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Britain's cosmopolitan future?

31 July 2015
Britain's cosmopolitan future?

Jeremy Cliffe’s paper, Britain’s cosmopolitan future, argued that big-picture demographic, social and economic changes are together forging a more plural, open, fast-moving, post-industrial country. Mainstream politicians should embrace “cosmopolitan change”, as a strategy of "reconnecting with traditional voters" is actively counter-productive.
The paper led to a vigorous debate at its launch event in London just after the UK election. Today, with the Labour party in the midst of one of the worst crises in its history and the Conservatives boldly staking a claim to be the natural party for working people in modern Britain, Policy Network publishes a series of responses.
David Goodhart, chair of the Demos Advisory Group, argues that the “picture of a rootless, laissez-faire, hyper-individualistic, London-like future … does not correspond to the way people live or want to live”. Taking issue with "metropolitan liberalism" and those he describes as "the cheerleaders for restless change", he argues that parties that go down this route will be punished as they ignore the cultural anxieties of the average voter. The fact that 50 per cent of those who voted backed the Conservatives or Ukip should serve as a warning signal to Labour.
Philippe Legrain supports Cliffe’s view that Ukip’s success marks not a resurgence but rather the swansong of social conservatism. Aspiring politicians ought to have an eye on Britain’s cosmopolitan and confidently liberal future. In a warning to Labour, he observes how a metropolitan liberal, George Osborne, is increasingly setting Conservative strategy on this ground.
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, accepts that in the long-run Britain is likely to be a more liberal and open country. But he warns that demographics is never political destiny, not least as the future can be a long time coming. He argues that the British have a limited appetite for the politics of cultural polarisation and predicts that the EU referendum will challenge both tribes in Britain’s identity argumen – the populist Eurosceptics and the cosmopolitan utopians – to realise that neither speaks to a majority in Britain today.
Maria Sobolewska, who has conducted the Ethnic Minority British Election Study, argues that putting an emphasis on ethnic minorities as a key fixture of an "emerging cosmopolitan majority" ignores the huge diversity of views and attitudes in play: many may feel as "left behind" as white voters and as concerned about immigration. In this context, she believes Ukip will survive into the future.
John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress, draw parallels with the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis in the US. They welcome it as an observation but take strong issue with its viability as a bridge-building electoral strategy. They write: “an agenda of integrating the anxious middle into a cosmopolitan future through broadband, education and transport is useful, but it will not cut it in appealing to the deep-seated anxieties of modern voters. These voters want better jobs, higher wages and more security. Above all, they want some assurances that their voices and lives matter.”
In light of these contributions and in response to the dramatic political development in the months since his paper was originally published, Jeremy Cliffe today offers a substantial supplement to his original paper. As well as offering a punchy rebuttal to certain criticisms, Cliffe recognises and considers a number of other compelling interventions. He concedes that those who both perceive and welcome the ongoing shift towards cosmopolitanism in Britain now require an emotive, cultural offer and consequently makes a series of further recommendations that he hopes might help politicians to forge a new “cosmopolitan populism”.


Understanding the 'middling majority'


It is a mistake to conflate ‘mainstream’ and ‘metropolitan’ liberalism. Politicians should ignore the cultural anxieties of the average voter at their peril

Progressives must embrace a more cosmopolitan electorate


Courting younger voters could help ensure our politics catches up with social trends sooner rather than later

A cosmopolitan future is not a foregone conclusion


The EU referendum will lead to both Britain’s populist Eurosceptics and utopian cosmopolitans having to seek majority consent for the futures they imagine

A cosmopolitan cul-de-sac


A race to win the support of cosmopolitan voters risks provoking lower turnouts and further voter disengagement

Cosmopolitanism is an observation, not a strategy


Addressing the economic insecurities of the anxious white middle-classes has to be part of Labour’s plan for political recovery

The case for cosmopolitan populism


Those who both perceive and welcome the ongoing shift towards cosmopolitanism in Britain now need an emotive, cultural offer

Photo credits:

Altug Karakoc

Ben Romberg


Guillaume Paumier

Moyan Brenn


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