The revenge of the Somewheres

The liberal elite’s rejection of national belonging sowed the seeds of its current crisis.

Richard Norrie

Topics Brexit Politics UK

In his book The Road to Somewhere, my colleague David Goodhart identified two broad political tribes – those who see the world from Anywhere and those who see the world from Somewhere.

Boris Johnson’s election victory has once again brought this divide to the surface.

Anywheres tend to be younger and place more value on career and education – that is, they see themselves in terms of what they have achieved. They are also more comfortable with ethnic diversity and mass immigration, precisely because their identities are less rooted to place and group.

Somewheres, by contrast, are older and place greater value on the communities in which they live. This is not to say that Anywheres do not care about their community. Rather, Anywheres can see themselves prospering in any community.

Goodhart estimates that around 50 per cent of the population are Somewheres, 25 per cent are Anywheres, and the remainder occupy the grey area between the two camps. Both worldviews are perfectly legitimate, but the problem is that they can conflict.

From sitting in seminar after seminar, packed with policymakers, politicians, journalists and academics, Goodhart became painfully aware of how much the Anywhere view dominates public discussion, despite being a minority view.

I experienced this myself when I attended the British German Forum in 2016. It takes place each year in the bucolic idyll of Wilton Park, which is a branch of the Foreign Office and serves as a country retreat for influential people to meet and discuss policy in seclusion.

The forum was set up by Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher in 1985 to foster better relationships between the future elites of Germany and the United Kingdom.

It was soon after the referendum on EU membership. Attendees were lobbyists, civil servants, think tankers and academics – all young or youngish. I was one of the few Leavers there.

There was a group of Remainers present who were reasonable and proved good company, but most were in a state of shock and were looking to use the time as some sort of collective therapy session.

The first session at the conference included Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who was one of the architects of Brexit. I was impressed by him. Though I was wary of many of the politicians associated with the Leave campaign, he made some perfectly reasonable points.

Once Hannan had left, we broke off into groups to discuss what we had heard. Immediately, the verdict on him was that he was an opportunist and a charlatan. But this was only said once he was out of earshot.

Later, the conversation turned to British values, the very idea of which sparked sneering. Derisive references to cucumber sandwiches were made. Meanwhile, these elitists discussed how we might instil European values in the great unwashed, from our lovely vantage point in the Sussex countryside. They did not consider that it might be a little too late for that.

The discussion inevitably turned to how we might devise a second referendum to keep Britain in the EU.

The conference was dominated by Anywheres, tone deaf to the Somewhere voice that manifested itself in the Brexit vote. The diversity of opinion on offer was summed up by a discussion put on for us between Tory Europhile Ken Clarke and Labour Europhile Chris Bryant.

At the end of the conference, we were asked to give our opinion on the proceedings. I said the entire affair was like watching a football match between Manchester United and Manchester United. It got a laugh.

Manchester United feels like an apt metaphor for our elites – once, they set the pace; now they are jaded, failing and desperately trying to regain their pre-eminence.

The elites represented at events like these are not the elites who appear on television – the politicians or the commentators. These are the faceless, nameless people you’ve never heard of, but who exert far too much influence over policymaking. Their priorities are often out of line with the public, and they’re often not very nice people, either.

Our Anywhere elite has taken a massive hiding at the ballot box in recent years: in the EU referendum and at the General Election. Boris Johnson has successfully harnessed the Somewhere impulse within the electorate.

While the extent to which he himself is a Somewhere remains to be seen, Johnson takes the Somewhere vote for granted at his peril. The Labour Party did exactly this, abandoning its working-class Somewhere heartlands, and has paid a hefty price for doing so.

At the last election, Jeremy Corbyn thought he could just coast Brexit – despite being a lifelong Eurosceptic, he said he backed a second referendum but would maintain a neutral stance. All that mattered apparently was inflicting on us his socialist utopia; he made no commitment on the national question.

Under Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party has lost the working class to the Tories. Corbyn even managed to lose working-class voters in 2017 to former Tory PM Theresa May – a politician with all the charisma of an over-cooked parsnip, running on a manifesto that promised to bring back fox-hunting.

But this process began decades ago. The battles between Blairites and Corbynites over Labour’s future direction only remind us how equally bourgeois and out-of-touch those two rival factions are.

What our Anywhere elites have failed to understand is that nations are real, meaningful things. For Burke, a nation was a social contract between past, present and future. The state is a manifestation of its political will.

Nations are units of belonging defined by shared ancestry, language, history, religion, geography and borders. In that sense, they are exclusive, but they needn’t be reactionary or racist. It is entirely possible to reject chauvinism while believing in the nation.

Orwell analysed nationalism as a sickness that sought domination over others. But he did not mean that nations are wrong and need to be dissolved into supranational, regional entities. Indeed, he was rather fond of England and its way of life, describing it to his English readership as ‘your civilisation’.

It is common to hear populist movements described as ‘nationalist’, but this is not the primary motivation behind their rise. They are looking to conserve nations, not exert powerful nations over weaker ones.

If anything, the European Union’s insatiable desire for more power over its member states might be described as nationalist – for a nation that does not exist.

The architects of the EU are often called liberals, but its creation went against the best advice of one of the greatest European liberal philosophers: Immanuel Kant.

In his essay Perpetual Peace, Kant specifically rejected the idea of a supranational state because there was no national social contract to underpin it. He said the solution to the problem of war was to tame the nation from within, through republican reform of national governments.

Since Kant, we have learned that democratic national governments do not go to war with each other. Meanwhile, the EU is stagnant, unhappy, and has just lost one of its largest economies.

In this article, I have made reference to Kant, Burke and Orwell. Respectively, they are a liberal, a conservative, and a socialist. All three demonstrate an awareness of national belonging and its vital importance to politics.

The political class, meanwhile, has created a new world that goes against the preferences of ordinary folk. The poorer you are, the more you need national social contracts, both economically and psychologically.

As is often the case, popular political instincts have proved more astute than the big ideas propounded from on high. The dismissal of national belonging has spread throughout the elites, only to bring so much crashing down around them.

Let’s hope a more balanced consensus may emerge, as emerge it must.

Richard Norrie is a writer and researcher.

Picture by: Getty.

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James Knight

14th January 2020 at 6:07 pm

OK, I confess. I am an “Anywhere”. But I still voted for Brexit.


14th January 2020 at 5:01 pm

‘nations are real, meaningful things’ — Are they? Really? Last time I checked, they were in constant flux. England didn’t exist as a single polity until the early 10th century. Great Britain was formed in 1603. Scotland did not join until 1707. The United Kingdom came into existence in 1801. Mild patriotism is OK but anybody who worships ‘the nation’ needs their head examined.

steve moxon

14th January 2020 at 5:47 pm

Nobody does. It’s in Leftard imagination.
The nation is simply about the largest possible grouping of which human psychology can view as a group to which you can belong. Anything bigger is a daft concept, because inevitably it will drive desire to accede.


14th January 2020 at 6:52 pm

The Roman Republic, and then Empire, was multi-ethnic and lasted 800+ years. I’d say that’s a pretty good innings for a non-ethno-nationalist polity. The UK is also, technically, multi-ethnic since it contains several ‘nations’ – Anglo-Saxons, Celts, etc.

steve moxon

15th January 2020 at 10:46 am

?! Who said anything about ethnicity?!
Leftardism showing its dumb malicious spots.
Nations easily can be multi-ethnic as long as there aren’t large ethnic enclaves.
In any case, the UK is not multi-ethnic to any great degree: see recent fine-scale genetics research. The genes within UK folk mostly date back to mesolithic and neolithic times. Not many Angles or Saxons migrated here.

Jerry Owen

14th January 2020 at 9:18 pm

And here we are after many centuries .. a settled nation!
You parody yourself a treat .. keep it up ZP you are hilarious!

Jonnie Henly

17th January 2020 at 12:17 am

So settled that two separate parts of the UK are on the verge of breaking away.

Jerry you really do live in a bubble don’t you? Take a look at the outside world for once.

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 4:50 pm

The illustrative photo is a picture of Stoke-on-Trent, where I was born. To people who don;t know it, it is held up as full of unwashed, ignorant backward racist (insert further ist of choice) Brexit voters. To those that do know it, it is a place of warm welcoming people who haven’t got a great deal but who are open-hearted about sharing it. It is definitely a Somewhere place….and that tends to also include the young.
Stoke (and North Staffordshire in general)i s a text-book example of a Somewhere place….rooted in regional industries and with a strong regional accent. People don’t tend to move away and generations of the same family stay fairly closely connected. Strange to some I suppose, how a place so often ridiculed (even as recently as this week by Piers Morgan in his ‘wet wednesday in Stoke-on-Trent’ against Harry) is so loved by many of its inhabitants. I also have found many people who locate their through study, work, (and in my husband’s case marriage) grow to love the place and call it home. It is homely.
I remember a French exchange student from a very pretty area of France, at the school where I also taught. He told me he was being housed in a rather drab block of flats from the 1960’s. His immediate reaction was fear and depression. However, he had a knock on the door on his first evening in residence and plucked up courage to answer it. He found two middle-aged ladies with ‘done’ grey hair. ‘Hello duck” they said by way of introduction. ‘We are going out for fish and chips, do you want to put your order on the list?’ He ended up loving the place.
There is a lot to be said for belonging ‘somewhere’. And this proves you don;t have to born in a place for it to be yours.

bf bf

14th January 2020 at 3:50 pm

Nationism rather than Nationlism would be a better description of the current backlash against the woking class and their inane drivel. Speaking of which am I the only one who finds the trolling of the comments with guff by @ZENOBIA PALMYRA irritating?

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 6:42 pm

Zen’s OK. Stimulates debate , challenges assumptions and that is a good thing. Otherwise we just end up with an echo chamber.

Claire D

15th January 2020 at 7:51 am

I second that.

Claire D

15th January 2020 at 7:52 am

I mean Jan’s reply.

Jon Barrow

27th January 2020 at 1:28 pm

Why not just go with ‘nationalism’, the nation as polity (rather than the tribal or pan-national/imperial). I think other words like ‘patriotism’ are trying to evade the ‘wrong side of history’ taint that has been successfully attached to the nation-state (mostly by linking nationalism to Hitler’s Reich). All empires (or ‘pan-national polities’ if preferred) are actually held together by a loyal core, which is generally a national group whose strength and ambition have grown beyond the national borders: this core bribes or oppresses the rest, who lack loyalty. With the new ‘progressive’ imperium you can be of any national origin; but as with previous globally-ambitious political philosophies there is very little tolerance for the local or particular (especially in the West, the core area of this utopian vision).

steve moxon

14th January 2020 at 3:32 pm

It’s worse than Richard Norrie here outlines. He claims “this is not to say that Anywheres do not care about their community”. Indeed. ‘Anywheres’ HATE their community, desiring to be above and separate from it. This is what the ‘Anywhere’ creed of Leftism is about at root. A Christian-residue ideology that comes to us via humanism — worshiping God > worshiping ‘humanity’ > worshiping a supposed (but actually not in the slightest) ‘scientific’ principle of ‘inevitable social change’ — precludes status-striving, but as this is universal then there has to be the pretense that the Left themselves (the ‘chosen ones’ of old) do not have such motivation. This is done by ‘projecting’ it on to everyone else outside the Left in-group. The Left proclaim themselves the saints and all the rest of us as devils.
The mask, having slipped, is in the process of being ripped off by all of us ‘also-rans’ in the Left’s ideological elitist bubble. The ‘Somewheres’ fighting back.

Jon Barrow

27th January 2020 at 1:36 pm

I think the relationship with Christianity is that it has at times been a global creed, intolerant of the local and the peculiar (such as the nation). Progressivism shares many features with other global/imperial/ideological/utopian projects. It’s certainly directly opposed to the English-speaking tradition of common law/empiricism/pragmatism.

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