After leading the Conservatives to a resounding victory, Boris Johnson brought about Brexit. But the greatest challenge for the old Etonian lies ahead: in ending the new class war.
To understand today’s populism in the UK, the US and elsewhere, we must go beyond single-factor theories—is it all about money? Is it all about race?—and put class at the centre of the analysis. The democracies of the North Atlantic are riven by a struggle involving three classes. The divide is between the mostly, but not exclusively, native white working class in inexpensive small towns in the heartlands; the college-credentialled professionals and managers who cluster in expensive hub cities; and the disproportionately-foreign-born class of urban service workers who wait upon them there.
Both the affluent professionals and the low-wage service workers in the hubs have a stake in the free flow of goods and labour. The metropolitan overclass tend to work for multinationals or provide professional services to them. Immigrants are concentrated in the major cities: they make up only 14 per cent of the population of the UK, but 36 per cent in London. By contrast, in the heartlands of the British north or US midwest, communities are more likely to be threatened by globalisation in the form of offshoring and dumped imports, like the wave of subsidised Chinese manufactured goods over the last generation. Affluent professionals in the hubs may live near low-wage immigrants, but do not compete with them for jobs and public services, unlike many members of the native working class of all races.
Rather than recognise these conflicts, and attempt to broker cross-class compromises, the elites have tried to “gaslight” the population by claiming the issues are purely imaginary. They cite simplistic economic studies claiming offshoring and immigration have no negative impacts at all—claims unlikely to convince factory workers whose jobs were transferred to China or others whose old vocations are now performed by immigrants for lower wages. Another elite technique is to change the subject to racial and gender disparities whenever class divisions within the national majority are raised.
Elites pretend class power does not exist. Power? What power? Professionals supposedly owe success to their “human capital,” not to having been born,…