Stephen Bush argued in the New Statesman recently, with back-handed flattery, that my analysis of British politics based around diverging value blocs – crudely, liberals versus social conservatives – led to the Tories’ poor election result.
Bush claims that by turning her back on David Cameron’s social liberalism, and playing so hard for Brexit voters, Theresa May ended up losing the small majority that she inherited from him.
There is something in this, but to make his point Bush has to caricature my theory and May’s rejection of social liberalism.
What is my theory? In my book The Road to Somewhere I talk about the “Anywhere” value bloc (about 25 per cent of the population) who tend to be well educated and mobile, value openness and autonomy and surf social change comfortably. On the other hand, there is a bigger “Somewhere” bloc (about half the population) who are more rooted and less well educated, value security and familiarity and group attachments, and find much about the modern world discomforting.
Bush describes Anywheres as “global citizens”. Such people, who might identify as European before British and have post-national, universalist values, do exist. They are the people May was aiming at when she said “if you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere”, but they are, at most, five per cent of the population, a small sub-set of the broader liberal Anywhere bloc.
In her “citizen of the world” speech, May was not having a tilt at the wider liberalisation of British society represented by the Anywhere consensus, and accepted by most Somewheres too. Indeed, she has herself been an agent of that liberalisation both in her famous “nasty party” speech and in more recent times as both Home Secretary and Prime Minister with her emphasis on race and gender equality.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection