THERE is a professor on the TV telling you that Britain is run by a “new elite of radical, woke, middle-class liberals” who want to stop you from feeling “British” enough–and that it is the real problem, not the “old elite” which is “defined by its extreme wealth.”
So what does it matter if both the professor and the channel are backed by the Dubai-based investment firm of a New Zealand billionaire? Somebody who is distinctly not British, but is very wealthy, is paying somebody else to tell us we should worry about “Britishness,” and worry about immigration and gender–but not worry about extreme wealth.
It sounds like somebody is using a lot of money to play a very obvious sleight of hand.
The professor is Matthew Goodwin. He is one of the intellectual stars of “anti-woke” thought. He has a new book out promoting his ideas, and it is getting lots of coverage in the right-wing media, including GB News.
Goodwin argues that Britain is run by a “new elite” of those with “professional, middle-class jobs in the knowledge, cultural and public-sector institutions, such as the BBC, the universities and the creative industries, which give them an immense amount of cultural power over the national conversation.”
This new elite wants to impose radical “woke” ideas about “immigration, the small boat crossings, gender, history and British identity” on normal, conservative, down-to-earth folk. The key figures in this new elite are people like Carol Vorderman and Gary Lineker.
So the real power in society is not the billionaires, the City tycoons or the corporate chief executives–it’s the football commentator and the gameshow maths whiz turned TV host.
Don’t look at the wealthy, look at Vorderman, says Goodwin. But Goodwin himself has looked to the wealthy.
In 2020 Goodwin announced he had a new job working with the Legatum Institute. That’s a think tank funded by the Legatum Group, the Dubai-based investment firm founded by New Zealand billionaire Christopher Chandler.
The Legatum Group is also the main investor in GB News, which regularly hosts and promotes Goodwin.
Chandler made his fortune investing in “emerging markets” in “times of political and economic uncertainty” including the 1990s Russian privatisations. Now he bases his international investment firm in Dubai, a low-tax, low-regulation location.
The idea that Chandler, based outside Britain, with no known involvement with TV, should suddenly become interested in a TV station promoting “patriotic” and socially conservative ideas, and backing an academic who puts some polish on these crude bigoted themes, seems odd.
And if you look hard at what the Legatum Institute has been interested in over the longer term, it is what it calls economic “prosperity” to be achieved by “deregulated labour and financial markets, controlled public spending and privatised state industries” and of course “low taxation.”
Legatum made its turn to promoting anti-woke and socially conservative ideas much more recently.
It seems very likely that it made a simple calculation that, in the long period of stagnation after the financial crash, Thatcherite economics were not popular enough, so it would try to pump up conservative thought with extra doses of “patriotism,” anti-immigrant sentiment, panics about sex and sexuality, and so on.
Basically, a rich guy from abroad paid for a British TV station and a British academic to promote worries about poor people from abroad.
Goodwin has also seemed to “follow the money.” He started out writing about right-wing populist anti-immigrant movements as something to be opposed to; now he basically says they are correct. In the process, he has found a market for his work.
In 2020 he announced he would get a new job at the Legatum think tank, working for them through 2021. He seems to have changed his mind and become embarrassed about the direct Legatum connection.
Some time last year all mention of the new job ceased. Legatum has been erasing all mention of Goodwin’s work for it and he has stuck with his University of Kent job.
Of course, Legatum is not the only international billionaire group interested in promoting nationalist thought. As well as his stint on GB News, Goodwin’s book was promoted with two columns in the Sun (unusual for an academic book)–from which I took the quotes above.
The Sun is owned by Australian turned U.S. citizen and billionaire Rupert Murdoch. He’s spent years promoting free-market economics and anti-welfare, anti-union, anti-taxes-on-the-rich policies.
But Murdoch has also always dressed up his Thatcherite economics in the Sun with what are now called “culture war” themes.
Former Sun editor David Yelland says he was “paid to lash out and attack” by Murdoch, to “pick out people the country could judge to make us all feel better.” Goodwin’s formula fits Murdoch’s trick quite nicely.
Goodwin’s arguments are a familiar theme on the right. Corrupt U.S. president Richard Nixon liked to talk about the “silent majority” of blue-collar Americans who didn’t like anti-war or black protesters.
His equally corrupt vice-president Spiro Agnew pushed the theme of an elite of “liberal intellectuals” who would “weaken and erode the very fibre of America.”
Like Goodwin, Agnew put TV presenters in this “elite,” calling them “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterise themselves as intellectuals,” spreading “a spirit of national masochism,” forcing ordinary folk to give in to radical liberal demands.
The advantage of the argument for the right is that it focuses on a row between “elite” liberals and “elite” conservatives, excluding non-elite concerns about taxes, wages and ownership. It also works because, unlike the socialist left, the “elite liberals” are easily persuaded to abandon their views.
Most obviously, far from standing up to anti-migrant propaganda, attacks on minorities and “crime crackdowns,” the current Labour leadership and its supporters in the “liberal” press have given in to or joined in with these right-wing themes.