In today's world, intellect has trumped all other measures of worth—with divisive consequencesby Madeleine Bunting / October 2, 2020 / Leave a comment
Fresh from university in 1989, I became a researcher on a documentary to mark 10 years of Thatcherism. The team was led by the Guardian columnist Hugo Young and the former Labour MP Philip Whitehead (who went on to become an MEP). It was a crash course in the intellectual bewilderment of the centre left as it grappled with how—despite ripping up the post-war political consensus—Margaret Thatcher had been rewarded at the ballot box. Why had voters rejected a model that had served them relatively well? While the left seemed impotent to find a coherent counter-strategy—though Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques made valiant attempts—it was already evident that a bitter dogfight was taking place over how the history of the 1980s would be told: as a free-market triumph or a tattered tale of make-believe?
Thirty years on, a comparable bewildered horror at the way the world is going has set in among those in the political centre. The result is a stream of books that hazard explanations for the upsurge in populism, and the causes of the deep resentment driving politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Compared with the late eighties, this round of angst has a much larger dose of soul searching among avowed “progressives.” The hubris of the Blair-Clinton era—exemplified by the elite’s disdain for those with less education—has come home to roost with Trump and Brexit. In David Goodhart’s new book, Head, Hand, Heart, the founding editor of Prospect nails this attitude perfectly as “class narcissism”: “you too can be like us.” I wince as I remember conversations I had with New Labour ministers when I was a Guardian columnist, as they outlined a narrow vision of social mobility and equality of opportunity that I was too slow to question. The type of success they advocated required the brightest to abandon their communities; it started with university and moving to a big city, and then expanded into developing a lifestyle and values at odds with your upbringing.
Lynsey Hanley’s brilliant book, Respectable, powerfully described the discomfort inherent in such a journey, in her case from a working-class Birmingham estate to middle-class life…