A Year of Protest and Trial: The Saeculum Review of 2019

(L-R Clockwise) Trump’s Impeachment; Maya Forstater’s Trial; Hong Kong Protests; An Extinction Rebellion Sticker; UK Government’s Get Ready for Brexit Notice; Polling Station for the 2019 General Election

Here is my review of four of the biggest events that happened in 2019.

1. Climate Activism

2019 saw the issue of the climate rise to the forefront of UK politics in a major way.

Of course, it had been there throughout the decade in election manifestoes and government policy.

But I think it’s fair to say that 2019 brought with it a more vocal, more active set of actors on the environmental scene.

The most vocal of the climate activist protest groups was Extinction Rebellion who called for the UK parliament to accept that the globe is facing a climate emergency. “The Truth”, as ER see it, is that we are on the brink of a mass extinction.

Among their demands are for the government to recognise this emergency, and, in light of it, to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 (a mere 5 years from now).

Foremost among the climate protest movements was the now-famous, teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. This unlikely hero projected herself to fame by leading and inspiring waves of young protesters across the globe to take to the streets on Fridays. One of the moments of the year was her impassioned speech before the UN Climate Action Summit, in which she levelled her frustration and anger at the inaction of world leaders.

Let me begin with what I take to be the positives from the climate activist movements in the UK.

We need to acknowledge that we are in a significant period when it comes to our future as a planet. Just have a read of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Global Warming and you’ll see what I mean. When it comes to climate activists, more specifically, there is a fearlessness and a desire to tell the truth regardless of how horrific it appears. I find that impulse brave and commendable (even if I disagree with the 2025 target that is being proclaimed).

At the same time, the ER movement has not taken enough care both in terms of the claims it has made and the means by which it seeks to achieve its ends. This is a movement that has, frankly, overstretched itself.

Let’s start with its methods.

This is a movement that has frequently employed questionable means to meet its ends.

I found this out personally over the Summer. Bus routes were not operational due to the protests resulting in tube stations filling to the brim. Faced with no other choice, I taxi’d across town.

I also object to the endangering of people’s lives through trespassing onto airport run ways or using drones to prevent aircraft from flying. And the disruption of public transport, as we saw in Canning Town, was just nonsensical to say the least.

Disruption to major producers of fossil fuels, I can at least understand, even be sympathetic towards. But to obstruct the lives of ordinary citizens (sometimes with tragic results) doesn’t induce my sympathy. To be quite honest, and I know others that I have read and spoken with with feel similarly, it can induce the opposite.

All of this might be excusable if we were facing imminent death. In fact, one would have to applaud ER for its consistency—faced with global mass extinction, the least we could do is endure a bit of mild discomfort to our daily consumption, a scaling-back to our ordinary travel habits, right?

Except, we aren’t.

Which takes us back to to that crucial IPCC Report. Full disclosure: I am not a climate scientist. But I trust this report. It represents an international consensus of expert climate scientists. Importantly, it advises that governments seek to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments (Oct 2018)

So, we are in a crucial period. But we aren’t facing the apocalyptic doom promised by ER and others. As David Aaronovitch has put it,

Some people, of course, get off on hellfire. But it can frighten or alienate more than it energises. So when we look at what Thunberg claims and compare it with what we know of the science of climate change, we have to conclude that she exaggerates.

Most importantly, and as Peter Franklin has argued, we need to begin discussing solutions. More to the point, we need to start discussing realistic, economically sustainable ways of reducing our carbon emissions. William Hague has compiled a list which will be required reading for policy-makers

We also need to acknowledge that progress is being made. 2019 was the year the UK started producing more renewable energy than fossil fuels.

We’re still far off our 2050 target, though. And so we can’t get complacent. And when it comes to the environment, let that be the lesson we take into the 2020s.

Key Articles

  1. IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments
  2. Ed West, Why Conservatives Should Capture the Green Movement, Unherd
  3. David Aaronovitch, The disturbing spectacle of Greta the Great, The Times
  4. Peter Franklin, Greens Need to Start Talking Solutions, Unherd
  5. William Hague, The time for denial is over. Conservatives have to take the climate crisis seriously, The Telegraph
  6. Simon Evans, Analysis: UK renewables generate more electricity than fossil fuels for first time, Carbon Brief

2. The Brexit Election and The Re-Alignment of British Politics

On the Brexit front, 2019 seemed to drag on and on without much resolution.

We had a serious of Meaningful Votes on May’s deal. In the first, May faced the largest ever defeat inflicted on a government. Two further defeats followed along with two votes of confidence. May held on both times. Steely resilience characterised her premiership (and, as Matthew Goodwin has argued, her contribution to Johnson’s win in 2019 should not be downplayed).

Fast-forward to the end of October (a lot happened in between of course–May finally stood down, Boris Johnson won the leadership race, faced a series of parliamentary defeats, moved for parliament to be suspended, successfully got a new deal) and we faced a Christmas (or Advent?) Election.

The results were persuasive (at least as far as England was concerned). Johnson got his “stonking majority” and with it the largest Conservative majority since 1987. Labour crumbled, and nowhere more so than in the northern heartlands. You can read more about that important election night, here.

What I want to dwell on, though, is the fact that this election represents a re-alignment of British politics. As Matthew Goodwin, David Goodhart and others have argued, the Conservatives skilfully read the public mood which, in general, leans slightly left on economics and slightly right on issues of culture.

What it means to lean left on economics is fairly transparent; a commitment to public spending on NHS and the various components that make up the safety net of the welfare state.

The meaning of “leaning right” on culture is less apparent. Cultural conservatism doesn’t equate to Victorian social mores, or an illiberal backlash in terms of civil liberties and freedom of choice.

In fact, both assumptions unhelpfully conflate social conservatism and cultural conservatism. Peter Franklin helpfully distinguishes between them in this way:

social conservatism concerns matters of personal responsibility, while cultural conservatism concerns matters of collective identity — i.e. the former is about behaviour and the latter about belonging.

On social matters, most would agree that each individual is deserving of fair and equal treatment, irrespective of their race, sex or sexual orientation. As Matt Singh points out,

on the specifics, there are points where reasonable, non-bigoted people disagree. Besides the prioritisation there’s the question of what equality means in practice (is that formulation racist, is that advert sexist, and so on), to what extent equality has or hasn’t been achieved, what (more) should be done to achieve it, what happens when the interests of different protected groups conflict, and so on.

Leaning right on culture is similarly nuanced. It often constitutes not a resistance to change but a desire for a slower pace of change. On immigration, to take one issue of culture, this is not a drawing up of the drawbridges, but a plea for a system that takes greater care as to who enters one’s borders with a view to limiting the number of people that do.

The 2019 General Election resulted in an emphatic victory for those who lean right on culture.

One of things this means moving forward is the need for bridge figures on the (cultural) left and the (cultural) right. From personal conversations with those on the cultural and social left, I sense that it is important for those who are culturally right to assure the socially left that we will not be witnessing a backlash against hard-fought civil liberties for minorities. How one acts when in power is absolutely key, here. And the burden lies with those in the political ascendancy to offer important assurances in this regard.

With the cultural and social left, on the other hand, what is required is a greater attentiveness to the trends that have got us to where we are as a nation, and careful consideration of the nuances of the positions of those who have voted differently.

What 2019 (and the three or four years previous to it) have shown us is that issues of culture and belonging urgently require discussion. So far, we have as a nation collectively flunked this test. But there is still the distinct possibility of rapprochement. Conversations across difference are difficult, but the alternative—bitter division—is far worse.

Key Articles

  1. Matthew Goodwin, Nine lessons from the election: Boris was lucky – but he also played his hand right, The Spectator
  2. Matthew Goodwin, Why Labour Lost, Triggernometry Podcast
  3. Peter Franklin, Three Myths About Social Conservatives, Unherd
  4. Matt Singh, What does shifting right on culture actually mean? , CapX (the matters Singh considers to be ones of “culture” are better read as “social” issues, under Franklin’s definition).

3. The Maya Forstater Trial

2019 was, as far as I can remember, the year that the transgender debate came to my attention.

I first became aware of the issue when noticing trans women’s presence in women sports (I suspect that sports is the entry point into the issue for many men). I was and am persuaded by the evidence (see, for a start, here and here) showing that even with hormonal treatment, men who transition to become women possess a variety of advantages that come from the skeleton as shaped at puberty. I fully expect this issue will be one that is discussed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Beyond sports, however, the issue has recently risen to prominence with the case of tax expert Maya Forstater, who lost her job for tweeting that a man cannot change his biological sex and for expressing her concern over self-ID law. Forstater subsequently lost her employment tribunal, after the judge ruled that her “approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

JK Rowling tweeted her support resulting in a major Twitter Storm. She also guaranteed that this is an issue that people can, and will be talking about. And for that she is to be applauded.

At this point, I won’t comment any further, except to say this: the problem isn’t in Forstater’s assertion of biological reality (which seems so obvious as to be banal). Rather the problem, as I see it, lies in arbitrary, erroneous and harmful gender stereotypes promulgated and perpetuated by those on the Petersonian right and the trans-activist left. 

Or, as former Olympic athlete Sharron Davies, more positively puts it:

“Whereas gender today is a social construct, an ideology, a feeling, totally changeable, I believe we cannot change sex but can live happily expressing ourselves outside of any stereotypes.”

Key Articles

  1. Sarah Hilton, A Woman’s Place is on the Podium, A Woman’s Place UK
  2. Tom Chivers, Of Course Biological Reality Exists, Unherd.
  3. Ross Tucker, On Transgender athletes and performance advantages, SportsScientists
  4. Is it fair to allow transwomen to compete in female sport?, Fair Play for Women
  5. David Brown, Maya Forstater: I’ve been abused for my beliefs about trans people, The Times
  6. Maya Forstater, I Lost My Job For Speaking Up About Women’s Rights, Medium.
  7. James Kirkup, In just a few words, JK Rowling has changed the transgender debate, The Spectator.

4. The Impeachment Trial

Objective reality not only took a hit on the issue of biological sex. Donald Trump, a man who has endowed us with phrases like “fake news”, is on trial for requesting a probe into Democratic Presidential nominee, Joe Biden from Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky (in return offering him a state visit to Washington).

My take on the whole issue is that Trump appears to have well overstepped the boundaries of his office. Whether that constitutes an impeachable offence will obviously be a matter for the Congress. So far, the House has ruled in favour of impeachment. An overall positive impeachment verdict looks extremely unlikely, however, as the Republican controlled Senate looks set to vote against it sometime in early 2020. With this is mind, the Democrats would do best to reflect on how they might go about winning the hearts and minds of Trump voters ahead of November 5th.

More significant for the Saeculum, is the response of Christian leaders to the Trump impeachment trial. Mark Galli, editor of the evangelical periodical Christianity Today boldly and measuredly called for Trump to be removed from office, either by impeachment or electorally.

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

Mark Galli

The response from Trump was swift and revealing. Christianity Today was branded a “far left” periodical. “They would rather a radical left non-believer who wants to take away your religion and your guns”. The President’s reference to “your religion” was, I thought, chilling.

The response from Trump-supporting evangelicals was yet more revealing. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham (a founder of the journal) and hardline Trump supporter, revealed that his father had, in fact, voted for Trump. The very thing Galli had warned evangelical leaders of—the uncritical hitching of the evangelical wagon to that of the Trump administration—was playing out before us.

As Tim Costello of the Australian-based, Centre for Public Christianity notes, “the burning question is, does faith shape one’s politics or does politics capture and determine one’s faith?”

None of this is to deny that Trump has achieved important domestic and foreign policy objectives—his tough stance on China, to take just one example, is admirable and has proven effective so far. To fail to grant that Trump has scored some important victories for, among other things, the US economy and religious freedom is to be severely unbalanced in judgment.

What I find most disconcerting, however, is the uncritical support “rendered” to Trump by the leaders of the evangelical churches in the States. To fail to even feel even a twinge of inner conflict about the character of President Trump is to be equally unbalanced in judgment.

As Mike Bird puts it, such an ideology—such a Trumpology—is lamentable indeed

because it presents a God with partisan mercy, who expects men and women to ignore their moral compasses, to call the wicked good and the good wicked, in order to keep themselves positioned in the court of earthly power.

Key Articles

  1. Andrew Buncombe, Trump ‘asked former Ukraine president to announce Biden investigation in exchange for state visit’, The Independent.
  2. Tim Costello, Can Christian faith be independent of politics? , The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).
  3. Mark Galli, Trump Should be Removed From Office, Christianity Today.
  4. Mike Bird, Trump, Grudem and Hermeneutics, Patheos.

The Ten Best Podcast Episodes of 2019

Here is my list of the ten best podcast episodes from 2019. You can also read my list of the three podcasts you should listen to in 2020 here.

1. Triggernometry- Matthew Goodwin: Why Labour Lost the Election

This remains simply the best analysis of the General Election (as well as the last 15 years of British politics). Goodwin lectures on political science at the University of Kent and has made a career out of understanding populist movements in Europe. He pretty much predicted the re-alignment that we saw in this month’s election result back in 2014.

Goodwin is another of these bridge voices I mentioned above who understand that most Britons lean a little bit left on economics and a little bit right on issues of culture. His a voice that those on the liberal left ignore at their peril.

2. Confessions – Roger Scruton: Faith, Family and Finding Conservatism

Roger Scruton discusses his turn to conservatism after the riots in France in 1968, his views on family, Islam and faith. Ever found yourself asking, how the conservative impulse to…well, conserve, reconciles itself to capitalism, the greatest agent of change the modern world has seen? Thankfully Giles Fraser poses this question and the conversation that ensues is fascinating.

3. The Holy Political Pod- Jamie Smith’s lecture to Christians in Parliament

The Holy Political Pod posted infrequently in 2019, but their interviews were impactful and always peppered with good humour. I am cheating slightly here as this episode was actually from December 2018. But it was so good that I want to flag it up here.

In his lecture to CiP, James KA Smith provides his quintessentially compelling and realistic framework for the political life as Christians. Christians are called to avoid “living ahead of time”, steering clear of the utopias of the left and the right. He also speaks of the local church as the imagination station where we have our hearts shaped by the liturgical rhythms of the church calendar. Powerful stuff.

Smith has in many ways provided the underpinning for how I think about politics, as you’ll see from my introductory post here.

Incidentally, the Holy Political pod also featured insightful conversations with a panel of experts on religious persecution as well as a variety of interviews with public Christians in the UK. They appear to have taken a hiatus, but I hope they make a return in 2020.

4. The Sacred- Teresa Bejan

How can we improve the tone of our public conversations surrounding the controversial issues of our day? Listen to Elizabeth Oldfield’s The Sacred to find out.

In The Sacred, Elizabeth Oldfield models a way for us to improve the state of our public conversations through examining the sacred values that drive our lives.

As with the one above, this episode actually comes from 2018, though I have listened and re-listened to it in 2019. Moreover, because it so nicely overlaps with the aims of the Saeculum—where I seek to draw critically on the past as a rich resource for thinking through our common life in the present—I want to share it here.

In the episode, Teresa Bejan, historian at Oriel College, Oxford, provides us with a fascinating and extremely useful case-study (in the form of seventeenth century Puritan Roger Williams) for approaching contemporary debates around civility, religious freedom and dissent.

5. Triggernometry- Melissa Chen : US vs. China is the New Cold War

Melissa Chen explores the New Cold War that increasingly appears to be defining our age—the conflict between the Pax Americana and the Pax Sinaitica. Hong Kong and the NBA make an appearance in this enlightening interview. A clearer orientation to China and its relationship to the West you will struggle to find.

6. Onscript- John Behr on Origen and the Early Church (Part 1 and Part 2)

“My wife used to ask me, where would I put the different church fathers on a football team? Irenaeus would be in defence, Dionysius out on left field somewhere. But Origen was the schoolboy who picked up the ball and ran with it. He invented the game of rugby. He got kicked off the team but everybody played rugby thereafter”. Join John Behr on a journey to third century Alexandria where Origen re-defined the way we think about the Christian scriptures.

7. Undeceptions- Teresa Morgan: Moral Classics

How did Christian ethics compare with the ethics of Roman-era Greeks and Romans? Teresa Morgan, one of the world’s leading classicists, leads you on a fascinating tour of moral literature and charts Christianity’s place in the ethical universe of the ancient world. In doing so, we come to see Christianity’s contribution to the world as we now know it.

8. Uncommon Knowledge- Jimmy Lai and the Fight for Freedom in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai’s impassioned 3 minute speech at the beginning of his conversation with Peter Robinson is a bombshell (honestly, if you don’t listen to the rest of it, just listen to this, or read it here). China isn’t apologising off for asserting its values, Lai rightly contends. Nor should the West. This is a speech I’ll be pondering for a while yet.

9. GodpodEpisode 135

One of the podcasts I hope to listen to more of in 2020 is the GodPod. Cohosts Jane Williams, Graham Tomlin and Michael Lloyd entertain you with profound and frequently humorous discussions concerning the big topics facing the church and society. This episode provided me with some of the vocabulary I had been looking for to describe the problematic attitudes I had come across towards theology in the charismatic traditions of the Church of England (traditions I have been a part of and of which I am fond). The aim of their critique is not to accuse but to inform and equip.

10. Big Boy TV- Big Boy’s interview with Kanye West

I also want to mention, in closing, the Kanye West phenomenon which took off in 2019 (Katherine Ajibade’s take helps to orient us in our thinking about religion and pop culture). West launched Sunday Services and then released his new album, Jesus is King. In his interview with Big Boy, Kanye was in turns inspiring, frustrating and bizarre. The conversation covered his new album, in which he is as demonstrative has he has ever been about his Christian faith, as well as his relationship to African-American culture, wealth and Donald Trump.

West’s interview with Big Boy had me both nodding in agreement and not infrequently raising an eyebrow in bemusement.

For my money, the best discussion of Kanye’s new album still remains Nathan Mladin’s which is honest in its bewilderment whilst still remaining hopeful about the good that already has and might still yet come about through Kanye’s story.

2019 General Election Results Review: The Big Picture and Four Take Aways

The party leaders for the 2019 General Election (Image Credit: Bloomberg)

The 2019 General Election has come and gone and my oh my was it a seismic one!

In the months leading up to the vote, most polls were steadily forecasting a Conservative Majority. But then a day or so before the vote, YouGov published its MPR poll showing that while a Conservative majority was likely, a hung parliament was within the margin of error.

The exit poll swiftly put paid to that. As the clock struck 10, an 80 seat majority was forecasted with Conservatives taking 364 seats.

Then the results came in, thick and fast, with traditional Labour seats one by one turning blue. It was staggering to watch. Labour heartlands in the north east England yielded Conservative seats, many for the first time in 50, 60 even 70 years…and some for the first time ever. An emotional Ian Levy, the new Conservative MP for the former mining community of Blythe Valley, scarcely seemed to believe that he had won as he delivered his victory speech.

By dawn the results were there for all to see: Conservatives with 365 seats, Labour with 203.

The scale of the victory is breath-taking. The largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. The worst Labour performance in terms of haul of seats since the Second World War (oustripping Michael Foot’s 209 seats in 1983). Lewis Baston has rightly referred to it as a landslide.

But what are we to make of all this?

Here are my four big take-aways from the 2019 UK General Election.

1. An End to the Parliamentary Gridlock

First of all, with a Conservative majority in the House of Commons we have an end to the deadlock that has plagued Brexit negotiations the past three and a half years.

Throughout the campaign, three words dominated the Conservative airwaves: “Get Brexit done”. A poll by Unherd suggests that these were the three words that won the election.

We asked a representative sample of 2,000 voters on the day of the election how they had voted and why. Of those who said they voted Conservative, 85% put ‘to get Brexit done’ in their top three reasons. That was also the choice of almost nine in 10 of the people who voted Conservative for the first time yesterday.

James Johnson, Unherd

To be sure, there remains a heck of a lot of work to be done for Boris Johnson and his MPs “to get Brexit done”.

But there is now light at the end of the tunnel after months, years even, of uncertainty. And Johnson appears to be wasting no time, holding a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week which will secure the UK’s exit on 31st January. That of course is only the beginning. We then have the transition period during which parliament will thrash out (or square the circle of?) a variety of complex post-Brexit issues, including most prominently, the Irish border and a trade agreement.

Crucially, though, with the mandate this election has brought, there is finally some much needed clarity about our fate vis-a-vis the EU.

2. Corbyn Defeated and the Hope of a Credible Leader of the Opposition

Perhaps the biggest story of the night was the Conservative gain of stronghold Labour seats, particularly in the Northeast of the country (as this graphic makes clear). Commentators spoke of a “red wall” falling in Bishop Auckland, Durham North West, Sedgefield (Tony Blair’s old seat) Darlington, Stockton South, and Redcar (which Johnson quipped had now become “Bluecar”).

As much as the promise of “getting Brexit done” seems to have worked to great effect for the Conservatives, the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn greatly aided for the Tory cause.

There was the ever-present scourge of deep anti-Semitism. Then the betrayal of Labour Leave voters with the promise of a Second Referendum.

The most revealing moment of the night came as Alan Johnson berated Jon Lansman, the head of Momentum (the Corbyn pressure group within Labour), for turning his back on the working class voters who voted Leave. It is a must watch.

The results in the Northeast raise the question: was this election more of a victory for the Conservatives or a loss Labour? A YouGov poll suggests that the general population perceives the result as more of a Labour loss (51%) than a Conservative victory (37%). It is a question that will continue to be asked and pondered in the months and years to come.

For my part, I hope that Labour think long and hard about who their next leader will be. Corbyn was simply toxic for vast swathes of the population and it is a wonder Labour stuck by him for so long. Moving forward, Britain will need a credible opposition to hold the government to account. This election has hastened that process.

3. The Union Looks in Doubt

While the reality of Brexit is now a certainty, big questions have been raised about the state of the Union. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in nationalist parties in large numbers.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) swept Scotland, taking 48 of a possible 59 seats and claiming 45% of the share of the vote. In line with her party’s manifesto, Nicola Sturgeon has already called for an IndyRef2, severely testing the unionist credentials of the PM.

Across the Irish Sea, there were changes in Northern Ireland as nationalists made gains and unionists lost seats. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (moderate nationalists) earned two seats while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost two of their own including, most notably, that of Nigel Dodds, their deputy leader. Talk of an Irish independence referendum looms, even as the status of Northern Ireland’s relationship to the UK in Brexit negotiations remains uncertain.

I will admit to the state of the Union being my greatest source of anxiety stemming from this election. A crucial year or two lies ahead.

4. The Great Realignment of British Politics

Perhaps most significantly of all, though, the results of this election signal a seismic shift in the way we map British politics. The Blue Dawn in the northeast shows this realignment in particularly clear terms. Kent-based political scientist Matthew Goodwin has neatly summed up this shift as being “left-wing economically” and “broadly conservative socially”.

Goodwin puts it this way:

This realignment-of-sorts will, in itself, raise important questions. How will Johnson, an instinctive social and economic liberal, appease and retain voters who instinctively lean a little Left on the economy and a little Right on culture? Reflected in our changing political geography is a new Conservative electorate that will be looking not only for a meaningful break from the European Union, a tougher stance on crime, reform of immigration and a general slowing of the pace of change but also a more interventionist or even protectionist economic regime. Boris Johnson might be about to inherit a Conservative electorate of whom 86% want to see immigration reduced and 40% rail renationalised.

Matthew Goodwin

In the eyes of many, Johnson appears to have squared this circle. His victory speech (bar the odd reference to anti-socialism) appeared conciliatory, magnanimous, even at points humble. He recognised that many would have voted for him for the first time. That many of them were Labour voters. Then, in his speech outside Downing Street, he spoke of the need to heal as a nation and his willingness to listen to those who felt an affinity to the EU.

So Johnson seems to tapping into something here. Here’s Goodwin again:

Johnson and his team are clearly aware of the dilemma. They already stand a little to the Left of where David Cameron and George Osborne were, revealing how it is the centre-right, and not the centre-left, that has a stronger grasp of where most voters instinctively are. Those who have spent recent months shrieking about Johnson’s desire to build a ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ — a libertarian settlement fixated with deregulation and financial services — are today struggling to make sense of a Conservative manifesto that advocates higher public spending, a higher minimum wage, more money for the National Health Service, more money for infrastructure, more redistribution, more action on regional inequality, state aid for failing businesses and a buy-British procurement policy.

If Goodwin is right, and we are seeing a shift that is “left-wing economically” and “right-wing socially”, then this has some significant implications. Perhaps most importantly of all, this election suggests that those that live in places that are (or would describe themselves as) “liberal left”—socially liberal and economically liberal, or free-market—need to wake up to the fact that they are at odds with the pervading ethos of the country.

Whether or not we agree with this trajectory, we first of all need to acknowledge its explanatory power and seek to understand it. Judging by my social media feed, and the number of conversations I have had today with people in Cambridge, I’m not sure that many people have woken up. In the anger and hurt, the results are hastily blamed on racism and xenophobia. The urgency of stepping back, asking questions, getting out of our bubbles has never been more pressing.

In the wake of the EU referendum, many of us have had to “wake up” to the prevailing sense of public opinion. I know I’ve had to wake up.

This doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with the public opinion; what it does mean is trying to understand it so as to better engage with it.

My own story is that this process has been one of transformation and richness.

As the dust settles, I am cautiously optimistic. There are big opportunities and dangers ahead. We will need all the critical powers, all the grace at our disposal to meet these head-on, together.