Wallace: Who’s patriotic now?

Liberals are too nice to go for our opponents in the way they go for us. But now is the time to throw back at them the insult that they are patriotic and we are not. Who is more committed to this country: those who work in its public services, educate its young and hold together its local communities, or those who play around with the financial markets, hold their wealth as far as they can offshore, own properties in other countries and share in the privileges of international elites?

One of the most effective epithets in the Brexit camp’s dismissal of ‘Remoaners’ was the claim that those who continued to argue for a close relationship with our neighbours were ‘people from anywhere’, betraying the honest loyalties of the good ‘people from somewhere’ who preferred England and its eccentricities to foreign ties. Theresa May used the argument repeatedly. It comes straight from the right-wing populist playbook: blaming the ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’ of the intellectual classes for popular discontent, thus distracting attention from the activities – and great wealth – of financial elites, and the negative impact on ordinary citizens of private equity takeovers and the tax avoidance.

David Goodhart’s book The Road to Somewhere, which set out the imagined divide between somewheres and anywheres , attributes the discontents of the somewheres to ‘the dominance of anywhere interests, in everything from mass higher education to mass immigration.’ He devotes only five pages of his 240-page book to economic change, ‘short-termism and foreign ownership’, and little more to the globalization of Britain’s banks and financial sector; he blames intellectuals, and the rising importance of university degrees and professional qualifications, for the alienation of the left-behind. Goodhart’s privileged background (he describes himself as an ‘Old Etonian Marxist’ when young) stems from financial wealth: his great-grandfather was one of the founders of Lehmann Brothers. Now head of demography, immigration and integration at Policy Exchange, he is in the forefront of right-wing efforts to provoke a culture war to distract the people of somewhere from focusing on the economic and political roots of their discontent. Policy Exchange does not publish where its funds come from, but it’s probable that most comes from the financial sector in the UK and offshore, and some comes from wealthy Republicans in the USA.

The image of ‘north London lefties’ who despise Britain’s traditional values and are as happy in Venice or Athens as in Islington has been powerful in blaming the intellectual elite for lack of patriotism. But revelations about Rishi Sunak, his continuing American connections and family financial arrangements, provide far stronger evidence of a lack of commitment to investing in our country. He’s not the only leading Conservative in that position, of course; Johnson himself remained a US citizen for many years, as well as enjoying luxurious holidays paid for by super-rich friends in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

The Conservative Party is largely funded by City financiers and property developers, who have made their millions by selling expensive properties to wealthy foreigners and avoiding affordable housing. Its two party chairmen sum up this lack of concern for ordinary British citizens. Ben Elliott has made his money by catering to the super-rich from Russia, China and the Middle East as they settled in London. Oliver Dowden has just visited Washington to deliver a speech to the American Enterprise Institute (a close partner of Policy Exchange) in which he toadied to the Trumpian narrative of ‘threats to freedom’.

Those of us who work in the NHS, teach in state schools and UK universities, hold together our battered and cash-starved local authorities, are far more committed to Britain, and its traditional values, than the rich populists who charge us of an imagined lack of patriotism. We are the patriots now. Those who live half in the UK and half in the offshore world of tax havens and non-dom status are the ones who have failed Britain.

* William Wallace is Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional issues in the Lords.

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  • Brad Barrows 14th Apr '22 - 9:50am

    Let us be careful to make a distinction between UK-born individuals who choose to move their wealth abroad and adopt non-Dom status to avoid paying UK taxes, and people like Rishi Sunak’s wife who was born in India and has chosen to live in the UK while retaining her Indian citizenship and continues to pay taxes on all non-UK income to India.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Apr '22 - 10:14am

    It is surely not patriotic to revert to a colonial spirit, to propose shipping unwanted immigrants to an African country. Do any of these current members of our government have any sense of true British values, of tolerance and kindness, of welcoming the oppressed? I hope our Lib Dem leaders will speedily condemn this most illiberal new scheme.

  • Kyle Harrison 14th Apr '22 - 10:27am

    But the Lib Dems are pro economic globalisation… The Lib Dems were in coalition with the Tories for five years. Nick Clegg is earning millions working for Facebook! The Lib Dems are no different to the Tories on globalisation. I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing. Globalisation has created wealth but it obviously has negative side effects. That’s life. Every type of system has negative side effects. That’s why politics will never end. We will never achieve perfection. But if anyone has the right to say I told you so in the modern world I would argue it’s the old statist, protectionist left that warned of the dangers of globalisation, both internationally and in Europe. The left that died in the 80s. But the Lib Dems have hardly been very critical of globalisation. “Rootless” academics and professionals are just the other side of the same coin as “rootless” billionaires. Mass immigration (that the liberal left is sympathetic towards) goes hand in hand with wage suppression and lack of worker rights. That’s the irony, right and left just come at the same problem from different angles. If we forced wages higher there would be less demand for immigrants since business would have an incentive to replace workers with technology, if possible. But if we restrict immigration, well it results in the same thing.

  • Kyle Harrison 14th Apr '22 - 10:49am

    Also, the Tories are very much divided on globalisation these days. There isn’t just one Tory Party in truth. There is a rich, globalisation comfortable, Conservative. Posh, affluent etc… And there’s other more provincial, poorer Tories that actually want to see crackdowns on globalisation. It’s a tension in the Tories that will remain and Tory govts will constantly be pushed and pulled in one direction or another. But equally the next Labour govt is likely to be pushed and pulled in a similar way. The red wall versus areas like Putney etc… If you want to win a majority under FPTP the Tories or Labour have to have a foot in both camps essentially.

  • Extremely well put Lord Wallace!!

  • G K Chesterton spoke of “the people of England who have not spoken yet.” It takes a really vicious form of Conservatism to get the majority to see the Tories as aliens.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Apr '22 - 1:18pm

    A good piece in its argument, but can we tone it down on dual citizenship being criticised.

    I have nothing against Sunak having a Green card, or Johnson American as well as British passports years ago.

    I have lots against them making it impossible to get into this country even if married now to a UK citizen, unless effectively able to purchase residency, with income levels and savings, higher than ever.

    We ought to loathe hypocrisy. Not duality.

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Apr '22 - 3:30pm

    @Lorenzo Cherin
    No problem with Sunak having had a green card in the past. The problem is with the time it took him to relinquish it – demonstrates a low level of commitment to the UK.

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