Friday 22 March 2019

Brexit a rebellion by 'people of somewhere' against 'anywhere'

Vote leave supporters wait for Nigel Farage to arrive in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex during the Brexit campaign. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Vote leave supporters wait for Nigel Farage to arrive in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex during the Brexit campaign. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

David Quinn

For a very brief period after the election of Donald Trump - it lasted for about a nanosecond - the liberal establishment paused to reflect on whether it had lost touch with a big portion of the electorate.

It was decided, in this all-too-brief moment, that the concerns of blue-collar voters had not been sufficiently listened to, and that there was a backlash against the tightening strictures of political correctness.

But then it was swiftly back to wild condemnations of 'bigots', and 'white supremacists' and so on. Large segments of the electorate were declared anathema.

The reaction to Brexit has been the same. After a very brief period of reflection, it was back to outright condemnation.

The left, the soft left at any rate, found itself in the very strange position of being against vast swathes of working-class voters. The soft left was more concerned with advancing globalisation and immigration and multiculturalism than with protecting the real and perceived interests of the working class.

Here in Ireland we took a smug pleasure in the thought that we would never do something as stupid as withdraw from the European Union. In the minds of its most ardent supporters, the European Union is a shining city on the hill, one that bares little enough resemblance to its far more mundane and often undemocratic reality.

Towards the end of last year's EU referendum, there were demonstrations by Remainers urging people to vote for 'love, not hate'. This is the sort of utterly reductionist way in which many liberals now view politics. You are either on their side, the side of 'love', or on the side of 'hate'.

This kind of appalling analysis is making modern politics increasingly sectarian in character.

Let's return now to trying to properly understand why someone would vote for Brexit, or indeed for Mr Trump.

A good place to start is with a new book called 'The Road to Somewhere: the Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics' by British intellectual David Goodhart.

Mr Goodhart is an interesting character. He founded, and for a number of years edited, the centre-left magazine 'Prospect'. He now describes himself as a "post-liberal". He has switched allegiances to those who prefer the local over the global.

He characterises the new political divide as being between those who identity with 'anywhere', and those who identity with 'somewhere'.

The people from 'anywhere' are the globalised elite and those who identify with them are typically middle class, university educated and living in big cities.

They are all for multiculturalism, the EU, the UN, and they don't identify strongly with local communities and traditions because they believe these are the incubators of bigotry. They would be happy to live anywhere that shares their values. New York is more or less the same to them as London.

The people from 'somewhere' identify most strongly with the places most familiar to them, the places where they have roots and where there are established patterns of life they like.

These people tend to be rural or working class.

The people from 'somewhere' are barely represented by mainstream politics anymore and are treated with the utmost contempt. Mainstream politics is completely dominated by the people from 'anywhere' who advance their own interests and concerns above all.

In the US, the people from 'somewhere' rose up in rebellion by voting for Mr Trump, often in full knowledge of how deeply unappealing he is but also in full knowledge that voting for him was a way of hitting out at the people who have treated them with such scorn for years.

In Britain, the people from 'somewhere' voted for Brexit. They know that the EU is run by people who don't really care about the effects of globalisation and immigration and multiculturalism on local communities and familiar patterns. The people from 'somewhere' don't like when the familiar becomes unfamiliar and don't appreciate being called 'bigots' for preferring what's closest to them.

In Ireland, oddly enough, the people from 'somewhere' have barely made their voices heard. Maybe this is because, fisheries aside, we didn't really have any big industries that were hurt by globalisation and because the type of immigration we have had to date hasn't made large parts of our country seem unfamiliar to us.

Like it or not, however, we are being affected by the rebellion of the 'somewhere people' because of Brexit and if the 'anywhere people' continue to ignore their concerns, the rebellion is going to be a long-term feature of modern politics. In other words, get used to it and try to understand it.

Irish Independent

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