Anywheres and nowhere… April 14, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
A review of David Goodhart’s latest magnum opus in the Guardian damns with faint praise – or so it seems to me. John Kampfner, once of the FT (and wasn’t he associated vaguely with those ex-Marxism Today people who headed rapidly towards New Labour?) and later, though not much later, new Labourish in orientation, has wound up as head of the Creative Industries Federation, and he gently dissects Goodhart’s ‘The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics’
And, tellingly, implicitly offers some of the same critique as others have of Goodhart’s writings.
Goodhart constructs his argument around the “anywheres” and the “somewheres”. The former are the metropolitan, well-travelled, better-educated “elite”; the latter are the hardier folk from the provinces who have never lost their sense of place or identity, whose “decent” concerns have been ignored.
One can see the problems already in this rather artificial division. The collapsing of complex categories into rather simplistic groupings lends itself to further simplification.
But above and beyond all this Kampfner picks on one basic problem.
The problem – for all those who wish to redraw the social map of Britain, whether from the right or left – is what actually to do. This is where Goodhart’s book falls short. The more he struggles for answers, the more he finds solace in rhetoric. He indulges himself in a lament about London. The city, for sure, has a desperate housing shortage; inequality is rife; public services are under severe strain; oligarchs have bought up swaths of property that lie empty. But if it is such an awful place to live and work, why do so many people flock to it from around the world, and not just the wealthy? Why is it such a magnet for digital entrepreneurs and creatives, who now make up a tenth of the nation’s workforce? Which sectors will be future-proofed against automation?
And the Goodhart’s of the world have no real answer to those questions. Because – as any genuine progressives know – however much one wants, going back to the status quo ante is unachievable. And let’s be clear, Goodhart’s vision is about going back. Kampfner notes:
Nostalgia doesn’t create jobs, and yet there is no shortage of it here. “Wanting to turn the clock back is not a foolish instinct for those who feel the non-material aspects of life really were better in the past,” Goodhart writes. Personally I’m not a great fan of the cultural or gastronomic mores of the 1950s or 70s, but everyone to their taste. He shares the PM’s assessment that economic growth is no longer the holy grail: “People are prepared to trade economic gain for political agency and the prospect of a society that takes them more seriously.” He may be correct in these assessments, but where does it get you? Last time I looked, lower GDP doesn’t enhance civic cohesion.
There’s other issues too. One can disagree with his analyse of Corbyn in the following (I know I do) while still agreeing with the totality:
Most of all, he delivers a selective reading of the referendum psephology. He assumes everyone who voted Brexit came from the beleaguered and the disenfranchised. Many did, and Jeremy Corbyn’s deliberate refusal to engage with Labour’s core working-class vote during the campaign tipped the result in favour of Leave. They were only part of the story. What about the smug late middle-aged man propping up the home counties pub in his check jacket, having driven there in his Audi 4×4, complaining about the “foreigners” and the country going to the dogs? His “somewhere” is not an appealing place to live.
It’s a basic point, but one that is under considered. That essentially UKIP/Tory right vote didn’t just vanish even if it was informally supplemented by a tranche, albeit only a tranche, of the working class.
I think Kampfner is far too generous in the following (though he notes that Goodhart pays no attention whatsoever to the financial crisis of the late 2000s and how that shaped matters. I think in retrospect that will, in particular the Osborne approach of near permanent austerity, to be the single most important aspect in building up the ground for Brexit)…
While there is much for us “anywheres” to disagree with in this book, there is much to be commended. Goodhart has clarity of argument and courage. He has been making these points for a decade and urging the mainstream to engage with them. He does not do fads.
Sure. But consistency when wrong is no better than being wrong. Goodhart has long allowed what was originally a not unuseful interest in these matters to blossom into an obsession. His good fortune, though not ours, is that this has aligned with certain events that make his criticisms have more power perhaps than they should while obscuring the reality that – as Kampfner notes, his answers are thin on the ground.
And there’s no clear way of changing matters – not within the constraints of a bourgeois democratic society – and no evidence that any such change will actually improve matters whereas there’s a fair bit to suggest that such change would actually be profoundly negative.