A cityscape of Manchester at night.

More Matthew Goodwin.

Tom Forth, .

In his latest book, Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics, Matthew Goodwin defines a New Elite in British society.

The book’s seven point summary definition of New Elite membership is pleasingly short.

  1. Elite education at the most prestigious Oxbridge or Russell Group universities.
  2. Postcodes in one of the big cities or university towns.
  3. Hoover up the gains of globalisation.
  4. Marry and hang out with other members of the New Elite.
  5. Professional, middle-class jobs in the knowledge, cultural and public sector institutions, such as the BBC, the universities and the creative industries.
  6. Immense amount of cultural power over the national conversation.
  7. Very liberal if not radical "woke" values which impose on the rest of the country through their tight control over the institutions.

Along with this snappy definition of the New Elite, the argument in his book seems refreshingly simple. Goodwin claims that this powerful and influential minority group has lost touch with the values of the majority and is leading our country in a different direction to our society’s desires.

You’re a dickhead.

As part of his promotional tour of interviews and tweets Goodwin has fleshed out his seven point definition with examples, usually accompanied with an insult. The targets of his insults seem to be people and institutions whose reaction will generate publicity and thus book sales. To date they include the BBC, Alastair Campbell, Rory Stewart, James O’Brien, the New Statesman, David Willets, Lewis Goodall, Gordon Brown, The UK Civil Service, Hugo Rifkind, David Aaronovitch, Jemima Kelly, Oliver Kamm, Ben Ramanauskas, Jonathan Portes, Will Jennings, Rob Ford, and Stephen Bush.

In a particularly rich vein of naming new elites, a single tweet from Goodwin lists nine of his critics alongside the university of their undergraduate study (seven Oxford, one Cambridge, and one London School of Economics). This is a clever move; elite Britons love few things more than discussing whether their attendance (or not) of Oxford or Cambridge University does or does not make them part of some definition of elite.

I conform to most of the seven point definition of the New Elite but my membership is surely most assured by me being able to guess seven of these nine listed new elite members just from their last names (apologies to Mehdi Hasan and, I think, Nick Cohen).

Men in London.

Two things jump out at me from the list of New Elites.

First they are almost all men, which if representative is depressingly similar to the composition of the Old Elites.

Second they are both personally and institutionally mostly in and around London. Gordon Brown who spends much of his time in Fife and Rob Ford in Manchester are the two clear exceptions. Will Jennings in Southampton and Ben Ramanauskas in Oxford might stake a claim. Others may too. Unlike the gender balance, this is in quite stark contrast to the geography of Britain’s Old Elites.

Both of these features are somewhat at odds with the seven point summary definition of new elite membership. Women are not excluded and locations are not restricted beyond the “big cities and university towns” which could easily cover the vast majority of the UK population.

I suppose if you want to argue that the New Elite are sizeable and thus worthy of concern you need to cast your net wider than just the first examples that come to mind.

What about Leeds?

Leeds very clearly had an old elite who align with Goodwin’s definition that they “derived their status from wealth, titles, estates, & leisure time”. On my way to the city I cycle past hundreds of grand homes with portraits of their original owners carved in stone above the door. I pass statues of Watt, I see the ornate towers of Harding, the splendid library of Priestley, the grandeur of the Leeds and County Liberal Club, and the civic arrogance of Leeds Town Hall. Right across the city, grand buildings share a common feature of bearing the crest of Leeds Corporation and its successors, once among the most important and powerful parts of government in the UK and condensed expressions of Old Elite power.

Old Elite power in Leeds is now almost completely gone. Recent leaders of Leeds City Council do not have the same measure of bravado as Charles Wilson. The Liberal Club is a hotel. The Commercial Inn where the ASLEF trade union was formed has been boarded up for a decade, lying alone among the rubble of the railway industry that created it. The Central Methodist Church is up for sale, to be redeveloped. The Leeds Club is now a Lost & Found restaurant. The grand homes of Leeds’ Old Elite are now mostly shared among large groups of students and recent graduates. The carved portraits of their original owners are often worn beyond recognition.

Where is our New Elite?

If the Old Elites have gone, what has replaced them? Goodwin lists examples in and around London. But where are the New Elites in Leeds?

When the city council commissioned an investigation into whether its statues were problematic it was a chance to find out. But instead of a “very liberal if not radical woke” report, a senior city councillor, now the Deputy Mayor for Policing quickly reported that no statues should be taken down and recommended little more than some slightly improved signage and a bit of cleaning . Not very woke. Not very New Elite.

Since Leeds remains a city with one of the weakest economies in the developed world it is hard to believe that many people are “hoovering up the economic gains of globalisation”. There simply are not many such gains here.

Very few people work at the BBC, on account of the BBC still mostly being in the South. Tech North, the UK government’s tech boosting agency, could have incubated some New Elite, but it was shut down with its efforts concentrated in London. Our efforts at The Open Data Institute Leeds ended somewhat similarly. The British Library has talked about moving here for decades. It still hasn’t. The Treasury picked Darlington. I see more people with Channel 4 lanyards in the pubs, but they are mostly young or up for the day.

I am not yet convinced that our city is yielding an “immense amount of cultural power over the national conversation”. My name’s been in The FT, The Economist, and The Guardian a few times, but the continued absence of a tram in Leeds or any spreading of R&D funding and the death of ambitions for high speed rail in any direction from the city suggests that my influence is less than the required “immense”. Given the decline in local media and the disappearance of local government power there is not much of a quantifiable local conversation to make up for that.

Goodwin hasn’t identified any of Leeds’ new elite yet. Rob Ford remains the only English person North of Cambridge as far as I can see and with all due respect to him, his clout in this city is not enormous.

Maybe it’s just that my and my friends’ power to shift books is so underwhelming that we haven’t been named and shamed yet. Or maybe he's waiting for the paperback release? It could be that Goodwin spends most of his time in and around London and just doesn’t know the New Elites up here to call out.

But I have a third suspicion, which is that Leeds lacks much of a New Elite.

Time to step up.

I do not wish to over-amuse my readers at this point. As Goodwin reminds us, “Elite graduate progressives arguing they are NOT in the new elite is the funniest thing in the world!!!”. I am not denying that I am a member of the New Elite of his definition. I do not even disagree with his premise, though unsurprisingly as a member of the New Elite I think it is exaggerated.

Rather I fear that the New Elite in Leeds are too few, too quiet, and too powerless. We have lost an Old Elite without gaining a new one. We must ask ourselves,

The answer seems to be that these people mostly don’t exist. Goodwin’s book laments the rise of a New Elite. Through comparison it feels like he wishes that we still had the Old Elite. But what about the vast majority of this country, which seems to have neither?

Goodwin’s book and his discussions around it increasingly convince me that Leeds needs more of a New Elite. And his definitions make clear that I should be part of that. And since the alternative to having one seems to be having no elite, a situation which seems to lead to poverty and dependence on handouts from London, which I reject, I am grateful to Goodwin for writing the handbook of how to do it. I struggle at being woke, but if that’s what it will take I can give it a go.


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