CITIZEN OF NOW, HERE – The Geography of our Political Realignment (or why the Conservative Party should learn to stop worrying and love provincial Toryism)

‘If you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’ exclaimed newly selected British Prime Minister Theresa May in her speech to the Conservative party faithful at conference back in 2016 in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. To a post-liberal, such as myself (in essence, a communitarian philosophy,) the idea that: if every man is your brother then, to all intents and purposes, you have no brother, did not strike me as particularly controversial. I welcomed it, in fact, as an implied rejection of Thatcherite selfish individualism, the antithesis of the idea that: ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and their families.’ Others saw things differently, noting the alleged similiarities between the ‘citizen of nowhere’ idea and the anti-semitic Stalinist trope of ‘rootless cosmopolitans.’

In fairness to Theresa May, *cosmopolitanism* no longer has the same negative connotations it may have once had. To be sure ‘cosmopolitan’ has always meant to be free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments – someone who is at home equally all over the world – but in our newly hyper-globalised world this is now (near-universally) viewed as uniformly positive rather than as a negative. The liberal, progressive, political left view it positively (from a cultural perspective) as a perceived necessary antidote to xenophobia:

Whilst the ‘neoliberal’ political right also view cosmopolitanism positively – in the sense of lacking attachments – but instead from an economic perspective as a necessary corollary to labour market ‘flexibility’

There is absolutely no antonym for *cosmopolitan* that has any positive connotations whatsoever. The dictionary definition of *provincial* literally means: ‘narrow-minded, illiberal and parochial.’ Therefore, one could argue, a political critique of a *narrow-minded cosmopolitanism* (not necessarily a contradiction in terms as we will discover!) is perhaps long overdue, the 🇺🇸 states Donald Trump won in the 2016 Presidential election are literally referred to as *fly-over country*!

In the same year that 🇺🇸 ‘fly-over country’ voted for Trump to be President the 🇬🇧equivalent of ‘fly-over country’ voted for Brexit:

The question hovers in the air after the double-shock of Brexit/Trump in 2016: is this the real divide in our contemporary politics? not so much left versus right as cosmopolitans versus provincials? citizens of nowhere versus citizens of now, here? Which begs a further two questions: who speaks for the ‘citizens of now, here’? i.e who actually represents them politically? and does it matter *who* represents them?

Cosmopolitanism is ingrained in our contemporary political and cultural consciousness. When you look at the recent England squad for the World Cup in 2018 which word comes to mind in terms of its demographics?

For many, especially those on the political spectrum who would describe themselves as *progressive,* the word which evidently came to mind was *diverse*

However, the word which could, just as easily, have come to mind, was *provincial.* The team which reached the semi-finals had 2 players from the North-East of England, 2 from the North-West and three from Yorkshire. The majority of the England squad were from the ‘provinces’ and only a small minority from the great metropole, London. The team and the squad were BOTH ethnically diverse AND provincial of course but arguably only the former received any form of serious emphasis in media descriptions.

In a way this is telling, as I touched upon in my last blog ‘Burning Down the House,’ ‘progressive’ politics has moved away from the *colour-blind* politics of a previous generation of anti-racists (as personified by Martin Luther-King) and towards a more *colour-conscious* politics which we now generally refer to as ‘identity politics.’

Identity politics, in the words of Alex Nichols, papers over material inequality with representational diversity leading to a form of politics, as described by Steve Fraser here, in which: the political migration from economic to cultural politics caused no discomfort in corporate boardrooms, which were ready to view these new identities as so many lucrative niche markets.’

‘Identity politics’ not only fails to challenge the political/economic status quo (in any radical way,) its inherent binary/manichean structure -

{1.Divide the population up neatly into ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’. 2. Assert that we can reliably make a distinction between ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ based upon the ascriptive characteristics of the population (gay/straight/white/black/male/female/trans/cis.) 3. Romanticise the ‘oppressed’ (Bertrand Russell characterised this tendency within a previous iteration of ‘progressive’ politics in his own time by the phrase ‘the superior virtue of the oppressed’) whilst, at the same time, demonising the ‘oppressors’ due to their unearned/unexamined ‘privilege’}

– Results in the demonisation of large demographic groups……

……..Who, understandably, feel increasingly alienated from progressive politics, thereby making it harder in the process for self-styled progressive political parties to win power and actually help the groups it purports to advocate for.

This binary/manichean view of the world……

…….Bleeds into our sense of ‘place’ itself:

As Damon Linker put it; ‘Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism – the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but “racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia” – is the desire to delegitimize any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic. As I explained shortly after the Brexit vote, cosmopolitan liberals presume that all particularistic forms of solidarity must be superseded by a love of humanity in general, and indeed that these particularistic attachments will be superseded by humanitarianism before long, as part of the inevitable unfolding of human progress.’

This phenomenon is, to some degree, a class divide (screen-shots taken from ‘Why Liberalism Failed’ by Patrick Deneen)

In my last blog I spoke of the white working class (WWC) being presented with a political double-bind: a two party system and a choice between a left-wing party who believe that you are already privileged by virtue of being white (identity politics) and a right-wing party who believe that you are poor because you deserve to be poor (meritocracy.)

Likewise, ‘provincials,’ (to some extent the same people as the WWC) were also for many years presented with a political double-bind: a left-wing cosmopolitan party who place value in racial and ethnic but not necessarily geographical diversity – if you are an England footballer reaching a World Cup Semi-Final the fact that you have black skin is great because it demonstrates how far we have moved on as a society! but the fact that you are from a little town in the North-West of England called Warrington? who cares, right? – or a right-wing cosmopolitan party who have told you (or your parents) to get on their bike i.e move from where you lived and grew up, the place where your family and friends resided, a place where you had connections and attachments to, in order to find work.

The 2016 Brexit vote and the (arguably) ‘post-liberal’ direction taken by Theresa May in its aftermath created the potential to change this scenario and to some extent it did. The rootedness of ‘provincials’ – whether by dint of lack of opportunities to travel, move, change jobs, extend their education, or simply by virtue of choice – naturally lends itself towards a more socially conservative world-view (arguably less likely to be used to and thus view rapid change positively?)

It strikes the author as a remarkably uncanny coincidence that when the Conservative Party went in a more socially conservative direction, emphasising communitarian values and a strong sense of *place* (all very ‘post-liberal’!) – as opposed to the placeless, socially liberal, cosmopolitan Toryism which preceded Brexit – that the on-going proletarianisation of the Conservative party (and the corresponding embourgeoisement of the Labour party of course) sped up!

Ultimately, Theresa May and the Conservative Party lost 15 seats at the 2017 general election (GE) but this occured whilst gaining 2 million extra votes than David Cameron had managed two years earlier. Political commentators who had, less than a year previously, been keen to point out that Hillary Clinton had won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump were equally keen, a year later, to pronounce Theresa May’s electoral performance a disaster despite the fact that she had won 2 million more votes than her predecessor.

Likewise, a year later, there exists concerted lobbying to change the direction taken by the Conservative party and revert back to the pre-Brexit, placeless, socially liberal Toryism of the Cameron/Osborne era due to the problems the Conservative Party now faces attracting more BAME voters (who are often concentrated in the big cities where socially liberal politics prevails.)

Whereas, corresponding attempts to address the problem the Labour party faces with WWC voters in smaller towns/rural areas have been belated and muted. The ‘Centre for Towns’ (centre-left) think-tank started by Ian Warren, Lisa Nandy and Will Jennings was established only in November 2017 whilst the John Denham inspired ‘English Labour Network’ was also only established in 2017. The problem the Labour party has in winning smaller towns has been widely known for several years.

Attempts to make the Conservative party more attractive to BAME voters are generally welcomed (as they should be,) whereas attempts by the Labour party to address its shrinking appeal to WWC voters and its diminishing ability to win the smaller towns are often vilified.

Ultimately, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what is wanted by many metropolitan liberal progressives is two identikit parties appealing to the same narrow group of socially liberal, well educated, cosmopolitan voters living in the big cities. Especially, of course, London.

The likelihood that having the two main political parties offering up only different shades of liberalism would lead to widespread dissatisfaction and disillusionment amongst many – providing fertile soil in the longer-term for populist movements who could then claim (with *some* legitimacy) that the TWO political parties represent ONE political class thereby necessitating a political outsider to come and ‘drain the swamp’ as the ONLY possibility for the enactment of real change – appears not to have been considered or, at least, given weight.

That this scenario has the potential to delegitimise liberalism itself in the eyes of a significant proportion of the population when a political crisis emerges – if all that is offered to the voters at election time is different shades of liberalism is it not logical to assume that liberalism itself is the problem when difficulties arise, as they inevitably do? – also appears to have not been considered or, at least, given weight.

Fertile soil for demagogic populism to grow? How does that benefit any minority voter exactly? No one can explain. Irrespective of the long-term political consequences of socially conservative, provincial voters being, in effect, shut out of the political mainstream the actual short-term electoral advantages of a return to the placeless, liberal Toryism of Cameron/Osborne appears arguable at best.

A return to the pre-Brexit, placeless, liberal Toryism of Cameron/Osborne would likely lead to the Conservative party losing many (if not all) of the 46% of the near 4 million 2015 UKIP voters it gained in 2017 and do nothing to attract the 65% of leavers who did not vote at all in 2015 and 2017.

Left-wing parties are going through a process of embourgeoisement and right-wing parties the opposite, they are becoming proletarianised. Why is that? well, it might be because Marx got it wrong: its the bourgeoisie who ‘internationalise,’ not the proletariat. The Conservative party, I would wager, would be better swimming with that tide rather than swimming against it.