The Broadside Blog is not about politics, but it is in part about identity, and that has come to be a defining issue across Europe and the U.S. in the last twelve months. The old left-right divide (the ancient tussle between freedom and equality) has taken second place to a politics of culture, which has thrust itself up like a sub-stratum in an earthquake. For those like myself on the liberal-left, there is now an important challenge in reconciling the call of cultural inheritance with our wish to be open to the world. Does it have to be true, as Theresa May alleges, that to be a citizen of the world is to be a citizen of nowhere?
David Goodhart is the journalist who founded Prospect magazine. Since 2004 he has made himself anathema to many on the left by his take on immigration and social change. His latest book The Road to Somewhere: the Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics is unlikely to mollify them, since they will find it a painful (but well sourced) disquisition on what went wrong for them in 2016. They are damned for complacency and disconnect.
Goodhart sees British society as divided into three camps. First are the citizens of Somewhere, about 50%, people for the most part still rooted in a local community, socially conservative and generally less educated. They often include those who for reasons of personality or parenting, have an authoritarian bent. They value order and stability. The Anywheres, about 25%, are more geographically and socially mobile, liberal/progressive, and commonly university educated. They value individual progress and opportunity for change. Goodhart recognises generalisation here, and there is a third category, of Inbetweeners. But in the first category can readily be seen as the people who won the vote for Brexit, and from the second category, the Anywheres, come (while not entirely comprising) the so-called metropolitan elite.
The book is wide-ranging in its political critique ( and much is beyond the scope of this blog) but Goodhart's thesis that the Anywheres are now paying the price (in the UK, the Brexit vote, but across the world in the march of populism) for neglecting over many years the concerns of the Somewheres. For(despite our rabid Somewhere press) he identifies that the levers of power and change in the UK as having been in Anywhere hands. One recognises some truth in this, but with large caveats. It did not feel like that when Michael Howard was at the Home Office, or Ian Duncan-Smith at the DWP. And we can only be incredulous when Goodhart regards the mid 1990's (i.e., the last throes of Thatcherism, and pre-Blair) as some golden age of stability; a period that saw the wrecking of Britain's industrial base and communities, exponential growth in inequality, and Thatcher's claim that there is no such thing as society, only individuals.
Nevertheless, we can see that Taking Back Control is not just about taking decision making back from the EU, or even about controlling Britain's borders. It is, if only on a subliminal level, about capturing the state to make paramount the values and interests of the Somewheres. No matter that those two may contradict each other; among those who have given it thought and not just been misled by specious promises, the cultural values have trumped the economic. Nigel Farage said any economic cost of leaving the EU was a price worth paying. I suppose this may be what he had in mind, trading economic gain for cultural determination and the sense of being listened to.
I have written briefly in earlier blogs about why our native culture seems so important to us. For most it is an integrated pillar of the self, which we can celebrate (or choose to despise) but which is taken for granted until it is placed in relief against another. Then we suddenly have to defend that which we had previously taken as a given. A while ago I was jolting through south London by train, and found myself the only white face in a busy carriage, where a miscegenated crowd chatted in a variety of languages. As I came from almost mono-cultural Devon, it was a novel and interesting study of diversity in action, but equally one can understand why Nigel Farage has said he finds the experience uncomfortable . It raise uncertainty about ourselves and our place in the world at a most basic level. For those already insecure by dint of economics or upbringing, it is a short step to anger, racism and worse. But the implication of Theresa May's allegations is that citizens of the world, those who might be comfortable in this carriage-babel, have in some sense lost their souls.
The answer to this is simple. Our heritage - both the culture into which we were born and the landscape in which it is enacted - is part of us, yes. But when we move into the wider world, these things continue to inform us even while we encounter other cultures. Unlike our native culture, we are free to explore and we can pick and choose among other cultures. Even the most seemingly barren can enrich us with new ways of seeing and of listening, and if we are very fortunate, they too can become part of who we are (tho that may be a story for another time). My mind is enlarged in reading a novel by Tolstoy, hearing an anthem by Monteverdi, or even by reflecting on an Indian sage across two millennia. We are very lucky: the soul, if such there be, is capable of infinite expansion to accommodate without displacement all that is poured into it.
But it would be facile to pretend that contact with other cultures can only enrich. Each one contains its own values which often challenge our certainties, may even be abhorrent to them. Let us just name two examples from my own perspective: FGM and the Halal meat trade. Yet the aspiration to be a citizen of the world does not demand that we tolerate all such practices. One may legitimately fight for their abandonment just as one might fight to retain our abortion laws or, in the US, for gun control. In other words, issues and conflicts arise within as well as across cultures. In anything but the longest term, your values are likely to remain your values.
It is one of Goodhart's principal lines of argument that the rapid growth in immigration over the last twenty years has led to a dilution of the shared culture (and by implication the shared values) that are essential for social cohesion, the sense of common interest that holds people together even across barriers of class. (He talks too of bonds of trust, but that I think is sentimental: what ex-miner will trust the conservatives, what Liverpudlian the publisher of The Sun ? ). It is difficult to disagree when the Brexit vote appears to make the breakdown of cohesion self-evident. I would identify two of the biggest factors as a misguided policy of multi-culturism, which has resulted in a segregation of societies in one polity, together with the speed of change. Diversity, in society as much in agriculture or the environment, is a marker of health and vitality. It is immensely valuable. We can take great pleasure in the celebration of a neighbour's culture. Yet it is shared experience and common interests and common struggle that particularly bring people together. This requires a degree of integration that successive governments , anxious to accommodate all points of view, have failed to bring about. Such integration requires time and resources, which have not been given. In fact, some government policy has been in the opposite direction, the most egregious example being the state funding of Faith schools, where the lesson of Northern Ireland education has not been learned. No wonder all sides of cultural divisions feel alienated. Goodhart is right in his conclusion that what is needed is not diversity of societies but diversity within society.