you either at home or abroad?

or

Are you rooted to home living within 20 miles of where you grew up, less well educated, content with familiarity?

or

neither of the above?

If you fall into the first group, then you are an ‘Anywhere’, the second group, a ‘Somewhere”, or neither,  then you are an ‘Inbetweener’ according to David Goodhart in his riveting new book which is full of insight and provides some structure around the reasons for Brexit, The Road to Somewhere The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics.  He also sets out his stall with solutions that respond to the anxieties of those who feel left out of Britain’s prosperity.

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union via the Brexit referendum followed by  Trump’s Presidential win in the U.S. may seem to many as a sudden revolution, the great ‘shock-horror’ political moments of 2016.  However, instead of suddenly springing up from nowhere without warning, both of these outcomes have been brewing for some time ultimately giving voice to an undercurrent of anxieties felt by an evidently large number of people on both sides of the pond, those concerned about job security,  immigration and the effects of globalisation and automation.

The liberal elite who have shaped and guided our world in terms of public policy have evidently failed the citizens of America and Britain and now they have unceremoniously been ‘given the boot’.

In Goodhart’s book, he divides the British people in three categories as follows:

The Anywheres are those dominating our culture and society who are university educated with a career in the professions who end up in corporate London mostly or go abroad.  They are successful and confident professionally and the sort of people we deem to be part of the liberal elite.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Somewheres who tend to stay close to home and their roots and who find rapid change unsettling, for example, the Scottish farmer, working class Goerdie, the Cornish housewife.  They could be seen as the ‘left behind’ , and include mainly older white working class men with little formal education who feel they have lost out economically because of the deceasing demand for unskilled jobs.  In a recent geographical mobility study 60% of British people still live within 20 miles of where they lived when aged 14.

Goodhart makes a plea in this book for a better framework for understanding what is going on in contemporary politics that needs urgent fixing and a corresponding plea for a less headstrong Anywhere liberalism which currently dominates political thinking and policy making.   In the modern world, the Anywheres have a sense of political entitlement and so the rise of populism has evolved to act as a counterbalance to that privileged mindset.  Essentially those in power are blinkered from the concerns of those who do not fit with their overwhelming focus on a university idea of aspiration and social mobility.

Ten years ago, before he left Downing Street, Tony Blair said that “Modern politics has less to do with traditional positions of right versus left, more to do today, with what I would call the modern choice, which is open versus closed”.  Blair took the view that your were either racist or stupid or both if you were against open borders or globalisation.  It’s often been said that Blair has little sympathy for Labour’s heritage, but the people he ostensibly represented were those that benefitted least from capitalist modernisation.  However when asked, the British public don’t seem to be on the same wavelength as Blair since the majority of them agree with the view that “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition,  it sometimes feels like a foreign country and this makes me feel uncomfortable.”   Britain’s population continues to surge and coupled with the on-going march of globalisation, is it any wonder that a huge chunk of the population are uncomfortable with the status quo and worry about their future and that of their children.

My Highlights from this book:

Britain’s population is becoming older i.e., more than a third of the population is over 50 which may mean a tilt back towards an emphasis on the Somewhere mentality who prefer familiarity and stability rather than wholesale change.

On the whole based on opinion data the population “prefer two parent families that take responsibility for young children and elderly parents; they want to live in stable places with a high level of trust, low level of crime and some degree of neighbourliness; they want responsible businesses that train local people rather than importing cheaper eastern Europeans; they are friendly to individual immigrants but place the interest of fellow member of the local or national club (of all colours and creeds) before outsiders.” 

I am sure that Goodhart has produced something of immense value in this book and I hope that it will get the attention and traction that it deserves after the General Election is out of the way and that the next government will have the vision, imagination and resilience to do what’s necessary to create a better Britain for all its citizens. If the government does not bite the bullet and act to meet the interests of the Somewheres, Goodhart warns that political stability or even sporadic violence will ensue if terrorists succeed in spreading panic.  If I were a politician today, I would be basing my manifesto on Goodhart’s “New Settlement” ideas and pulling together the most creative and brilliant minds in British politics including those of all persuasions to figure out the best way to implement this agenda.

The Solution: 

A new balance of power that accommodates the concerns of the Somewheres not just the Anywheres which can be accomplished by:

  • Reducing inequality;
  • Increase the supply of affordable housing particularly in London and the south east and give preference to domestic population seeking public housing;
  • Ease the crisis in social care for the elderly;
  • Reducing immigration by being more selective and also spend far more on our border functions;
  • Speed up “extra resources to places where large number of newcomers are arriving in order to reduce the sense of immigration induced congestion”;
  • Restrict public sector employment to citizens;
  • Make a clear distinction between temporary and permanent citizens;
  • Reconsider the introduction of id cards and/or a population register;
  • Renew the domestic social contract, e.g., more attractive options for school leavers not going to university.

Perhaps more controversially, bring UKIP into the tent because they “deserve to have higher political representation in parliament” on the basis that experience from Continental Europe suggests that this usually “helps to domesticate and moderate party views – it turns trolls into Somewhere politicians.”

My top three best ideas from this book:

  • All school leavers should have three decent options: a place at university, at a technical college (preferably some variation on the old polytechnics), or a proper apprenticeship.  And all three options should carry the same level of state support”.
  • Accepting that foreign ownership is often in the interest of British employees, nevertheless, “a national interest test should apply to the acquisition of British companies and promises made in the course of a takeover battle (about employment levels, the location of Research and Development facilities and so on) should be legally enforceable”.
  • Continuing on since the Blair government, family policy has focused on encouraging mothers back to work as quickly as possible and providing childcare subsidies and equality at work but recent surveys suggest that “most women do not want to work, either at all or full-time, when their children are young.  So government should restore a full recognition of marriage or cohabitation in the tax system supporting women to look after their own children”.  This would be better for social cohesion but also increase the fertility rate in turn reducing the need for immigration.

So which one are you, an Anywhere, a Somewhere or an Inbetweener, or none of the above?  If you are seriously concerned about how Britain might look in the new few decades and the sort of world your descendants will inherit, read this book – don’t rely on my feeble attempt to fully elucidate the wealth of insight it contains.  Not only that, it would seem to me that it has a very good read across to other Western countries including the U.S.A.

 

 

 

 

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