There’s a consensus on the Blairite left that the dividing line in global politics is one of mobility versus fixed identities, between those who value free movement and free markets as against those who are attached to specific places, to national boundaries and the Welfare State.
Zygmunt Bauman gave some credence to this argument by arguing that the difference between those with freedom to move and those without is the most fundamental one of the 21st century, and the distinction is the basis of David Goodhart’s book ‘The Road to Somewhere‘, in which he divides British society between the ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’.
The problem for ‘progressives’ is how on earth to bridge this gap. ‘Blue Labour’ (to which Goodhart was central), with its dog whistle racism and ‘muscular liberalism’ was one attempt to do so. The result of the Brexit referendum seemed to confirm it. John Harris’ cogent analysis of the Brexit vote, based on his having visited former mining communities in South Wales, also appeared to give it some support. Resentment against privileged socially liberal elites seemed to be a major factor in the result.
This contradicts my own situation, in that I fully support both the Welfare State and freedom of movement. In theory, as a permamigrant, I fall into the camp of ‘anywheres’, but my experience and impulses tell me the picture is more complex. I blanch at the category of ‘globalist’, proponents of which seek to make out that economic and social liberalism are inseparable. There’s also a sense in which Goodhart’s model plays into the hands of presumably-soon-to-be-ex-PM Theresa May, with her repugnant notion of ‘citizens of nowhere’. My interview with Momus suggested that there is a fundamental disjuncture, an unresolvable conundrum between defending free movement on the one hand and appealing to economically disenfranchised voters on the other.
The widespread expectation that Corbyn’s Labour would be crushed in the North and in Wales was based on this assumption. The actual result shows that the picture is actually more complicated and more hopeful. As Faisal Islam tweeted last night, those who voted to leave the EU don’t fall into the category of ‘Brexiteers’, and there is evidence that more ‘Remainers’ (supposedly ‘anywheres’) voted Labour rather than Liberal Democrat or for pro-Remain Tories*. It seems that it is in fact possible to build a coalition between ‘social liberals’ – who are by no means all supporters of ‘free markets’ – and those who value the welfare state, the NHS, etc. Or, as in my case and that of the very many young people who voted, they may be the same people. Another factor in this result is that Corbyn’s Labour has been subtly non-committal around the issue of immigration, and partly as a result seems to have attracted large numbers of working class UKIP voters in addition to people who are socially progressive but opposed to Neoliberalism. Also, even the most uncritical supporter of the EU can see that a Brexit negotiated by Corbyn would be far better than one than negotiated (or not) by May under pressure from the Sun and the Mail.
This result thus exposes the Blairite analysis as superficial and misguided. It may be that the more important distinction is one of economic class rather than social aspirations, between those who need institutions such as the NHS and those who (think they) don’t. Global issues such as climate change and the danger represented by Trump are not comprehensible in terms of a localist-globalist analysis. That paints a much more hopeful picture, as regardless of the hysterical manipulation of the tabloids there are many more of us than there are of them. That realisation was presumably why hopefully-not-much-longer-to-be-alive Rupert Murdoch was so gratifyingly upset by the exit poll – his Mugabe-like stranglehold over British politics has weakened. Good. Fuck ‘im.
*There is of course no way on earth that someone could continue to regard themselves as socially liberal and support a government which includes the DUP. Or a Catholic, for that matter.