A recent effort to explain the distinction between political culture, social mentality and voting behaviour in the UK – particularly following the vote to leave the EU last summer that threw disparate attitudes into sharper relief – should serve as a reminder to all in the arts that we need to keep fighting to bring diversity to the eyes and ears of our audiences, even in a hyper-polarised world.
David Goodhart sought to clarify the position of those opposed to the EU in terms of their deeply-rooted cultural subscription to the nation. His book makes for excellent and nuanced reading; Prime Minister Theresa May’s adoption of it slightly less so. Of course, I hope she is correct in her assessment of her peers, and see no evidence to the contrary; further, she showed political astuteness not to describe her camp as patriots, a term prone to misuse. In order to set up this description as a distinction to the opposing group, she describes her clan as People of Somewhere, evoking the idea of Jerusalem (Butterworth, not Blake) that we are all intertwined with England, and the others as People of Anywhere, who lacked such a connection. In doing so she was not trying to be unfair; she was trying to set up an image of localism versus globalism. The nuance of Goodhart’s work has been slightly lost in its digestion, and more so in its application.
For all that it does to pithily capture a previously unexpressed difference in individual outlooks, May’s embracing of the Somewhere/Anywhere distinction mischaracterises those who do not think like her and shows, however unconsciously, the introspection of the Somewheres: the rest of us are not Anywheres, we are children of Everywhere. In other words, the Everywheres are not distinct from the Somewheres because they do not wish to subscribe to one particular identity. No, it is quite the opposite – if you want to find fault in an Everywhere, it is that we want to subscribe to too many.
The introspection of the Somewheres is especially problematic when it comes into contact with the creative industries. The government has recently introduced (and this week pledged to double) a levy on business who employ non-European workers, currently standing at £1000 per head, in an effort to reduce migration. It is unclear whether this will be extended further to EU nationals after 2019, but the rhetoric from those who drafted the policy suggests as much. The rationale is ostensibly clear: encourage those in industry to train locals and reinvest in British talent. But this is fundamentally flawed, not least because it is predicated on the introspective foundation of ‘British’ businesses (often heavy industry) where nationality didn’t matter. Indeed, in 1960 it made more sense to employ a local lad down the pit than to institute a global LinkedIn search. But take film, theatre, literature, publishing, journalism or music. We could (and can) of course encourage a new wave of British talent in those sectors. Yet the real point of the arts – a point that we as a global leader of the arts must uphold – is about exposure to diversity, plurality of ideas. I do not see how any government can claim to encourage such a thing when it charges every film company, publishing house, editing studio and theatre for every ounce of non-European culture it develops. In the interests of plurality and art, we must do everything we can to resist such plans.
This is a call-to-arms for the creatives, the artists, the producers, the presenters and the consumers of art alike. We need to keep working to capture the social, creative, entrepreneurial and cultural benefits of a seamless world, and remind the Somewheres that artistic cohesion is not theirs to hinder.