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The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Review.

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Review: The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Hurst & Company. 2017.

A golden opportunity for commentators like the Brexit vote does not often come. For some on the left, the EU ‘neoliberal elites’ were given a welcome shock. Dismissing the role that organised fear of migrant workers played during the vote the ‘People’s Assembly’ sagely observes that racism played a part “in both sides” of the referendum campaign. In New Left Review, which has begun to dabble in British politics, Tom Hazeldine, declares that while the “rhetoric of Leave was anti-immigrant; the anger that powered it to victory came from decline.” (North and South. NLR 105. 2017) An unlikely mouthpiece, the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, is recruited to express the view that it was a “vote against London”, “them down there”.

In words which could not doubt be taken from the Morning Star, Trade Unionists Against the EU, Spiked on Line, or the Socialist, and other anti “Brussels” outlets, we learn from Hazeldine that the “golden triangle of Whitehall, Westminster, St James” and the media “megaphones of the Remain Establishment”, were not strong enough to silence the voice of the authentic ‘rustbelt’ Northern proletariat, albeit – sotto voce – allied with “affluent Tory pensioners in the Tory shires.”

David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere shares many of the themes of these illustrious organs. It is billed as an essay on the faults of “metropolitan elites” and reflections on the reaction to them, the “populist revolt”, “a “socio cultural and identity phenomenon”. But the meat is in the emotions, above all the recoil from the EU. Preferring Charles Leadbeater to the Lexiters, he cites the fellow commentator, suggesting that the Brexit majority was also support “for pride, belonging, community, identity, and a sense of ‘home’ – it was rejection of the market…”(Page 53)

No doubt this is how some people think, though how many embrace the full list of opinions stuck together is hard to gauge. Goodhart makes a telling point against those who consider that a nationalist-led break up of “Ukania” (one-time New Leftist, Tom Nairn’s unfunny name for the United Kingdom, a joke so hoary I will confine it to a footnote) might escape this outpouring of glutinous sentiment, “Brexit was a movement to reclaim control/sovereignty from a supranational EU and the SNP is a movement to reclaim control/sovereignty from a multinational United Kingdom (though happy to cede sovereignty to and even more remote Brussels).”(Page 53) (1)

Somewheres and Anywheres.

The framework of The Road to Somewhere is set down by Goodhart’s distinction between “Anywheres” and “Somewheres”. The former, London urban based, university educated,  have “ a worldview for more or less successful individuals who also care about society”. They value autonomy and mobility and little interest in  “group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family)”. Set in contrast to such enthusiasts for “restless change” are those who are “more socially conservative and communitarian by instinct” who are not ease with contemporary cultural and economic transformations – ‘globalisation’ “mass immigration, an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve, the reduced status of non-graduate employment and more fluid gender roles.” For some this is a pronounced geographical identity that Hazeldine claims. For others they have something in common with the constituency called in France, the ” périurbain”, at the edges of cities, and the countryside, poorly served by public services and often, ‘disconnected’ rather than rooted, linked populist voting, and the Front National. Then there is the ‘left behind‘ feeling of many UKIP supporters, amply documented (Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin. 2014) This suggests a much more fragmented set of reasons and potential electoral reservoirs for ‘revolts’ against the ‘system’, often  less identity affirmation than resentment against others.

Put simply, this capitalised distinction enables Goodhart to draw lines between the core constituencies for Remain, and those who backed Leave. That is between those who are willing to “dilute the claims of national citizenship” in a “borderless Europe and the language of universal rights”, “and those who pushed by “Anywhere overreach” are both unwilling to “relinquish most national control over economic life” and wish for, “greater respect for national citizen protections”.

While Goodhart claims that the referendum debate largely pushed these concerns away from public debate, which was between two versions of ‘Anywheres’, a claim he does not pursue in detail, the Somewheres largely plumped for Leave. He, as an “apostate Anywhere” who claims to have supported Remain, can still find the better sides of the Somewheres. Some may be xenophobic and authoritarian, but there may also be support for – oddly not unlike his own favoured policies, “localism” in a globalised world, the importance of community and duties. There is need for dialogue with a “decent populism” that respects others and strives for social solidarity. Progressives, above all Labour,  wedded to metropolitan Anywhere elite ideas, needs to go out to the left-behind Somewheres; hooking up again with issues of economic justice to form national social contracts. 

Too Diverse.

Without any surprise the author of  Too diverse? (2004) which warned of that mass immigration erodes “feelings of mutual obligation, reducing willingness to pay tax and even encourag(es)  a retreat from the public domain.”does not try, as leftists do, to duck this issue. The founder of Prospect sees the Referendum result as the occasion to underline “concern about ethnic diversity”, and, EU sanctioned, “mass immigration”, which is “in-your-face-globalisation”. This is central area for a new social contract. The time has come, Goodhart asserts, to recognise the fears of “decent populists”, “to return to lower levels of immigration, place more emphasis on stability, and also renew the national social contract, especially in post-school education and employment.”(Page 233) He goes somewhat further in suggesting a diluted form of Marine Le Pen’s ‘national preference’, “In the future, temporary citizens should have more limited social and political rights – corresponding to their own transactional relationship with the country – and should leave after a few years.”(Page 126)

These ideas are straightforward proposals for re-creating the old German Gastarbeiter system. “Temporary citizens” will not only have fewer rights abut  will also be easy to use to undermine the very pay and conditions that ‘left’ critics of EU migration already complain about.

The Sovereigntist Impasse. 

The Road to Somewhere is riddled with unresolved difficulties. How limited with these grudging rights be? And how does Goodhart propose that this will deal with the ethnic segregation and ‘parallel lives’ of existing, often third or fourth generations from previous migrations? It is wrong to dismiss the idea that to at least set out common ground in “ethnically heterogeneous societies” might lie in the appeal to universal rights that have the great merit of transcending religious and national difference?

The new social contracts are another exercise in rhetoric. Does Goodhart seriously believe that national ‘sovereign’ control over the economy is going to be created by Parliamentary fiat? That the “will of the people”, the General Will, is going to come alive, take flesh, and reside in Westminster? That, in short, that the Labour Party should embrace the ‘sovereigntism’ of the nationalist left in some European countries? In other words is “listening” and giving space to the Somewheres just a pretty cheap means to justify supporting such a  turn? 

A more grounded, left, not ‘liberal’  approach would not take as given the idea that globalisation is a political decision of elites. It is equally, if not more fundamentally,  a financial and economic process that would take global measures, beginning from the decisions of the pooled sovereignty of bodies like the European Union, to transform? That it up to the organisations of civil society, starting with the trade unions, to agitate and to bring social justice in the workplace, challenge wage and condition undercutting, and to work for a Labour government that makes these goals part of law, and, as would be the case were we part of the EU, building blocks of a social Europe, Another Europe….

One wonders how the game of reading the runes of Brexit will end. There are those now stating that Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France is the result of a (voting) majority in favour of the market and neoliberalism. Others, keen to read so much oppositional potential into the British Referendum result seem suddenly to have discovered the merits of explaining election victories by Establishment hoodwinking Goodhart, no doubt, has his explanation-kit ready to hand: Anywheres won…..

*****

(1) “Nairn uses the term ‘Ukania’ to suggest the irrational and Ruritanian nature of the British constitutional monarchy. His original source for the term is the nickname “Kakania” that Robert Musil uses for the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in The Man Without Qualities. ” The term Kakania was coined by Musil using the stem Kak – shit, cack. How we laughed!