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October 16, 2017

BREXIT deniers were out in Cardiff on Saturday around the Aneurin Bevan statue flying the blue Europe flags proudly in a defiant show of strength and even having them painted on their faces in a rally Monsieur Barnier would be proud of.

The Saturday before, I was in Merthyr Tydfil and the contrast between the two places – one a bustling, vibrant metropolitan political nerve-centre peopled by the privileged intellectual elite the other a flat, neglected, depressed backwater peopled by a more parochial rump – was stark and hugely revealing.

I saw two young men lying unconscious in the ramshackle bus station in Merthyr the worse for heavy duty drugs no doubt (two elderly ladies had called the police and gathered around him in the hope of reviving him) and on the bus ride up from Newport I passed through the towns of Blackwood and Tredegar and saw devastated communities with boarded-up shops and very obvious signs of decay. I now regularly see similar scenes in Newport, where gangs of totally disenfranchised youths and permanently homeless people who probably never vote wander around in drunken stupors mouthing obscenities while supping on high strength cider.

A book called The Road to Somewhere, the populist revolt and the future of politics, by David Goodhart (Hurst and Co, London) cogently chronicles this contrast between people he classifies as “Anywheres” – university educated liberals with no firm geographical footing with achieved rather than ascribed identities and largely liberal, egalitarian  mindsets – and “Somewheres” – blue collar, geographically rooted with very rudimentary education who go into trades if they are lucky and tend to have more traditional conservative authoritarian mindsets.

Wales voted to leave the European Union in the referendum in 2016 and, very significantly, the turnout of voters was nearly 72 per cent when the average for elections in Wales is nearly 54 per cent. The majority to leave was nearly 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent, a more decisive majority than in the referendum which brought in the Cardiff Bay Welsh Assembly government by a wafer-thin majority in 1997 when the turnout was just 50 per cent. In 2011, when a referendum was held for them to have more powers, turnout was just 35 per cent.

Nearly 65 per cent of Welsh people in 1975, however, backed c0ntinued membership of the European Union in the referendum then so there has obviously been a huge change in the way people in Wales regard European Union membership and this varies significantly from region to region – Cardiff has always been IN the European Union but Merthyr was OUT in the 2016 referendum.

Goodhart, head of the demography immigration and integration unit at the think tank Policy Exchange, tells us: “A populist politics of culture and identity has successfully challenged the traditional politics of Left and Right, creating a new division between the mobile achieved identity of the people from Anywhere and the roots-based identity of the people from Somewhere.

“This schism accounts for the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, the decline of the centre-left and the rise of populism across Europe,” he claims.

This neglects to inform us that “centre-left” usually means a Blairite cosy consensus which was too costly – both in money terms with huge numbers of often unelected political cronies getting honours and plum jobs in Brussels and other places and in lives, in Iraq among other places.

I often wonder how much two members of this failed centre-left cosy consensus in Wales Lord Daffydd Ellis-Thomas and Baroness Eluned Morgan – both claiming expenses and salary to sit in the House of Lords and the Welsh Assembly – actually cost the people of Merthyr and how those people feel about the work they do as they survey the barren wastelands in the valleys (still no sign of a Circuit of Wales racetrack) which appear to have benefited precious little from EU membership.

Eluned Morgan, for instance, was first elected as Labour member of the European parliament for mid and west Wales in 1994 (a seat which has always been in Labour hands, not surprisingly) and she was re-elected in 1999 when the turnout was only 29 per cent and then again in 2005, confirming the view among cynics that a three-legged donkey with venereal disease would win in Wales if it wore a red rosette (Aneurin Bevan used to joke that Labour didn’t count the votes in Wales, they weighed them).

It is these kinds of concerns that inspired people to come out and vote in such high numbers in 2016, whether they were from somewhere or anywhere. They were bloody angry and wanted everyone to know it.

Goodhart, to his credit, seems to understand this. His knowledge of and access to demographic and social attitudes data enables him to more accurately evaluate and understand the backlash against the status quo and the new militant voice of the under represented.

More than half of British people have agreed with the statement “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition, it sometimes feel like a foreign country and this makes me feel uncomfortable”. Older people, the least well educated and the least affluent are most likely to assent to this.

He explains:”Anywheres dominate our culture. They tend to do well at school then usually move from home to a residential university in their late teens and on to a career in the professions that might take them to London or even abroad for a year or two. Such people have portable “achieved” identities based on career and educational success which makes them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people.

“Somewheres are more rooted and have “ascribed” identities based on group belonging and particular places, which is why they often find rapid change more unsettling. Once core group have been called the “left behind” – mainly older white working class men with little education. They have lost economically with the decline of well-paid jobs for people without qualifications and culturally too with the disappearance of a distinct working class culture and the marginalisation of their views in public conversation.”

About 60 per cent of British people live within 20 miles of where they were born, despite increases in mobility.

This raises the spectre of a mobile, privileged intellectual elite band of politicians representing a group of people who are not mobile, privileged or intellectual and who have lost faith in the view that Labour is “FOR the working man” so now see voting as futile.

Goodhart says that Anywheres have counted for too much in the past generation and he warns that “Without a more rooted, emotionally intelligent liberalism that can find the common ground between Anywheres and Somewheres, the possibility of even more unpleasant backlashes cannot completely be ruled out.”

He relies heavily on evidence from British Social Attitudes surveys, which only began in 1983, which show a sharp decline in racist, homophobic and male chauvinist attitudes, with the sharpest decline among young and highly educated people. There has been an equally sharp decline in religious observance and sharp rise in sex before marriage with gentler declines in support for the death penalty.

He goes on to examine education and training and begins by telling us that 17 per cent of people still leave school functionally illiterate and 22 per cent functionally innumerate (according to a Sheffield report) and this figure seems to have persisted for more than fifty years. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) reported in January 2016 that Britain has the lowest literary rate and the second lowest numeracy rate of the 23 richest countries.

He laments the abandonment of apprenticeships and formal trade qualifications in old fashioned vocational and non academic technical colleges in further education which is being replaced with a continual march towards academic higher education university courses to meet the demands made by a growing number of young people who regard a university education as mandatory when very often it is a senseless, misguided waste.

Tony Blair in his 1999 Labour conference even proposed a target of 50 per cent of the age cohort going into HE. In 1984 there were 70 universities, there are now 170. Fourteen per cent of the cohort went to university in 1984 and now it is 48 per cent and the total turnover of the sector rose from £7 billion in 1984 to £33 billion today. “It is hard not to conclude that the sector has expanded far beyond any useful purpose,” he concludes.

He calls for “a new settlement” with “more attractive and better supported options for those school leavers (mainly somewhere children) not taking the university path, along with a broader view of social mobility.”

“As Blair and his close advisers – almost all liberal baby boomer graduates – grew in confidence their overwhelmingly Anywhere worldview appeared to blinker them. They were unwilling or unable to respond to cultural concerns about immigration and over-rapid change and even the loss of decent employment for non-graduates seemed of little interest compared to the overwhelming focus on a narrow, university-focused idea of aspiration and social mobility.”

Key to this new settlement is less stress on London (in Wales it would be Cardiff, which has now become over indulged and over blessed) and less stress on big prestige projects with more on things like local transport bottlenecks. In short, giving people who are not Anywhere elitists a genuine voice.

“Many people who voted for Brexit have an uneasy sense that the authorities do not know how many people are here or where they are. They are right.

“After we leave the EU it should be possible to give people a stronger sense of the public sector belonging to all British citizens. Public sector employment, except in exceptional circumstances, should be restricted…..Public sector assets, above all public housing, should be reserved for citizens or those who have lived in the country for at least five years.

“Public spending cuts should not apply if they lead to higher immigration. a rootless, laissex-faire, hyper individualistic London-like Britain does not correspond to the way most people live.”

Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP has called his book “A crucial contribution to the debate about where Britain, and the centre-left, go from here.”

She and her colleagues should pay particular attention to this paragraph: “If London-centric Anywhere interests continue to dominate, we will just gradually become a more fragmented, unpleasant and disaffected country with continuing high levels of population churn and different social and ethnic groups retreating into their parallel lives, while an increasingly shrill political class celebrates the virtues of openness from within its gated communities.”













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