I've talked before about how the big cities that, at present, drive economic growth, act to exclude people. Or, to put it another way, prevent people from being anything other than 21st century peons trapped in small, crowded apartments that eat up £4 in every £10 they're paid. And worse, unlike the past's rural peons, these new urban serfs cannot settle, opt out of having a family and live a sort of 'kidult' existence that is filled with ultimately unfulfilling fun.
The problem is that, when people travel away from the city so as to have a stake in the nation, settle down and raise a family, they find is difficult to maintain the work they had before and quickly discover that (outside the specially privileged world of public sector professionals) the opportunities in affordable places aren't there. This brings me to this quotation from French geographer, Christopher Guilluy:
All the growth and dynamism is in the major cities, but people cannot just move there. The cities are inaccessible, particularly thanks to mounting housing costs. The big cities today are like medieval citadels. It is like we are going back to the city-states of the Middle Ages. Funnily enough, Paris is going to start charging people for entry, just like the excise duties you used to have to pay to enter a town in the Middle Ages.Guilluy uses this, in part, to explain the "gilets jaunes" protests in France but also transfers the effect elsewhere - to the UK's Brexit vote, to the election of Donald Trump, and to the new Italian government. While, Guilluy speaks most commonly of the working class, it's clear that the protest movements (whether on the streets as in France or in the voting booth as in Italy) extend to a wider group of those excluded from what I once called "The Great City of the West":
There's no actual reason, other than our sociable nature, for us to live in those 'Great Cities of the West'. Indeed, they're filled with untypical humans. There are the brave few who upped sticks and travelled thousands of miles to live poor quality lives on the fringes of the gleaming, sparkly city hoping for a lucky chance. We've the fortunate beneficiaries of inheritance or beauty who can skim across the surface of the city enjoying its lights and pleasures while affording the means to avoid its darkness. And there's a vast mass of clever, skilled, hard-working people who turn the wheels of the city's economy but can't get a stake in the city, can't find the means to settle and have a family, and who justify this on the basis that they can get to see the beauties in their plays, galleries and stadiums.Out in the provinces - sneered at by the grand city folk - there's a different culture emerging. In part this is fuelled by anger at the denial of opportunities but it is also about the reforming of community and of a hope that politics will bring the cities to their senses and allow the idea of an inclusive democracy back into our culture. Meanwhile the wealthy elite call for the over 75s to have their vote removed or for people to have to take a test to earn the right to vote - the desire is to exclude the less educated, the old, the working class from power, to return us - in the name of progressive politics - to a world before the extension of the franchise to workers in 1918.
Just as, before the trade unions and their socialist and social democrat party offspring, workers lacked a voice, today people in small town England, in la France périphérique, rust belt USA and Italy's crumbling industrial cities lack a voice. Yes they are working class but it is broader than this, as Guilluy describes:
They tend to be people in work, but who don’t earn very much, between 1000€ and 2000€ per month. Some of them are very poor if they are unemployed. Others were once middle-class. What they all have in common is that they live in areas where there is hardly any work left. They know that even if they have a job today, they could lose it tomorrow and they won’t find anything else.If the establishments of the west want to avoid upheaval, they need to find a way to respect - listen to, heed - the voice of these people. Above all we need to stop patronising them as the "left behind" or worse and to realise that the great cities of the west will need them. The great and good must stop making the city such a barrier to having a real, cash stake in society.