We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Lord William Wallace writes…Defending liberal values from wealthy reactionaries

May 2, 2021 10:16 PM
The owners of five of the six English football clubs which they planned to hive off into an American-style Super-League are classic 'people from anywhere': three Americans, a Gulf sheikh and a Russian who made billions out of the post-Soviet free-for-all of privatisation. But neither David Goodhart, who popularised the distinction between 'somewheres' and 'anywheres' in his post-Brexit book, The Road to Somewhere: the populist revolt and the future of politics, nor Theresa May, who adopted the phrase in fighting the 2017 election, meant offshore billionaires by it. They were putting the blame for the loss of a sense of local community and national solidarity on 'the liberal elite': people like you and me.

Liberals are too nice, and too optimistic about reasoned argument, to fight back against the cynical campaigners of the hard right. Pluto-populism, in the USA and in England, has seen hedge-funders and offshore financiers fund populist politicians to discredit political moderates, telling those left behind by globalisation or confused by rapid social and economic change that it's the intellectual classes who are to blame, not those who've made most money out of the disruption. Now that the public are beginning to learn about the close and murky links between right-wing politicians and casino capitalism, we need to work harder to undermine the credibility of their narrative.

I've just re-read Goodhart's book. It's astonishing that he pays so little attention to economic globalisation as a factor in creating popular disorientation. He blames social liberalisation, the expansion of university education and its inherently 'liberal and international ethos', and the espousal of 'progressive causes' like minority rights for popular disorientation. Nothing is said about the disappearance of local industries and banks, the enthusiasm with which free market ideologues sold off national assets to Gulf state wealth funds, Chinese state companies, and private equity speculators.

Goodhart is a fellow of Policy Exchange, a generously-funded think tank that is highly secretive about where its funding comes from. He grew up in a family whose wealth came from a New York bank, he went to Eton; but he claims to stand for the common people against the 'rootless cosmopolitans' of the educated elite.

Boris Johnson's government is explicitly populist, and contemptuous of parliamentary as well as public scrutiny. Did you hear Oliver Dowden, whose entire career has been in the Conservative Party in London, tell the BBC last week that 'we are the people's government'? Gisela Stuart remarked that the 2019 Election represented the people reclaiming sovereignty after the 'remarkable' and improper attempt by Parliament to claim sovereignty for itself. I'm struck, on the contrary, by the frequency with which I read political commentators telling us what 'the donors' have told No.10 about political priorities; though No.10 is also spending lavishly on polling to craft its messages to what the people think they want.

This government will eventually come unstuck, like the Trump Administration. Johnson cannot deliver on many of the promises he gives so lightly: promising to invest heavily in levelling up the left behind parts of the country, while promising his donors that he will not raise more taxes from them. Last week the Institute of Economic Affairs launched a new 'Free Market Forum', with more than 40 Tory MPs as members, promising to shrink the state and cut taxes again as soon as the pandemic is over. That's not what the people want, as the revolt over the Super League showed; they want local enterprise, if necessary with state protection and support. It's what the donors are paying for. But the donors will be unhappy about the government standing up to overseas owners.

Our task is to expose the inherent corruption of this donor-dominated government, to defend liberal values vigorously against the wealthy reactionaries of the illiberal elite, and to craft a social liberal response to the discontents of the left behind.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.
This article appeared in Lib Dem Voice
Lord William Wallace writes…Defending liberal values from wealthy reactionaries (libdemvoice.org)