Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Professors, Power and Projection: the Case of Matthew Goodwin

Martin Shaw looks at Goodwin’s new book and its claims that Britain is run by a ‘woke’ new elite

Matthew Goodwin. Photo: Pako Mera/Alamy

Professors, Power & Projection: the Case of Matthew Goodwin

Martin Shaw looks at Goodwin’s new book and its claims that Britain is run by a ‘woke’ new elite

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

I was tempted to deny Matthew Goodwin’s much-hyped new book the oxygen of further publicity. Nearly five years ago, when I reviewed his last work, National Populism, it was already clear that here was a ‘populist academic’ in a double sense: a professor using his scholarly credentials to normalise right-wing anti-immigration politics and also shamelessly promoting himself. 

I homed in on how Goodwin scooped up mundane concerns about the changing ethnic balance of the population and hyped them as the “destruction” of the British national group’s identity and way of life. This rang alarm bells for me as a scholar of mass violence, because group ‘destruction’ is the definition of genocide and Goodwin’s collaborator Eric Kaufmann had just published a book arguing that we should take extreme-right claims of “white genocide” seriously.

Although Goodwin didn’t make this argument explicit, he seemed to be pointing in the same direction.

The other thing that struck me was that “Destruction” was capitalised. Goodwin had twisted his argument into this category partly to fit a simplistic presentational device – he had four themes and the other three were Distrust, Deprivation and Dealignment.

So I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that his new book is called Values, Voice and Virtue. No, I didn’t know what that meant, either. But it certainly alliterates.

What Goodwin wants you to take home from VVV, as he has made clear in media outings (including in the Guardian and on Novara Media) is that Britain has a New Liberal Elite or even “ruling class” and – you guessed it – it’s “Woke”. Somehow, without the fuddy-duddy ‘old elite’ of aristocrats and industrialists even noticing, a new all-powerful liberal elite has taken over. 

Don’t miss a story

Although this is supposed to have been a long historical process (others are chastised for focusing on short-term factors), it seems to have passed Goodwin himself by until very recently.

A “new liberal elite” didn’t even figure in National Populism, when all he had to say was that “the elite” – presumably the old one – had got rather “insular” and distant from the majority of the population. And of course, five years ago, he didn’t even know the word “woke”.

Critics have pointed out that liberals are not actually in power – but that hardly matters to Matthew Goodwin. They all went to universities (he’s supposed to be a professor, so he must know what he’s talking about) and they’re imposing their values on the poor, defenceless people who didn’t; denying them a voice and claiming a monopoly of virtue.

I’m not going to dissect all 239 pages of VVV – since it’s even more of a mishmash than Goodwin’s last outing but even less of a coherent argument. After years of mainly co-authored work – a decade ago he was working with serious scholars, helping to produce some real research which I used in my book Political Racism – he’s finally gone solo and it shows.

The new book is a debasement of social-scientific elite theory.

Sixty years ago, the sociologist C. Wright Mills famously argued that a “power elite” had cohered in the United States under the auspices of the warfare state, locking the corporate, political and military elites into a single power structure while squeezing out democratic publics, replaced by a “mass society” in which the media controlled the population. Mills’ was a careful, logical and historical case – not a device for instant forays onto a precursor of Fox News.

There are superficial echoes of this approach in Goodwin’s book, but it is not seriously done.

The kernel of truth – rehashing an argument made far more carefully by Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford in Brexitland – is that the larger, university-educated element of the electorate has veered increasingly in a left-liberal direction while the non-graduate section has become more conservative. This trend is quite longstanding. In my current work on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, I’ve been reminded that sociologists identified it more than half a century ago. But the liberal elite that led the CND were no more the elite than their counterparts are today.

The Story of Brexit is the Story of EmpireWhy Did Asian Immigrants Vote to Leave the EU?

In fact, a contemporary British Mills would start with the elites that Goodwin himself is linked to: the Tufton Street ‘institute’ sponsored by the Dubai-based private investment firm Legatum, which now pays him a salary. The corporate circles to whom, as any reader of his Substack will be tired of hearing, he sells himself as an ‘expert’. The Conservative Party of Boris Johnson, for whom he became an apologist. And, of course, the insurgent radical-right UKIP/Brexit/Reform Party, which he has repeatedly hyped over the years.

An important takeaway for anyone who wonders what Goodwin is up to now is that he clearly thinks that Reform and Farage have a chance to return, given that Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ follies have squandered, as he sees it, the golden chance that Brexit gave the Conservatives. 

Do these Goodwin-linked elites together make up the real new British “power elite”? It would take a serious work like Mills’ to answer the question definitively. But there’s certainly a new clustering of the opportunistic far-right with powerful financial interests, and it’s these – especially through their signature project, Brexit – which have really edged out the “old elite” industrialists who were central to the Conservative Party in its heyday.

The ‘new liberal elite’ thesis is, therefore, a work of projection of the real elite restructuring in 2020s Britain. 

Interestingly, C. Wright Mills had something to say about people like Goodwin. The power elite also includes, he said, in its “outermost fringes… ‘those who count’ even though they may not be ‘in’ on given decisions of consequence”. At the same time, he offered a penetrating early analysis of celebrity and how it was conquering politics.

I think he’d have had quite a lot to say about a professor desperately embedding himself in the ruling circles, while saturating the media with thin, distracting, narratives about the educated professionals who are trying to keep British institutions together in the face of an erratic right-wing regime.

Martin Shaw is Research Professor at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals and Emeritus Professor of Sussex University. His most recent book isPolitical Racism: Brexit and Its Aftermath

Written by

This article was filed under
, , , , , , ,