The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart – a liberal’s rightwing turn on immigration

Is your tribe the ‘Somewheres’ or the ‘Anywheres’? A book on the faultlines that divide Brexit Britain is timely but misguided

Forget the title, there will be plenty of people – Guardian readers among them – who’ll take one look at this book and refuse to get past the author’s name. For many on the liberal left, David Goodhart became persona non grata more than a decade ago.

In 2004, he wrote an essay for Prospect magazine, which he both founded and edited, that earned rapid notoriety and saw him branded a “liberal Powellite”. In “Too Diverse?”, he argued that there was a trade-off between increased diversity, through mass immigration, and social solidarity, in the form of the welfare state. Goodhart said that for citizens willingly to hand some of their hard-earned cash to others via their taxes, they needed to feel a basic level of affinity with those others. He wrote that in the homogenous societies of old that was never a problem: citizens felt the mutual obligation of kinship. But in the highly mixed societies of today, such fellow-feeling was strained. Goodhart offered copious data to show that people bridled at subsidising the housing, education or welfare benefits of those whose roots in the society were shallow. As he wrote, “To put it bluntly – most of us prefer our own kind.”

You don’t have to like any part of that argument to recognise that it was prescient, in the sense that it anticipated what would become a, perhaps the, dominant issue of politics in Britain and beyond in the decade to follow. Even as the crash of 2008 was still reverberating, immigration frequently displaced the economy on the list of issues that mattered most to voters. Though some of the more high-minded Brexiters wish it were not true, immigration was the beating heart of the campaign to leave the European Union.

David Goodhart takes place in a roundtable debate on immigration at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, 2014.
David Goodhart takes place in a roundtable debate on immigration at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, 2014. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

What is even more striking in retrospect is that Goodhart made his case before the huge wave of migration that so reshaped British politics: the post-2004 influx of an estimated 1.5 million newcomers from eastern Europe. In 2004, the Polish plumber and the Czech barista were in Britain’s future rather than its present. Six full years would pass before Gordon Brown would be overheard describing Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman”, because she had asked about the arrivals from eastern Europe who she felt were transforming her native Rochdale.

Given all that, and whatever other objections Goodhart’s new book might provoke, few could call it irrelevant or untimely. In The Road to Somewhere he returns to this most vexed terrain, picking his way through nettles and thorns that might deter thinner-skinned writers. He doesn’t tread that carefully either.

He argues that the key faultline in Britain and elsewhere now separates those who come from Somewhere – rooted in a specific place or community, usually a small town or in the countryside, socially conservative, often less educated – and those who could come from Anywhere: footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated. He cites polling evidence to show that Somewheres make up roughly half the population, with Anywheres accounting for 20% to 25% and the rest classified as “Inbetweeners”.

A key litmus test to determine which one of these “values tribes” you belong to is your response to the question of whether Britain now feels like a foreign country. Goodhart cites a YouGov poll from 2011 that found 62% agreed with the proposition: “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition, it sometimes feels like a foreign country and this makes me uncomfortable.” Only 30% disagreed. A 2014 survey found a similar breakdown when asked if “people led happier lives in the old days”.

For Goodhart, the data confirms his belief that Anywhere and Somewhere describe real groups, the latter characterised by an unease with the modern world, a nostalgic sense that “change is loss” and the strong belief that it is the job of British leaders to put the interests of Britons first. Anywheres, meanwhile, are free of nostalgia; egalitarian and meritocratic in their attitude to race, sexuality and gender; and light in their attachments “to larger group identities, including national ones; they value autonomy and self-realisation before stability, community and tradition”. Unsurprisingly, Goodhart’s Somewhere/Anywhere distinction maps neatly on to the leave/remain divide. Indeed, the evidence he presents makes the victory of leave over remain seem all but foretold: the only surprise is that the winning margin of 52% to 48% was so narrow.

Given that result, which meant British liberals and internationalists lost something they regard as precious – British membership of the EU – the self-critical progressive will surely want to reflect on where they went wrong, how they found themselves out of step with a majority of their fellow citizens. There can be little escape from the damning conclusion that, when faced with the chasm in attitudes Goodhart charts, especially on immigration, liberals chose to put their fingers in their ears and sing la, la, la. The revulsion that greeted his own 2004 essay, and the ostracism that followed, were part of that reaction, born of a collective desire on the liberal left to hope that if they closed their eyes and branded the likes of Duffy as “bigoted”, the problem might just go away.

In 2016, Theresa May declared: ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.’
In 2016, Theresa May declared: ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.’ Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

A more sophisticated form of ostrich-ism is the redefining of Somewhere anxiety about immigration as purely a material problem that might be solved economically: by, say, enforcing the minimum wage to prevent migrants from undercutting local pay, or by boosting the funds available for housing, health or education in areas that have taken in large numbers of newcomers. Such measures – championed by Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband before him – are good and necessary, of course. But they skirt around the discontent voiced by Goodhart’s Somewheres, which is as much cultural as economic: the non-material sense that their hometown has changed unnervingly fast. Goodhart does not suffer from that economistic myopia: he accepts that when people say their problem is not solely about money, they are telling the truth.

So Goodhart deserves credit for confronting this issue early and front on. But that does not mean either his diagnosis or his prescriptions are right.

First, in his sympathy for Somewheres he caricatures Anywheres. Too easily does his category – which, by his measure, should include between 8 million and 10 million people – collapse into an upmarket version of the hated “metropolitan liberal elite”. He makes the same mistake as Theresa May did when she declared last year: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” This is to assume that those who look outward are automatically disconnected from the people around them. But a visit to even the much derided, ultra-remain districts of, say, north London would show areas that are still genuine communities, right down to their neighbourhood street parties for the Queen’s 90th birthday. Anywheres come from somewhere too.

Second, Goodhart insists that the views of Somewheres have been overlooked for decades, over-ruled by the Anywheres who control the commanding heights of political and cultural power, from the civil service to the universities to the BBC. This will come as news to those who have observed our criminal justice system, for example, where the “prison works” mantra of Michael Howard prevailed right through the New Labour years (with a brief hiatus while Kenneth Clarke was at the justice department). The Asbo culture favoured by Tony Blair, David Blunkett and Jack Straw was arguably Somewhere in its orientation. Somewheres might feel similarly at home with the division of the population into “strivers” and “skivers”, a distinction that has underpinned government welfare policy since 2010.

A tourist carrying a Union Flag umbrella passes the Tower of London.
A tourist carrying a Union Flag umbrella passes the Tower of London. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Such language is echoed and reinforced with relentless vigour by our national press. Goodhart skates over this crucial hole in his argument. He claims Somewhere views are marginalised in our collective life, yet the Mail, Sun, Express, Telegraph and the rest air little else. It is the liberal internationalism of Anywheres that is drowned out.

Where Goodhart goes wrong above all is on Britain’s ethnic and religious minorities. Even though he concedes that these groups can exhibit Somewhere-ish attitudes – prioritising stable families, for example – he frames them throughout as the cloud on the Somewheres’ horizon, the blot that has darkened the Somewheres’ previously sunny landscape. It is their arrival that has changed Britain beyond recognition, their presence that has to be dealt with.

Perhaps my own experience as a member of Britain’s Jewish community has skewed my perspective, but I’d suggest that the very qualities Goodhart most admires among the Somewheres – including neighbourliness, trust and a sense of shared destiny – are to be found in Britain’s minorities. They have not caused the social fragmentation he laments: globalisation, automation and a thousand other shifts bear more blame than they do. If anything, and especially in the cities, they point to a remedy for those Anywheres Goodhart believes have become unmoored. Minorities might be more of a model than a threat, more to be emulated than to be feared.

Even if that is asking too much, surely the task now is not to look back to the time when homogeneity made a cohesive society easy, but to ask how today’s heterogeneous society might be made more cohesive, despite the difficulties. Goodhart is right that people are more inclined to share with those they regard as their fellows: so the challenge is to make all citizens, including the newer ones, appear to each other as fellows.

That need not be an impossibly utopian goal. The patriotic pride invested in and unleashed by the likes of Mo Farah may seem trivial, but it shows that people can indeed come to see a relative newcomer as one of their own. But it takes effort from every level of society. It requires immigrants to work at becoming integrated of course, but it also demands that everyone else welcome and embrace them as Britons. The US used to be a model in this regard, but it’s hard to see it that way now. This is a task we will have to take on ourselves. Goodhart’s book does not offer much advice on how we might get there, but it is a powerful reminder that we have to try.

• The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics is published by C Hurst & Co. To order a copy for £20) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Jonathan Freedland

The GuardianTramp

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