Books: The long rocky road to where?

Written By: Sarah Gellner
Published: August 2, 2017 Last modified: August 2, 2017

The Road To Somewhere: The Populist Revolt And The Future Of Politics
by David Goodhart
C Hurst £20

I didn’t expect to like this book. I did a little office work at Prospect magazine long ago, where the author was hands-on founding editor. Picking up years later on the controversy around his writing on immigration, I thought, well yes, there was something a bit straight about him. I didn’t read his 2013 book The British Dream; I didn’t think I needed to; I knew enough nice-white-liberal by-default racists by then, I thought. Indeed, I was one myself; jumping to unutterable conclusions about groups of black males; about the state schools and edgy parts of London in which they proliferate. As a new mother, my first gut instinct was to avoid them. But then I took a good hard look at my baby.

David Goodhart would have considered me a fool, perhaps, to give birth to this black, male child. He believes – he knows – that everyone has a right to congregate with their own kind, and that includes the exceptionally privileged. White flight, the assumption of private education; these are natural phenomena; only to be expected, not deplored. This much I knew about him before I even opened this book, and nothing I have just read contradicts that.

But I’m missing the point. We (white?) urban cosmopolitans – Anywheres in the terms of this book, though not all of us “elite” by any standards – should heed the white-provincials of our own country – the Somewheres – just as much as we do the brown-skinned peoples of the world whose children populate our inner city schools; or more, Goodhart would argue. It’s time we grasped why they all voted against us in the referendum last year. We need to make that effort for a change. This is a book about them and for them, written for us to read, for we do fancy ourselves as intellectuals, after all.

He’s unashamedly blinkered about a few things. He writes, in spite of himself, with the assumptions of privilege, claiming, for example, that young people leave London, that Anywhere-cesspit, when they have families in search of the space, clean air and “community” of Somewhere-land. Well, maybe if they’re like you, is all I can say. For some reason most non-white families tend to stay as close to the devil as they can.

But there is a heap of generosity and sense in this book. He is spot on in arguing for quality and availability of vocational training to match existing academic options open to school-leavers. Most winning of all is his affection for the ordinary that is the essence of a Somewhere outlook; that ability to rate something, even, or especially, when it is actually perfectly average. Or even a bit rubbish! Whether street, home town, local (or national) football team or friends and family; that unconditional loyalty is, if you like, the closest thing to true familial love.

At least a part of Corbyn’s achievement last month must have been his understanding of this. Many Somewheres clearly backed him, trusting him, if he gets the chance, to make their Brexit work for them. And as for Anywheres – we too have come round to seeing that they must have their moment in the driving seat. For without the Somewheres on board, none of us will get anywhere at all.