Since the Brexit vote, the divide between Leavers and Remainers has continued. But it goes beyond the issue of Brexit. It is a reflection of an economic and cultural divide which predated the referendum, and was deepened by the financial crisis. In his book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, David Goodhart rechristened this divide as being “between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere.”
Broadly speaking, Goodhart argued that “Anywheres” are the citizens of metropolitan Britain who support global markets and social liberalism. “Somewheres” are the citizens of provincial Britain who have been left behind by globalisation and favour a more socially conservative outlook.
The modern economy mainly benefits the “Anywheres” who are college-educated and middle class, and is focused around London and the South East. Meanwhile, non-graduate jobs for "Somewhere" citizens have declined in quality, and insufficient investment has been given to infrastructure and skills in regions beyond London.
As a social democrat and man of the Left, Goodhart believes that this economic and cultural divide needs to be reconciled in order to stop the rise of populism. Goodhart started voicing his concerns with the consequences of globalisation, specifically mass migration, a few years ago and found himself maligned by his colleagues for it.
When May came to power last year, she acknowledged this divide. May used her first party conference speech to say “too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street. But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” This attack on the “Anywheres” was a bold, if misjudged, attempt to boost the party’s appeal to “Somewhere” voters thinking of leaving Labour.
After the snap election was called, commentators began to frame the contest as being between the “Somewheres” represented by May’s Conservatives and the “Anywheres” in the various progressive parties. May crafted a communitarian conservatism which addressed the economic and cultural divisions created by globalisation, but this was not matched by popular policies to win over the “Somewhere” voters. In fact, some Conservative policies turned off these voters, such as repealing the ban on fox hunting and scrap free school lunches. This failure to make sufficient gains among “Somewheres” was made worse by the loss of “Anywheres” alienated by May’s rhetoric on Brexit.
Defying all expectations, Jeremy Corbyn assembled an alliance of “Somewheres” in the Northern English and Welsh rustbelts, and “Anywheres” in London and Southern England. Labour’s manifesto promised electoral bribes for both groups. Free childcare for working families, scrapping tuition fees for middle-class students, protecting pensioner benefits. All would be funded by borrowing and taxes on the super-rich.
On Brexit, Corbyn appealed to “Somewheres” by pledging to end the free movement of citizens from the EU, but kept “Anywheres” onside by promising to prevent Britain from exiting the EU without a trade deal to secure growth and jobs. It is a difficult coalition of voters to maintain and Labour’s recent U-turn on promising to leave the single market and customs union could prove to be its undoing.
The promises offered by Corbyn were unrealistic, and the policies proposed by May were uninspiring. Neither of the main parties have yet to reach a credible and popular programme for government which could heal the new divide in Britain identified by Goodhart. But whoever succeeds in combining support from both “Anywheres” and “Somewheres” will dominate the post-Brexit landscape.