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Anywheres and nowhere… April 14, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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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.

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Comments»

1. Phil - April 14, 2017

Yeah well, you know who else consistently made the same points for over a decade and urged the mainstream to engage with them…

As for “Labour’s core working-class vote”, I wonder how people can keep trotting this out. However far back you want to go – 1970s, 1940s, 1920s even – the British Labour Party has always been a cross-class party. It’s never been a working-class party in a political sense – it’s always had a distinctly arm’s-length relationship to the working class in struggle (look at the Attlee government’s record of strikebreaking) – and it’s certainly never been a working-class party in a sociological sense. And if this was all true before Neil Kinnock came on the scene, how much truer is it after a decade of New Labour? The very fact that Labour supporters broke 2:1 for Remain while over-35 C2DEs broke 2:1 for Leave surely suggests that there was only so much a Labour leader (any Labour leader) could have done.

Certainly Corbyn’s leadership offers us a slim chance of rebuilding Labour so that it is a working-class party, but it’s still early days. And arguably his stance in the referendum (which I agreed with) and on A50 (not so much) was what was needed to keep that project viable.

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WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2017

+1

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Brian Hanley - April 14, 2017

I think one of the problems that Phil rightly points too is the really superficial understanding of the history of the British Labour movement (and the Irish labour movement as well, but that’s another days work). Speaking to people here who are enthusiastic about Corbyn theres a sense that Labour was a mass socialist party before Blair (who somehow took it over) and that Corbyn will return it to its roots. Now Corbyn is no more a traditional Labourite than Blair was; but both of them are representative of strands in the party. The problems go way deeper than Corbyn, Blair or anyone else. There’s also a view that identifies being on the left with global anti-imperialism but British Labour in its most electorally successful eras was in no way anti-imperialist.

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WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2017

Very much agree, I was involved in the BLP in London in the very early 90s – it certainly wasn’t a mass socialist party then or tallkjng to people with longer memories any time before

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2. CL - April 14, 2017

“After breaking with the assumptions of my own upper-class background (my late father was a Tory MP) I became an old Etonian Marxist in my late teens and early twenties. Yes, how ridiculous, especially as my disaffection was probably triggered less by empathy for the wretched of the earth than by the setback of failing to reclaim my place in the 1st XI football team after an illness and failing to get into the 1st XI cricket team at all “-David Goodhart
https://www.ft.com/content/39a0867a-0974-11e7-ac5a-903b21361b43

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Phil - April 14, 2017

I had a go at that one here.

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3. sonofstan - April 14, 2017

“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.”

So all the eastern European building workers I pass everyday; ‘anywheres’ or ‘somewheres’? I bet, like me, they keep up with news from home daily, they can watch/ listen to radio/ TV from home; the idea that only middle-class people are cosmopolitan is absurd, even more now than in previous times, but never true.

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Phil - April 14, 2017

I don’t think Goodhart factors in those people as people. There was a weirdly revealing passage recently, where he said he realised he was out of step with his ‘Anywhere’ mates when he expressed understanding of Farage’s comments about not hearing anyone speaking English on the train. “I value my own sense of place and identity, therefore it’s wrong for me to be surrounded by non-English-speakers on the train”?

It doesn’t begin to make sense – not unless the identity that’s being valued is the identity of a *majority* community, and those “‘decent’ concerns” which he applauds include a concern for damn well staying a majority. And we’ve heard that tune before. Eric Kaufmann, Goodhart’s co-thinker (they cite each other regularly), has in fact used the Loyalist community as an example of how a group can have a collective interest in self-preservation without thereby being in any way racist.

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WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2017

It is also weirdly out of step with how people actually are in the current era. Travel isn’t restricted to the middle classes. It hasn’t been for a generation or more, much more really. Its not quite the luxury that Goodhart seems to think and immigration isn’t unusual – the opposite really and that point about the train, living in London in the early 90s and daily using the central line that experience he describes wasn’t unusual or worthy of remark either. And why would it be? He protests too much.

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sonofstan - April 14, 2017

I was at a car boot sale in Wycombe recently and found myself surrounded by a bunch of Polish speakers. Which made me feel homesick for Dublin 🙂

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Jim Monaghan - April 15, 2017

The the Poles here come from a different Poland

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4. Mat - April 15, 2017

I actually know Goodhart a bit having been on an advisory board with him a few years ago and he is exactly as you would imagine – detached patrician academic – who has hit on a theory done a bit of listening which seems to back it up and is like a dog with a bone. Having said that he is genuine and has some good points. I also am aware of and know some of the countless thousands of working class English people who voted for Brexit and don’t ever travel except maybe a stag weekend or two weeks in Benidorm.

Doesn’t change the fact that I’m a working class English bloke who voted to remain and has now emigrated and was happy to vote Labour and sit on advisory boards with David and his chums – he would probably include me in the liberal elite without enquiring too far…

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WorldbyStorm - April 15, 2017

Mat that’s very interesting to hear. Back in the day his points on community cohesion etc were valuable, problem is he’s salami sliced that community in my view and in very problematic ways that are functionally exclusionary. Re the liberal elite, isn’t it strange, from where I sit he would kind of exemplify that too!

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