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The Great Realignment

The traditional dividing lines of left and right are dissolving into new tribes. How will these alignments play out as we face the challenge of leaving the EU?

Is Britain facing an identity crisis? The traditional dividing lines of left and right seem to be dissolving into new political tribes – metropolitan liberals versus the culturally rooted working classes, graduates versus the uneducated, the young versus the old. In June’s general election, traditional Labour heartlands like Mansfield went Conservative, while wealthy areas such as Kensington swung to Corbyn. Britain seems utterly confused about its politics. As the far left and Eurosceptic right have gained strength, much of the country has been left feeling politically homeless.

So what’s going on? How will these new alignments play out as the country faces the historic challenge of leaving the EU and forging a new relationship with the rest of the world? Are the Conservatives really up to the job, as they bicker over what kind of Brexit they want and jostle over who should succeed Theresa May? Is it now unthinkable that Jeremy Corbyn could be the next prime minister?

Looming over the current turmoil is the biggest question of all: What kind of Britain do we want to live in? What are the values that should hold our society together?
We were joined on stage by Ken Clarke, the most senior Conservative voice in Parliament; Hilary Benn, Labour MP and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee; and Helen Lewis, deputy editor at the New Statesman and prominent voice on the left. Alongside them was David Goodhart, author of one of the most talked about analyses of post-Brexit Britain, and Anand Menon, a leading academic thinker on Britain’s fractious relations with the EU. The event was chaired by Stephen Sackur, one of the BBC’s most highly regarded journalistic heavyweights.



Stephen Sackur

Presenter of BBC World News' HARDtalk

Award-winning broadcaster and presenter of HARDtalk, BBC World News’ flagship current affairs interview programme. He has interviewed major international figures, from Al Gore to Hugo Chavez to Marine Le Pen.

Kenneth Clarke

Former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer and parliament’s longest-serving MP

Former chancellor under John Major who has also served in various Conservative governments as home secretary, Lord Chancellor and justice secretary, education secretary and health secretary. He has represented the constituency of Rushcliffe since 1970. A staunch Remainer, he was the sole Conservative MP to vote against article 50. He has written numerous books, and his memoir, A Day Like Today, was published in October 2019.

Hillary Benn

Senior Labour Party MP, Leeds Central

Senior Labour Party MP representing Leeds Central, who has served in various Labour cabinets and shadow cabinets since 2003, most recently as shadow foreign secretary. He is currently chair of the Brexit Select Committee. His speech on military intervention in Syria was described as ‘one of the truly great speeches in Commons history’.

Helen Lewis

Journalist, author and broadcaster

Staff writer on The Atlantic and former associate editor of the New Statesman. She presents The Spark on BBC Radio 4, in which she interviews radical thinkers on their solutions to the structural problems of our age and frequently appears on political comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. Her first book is Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights.  

David Goodhart

Commentator and author

Founding editor of Prospect magazine who is currently head of the Demography, Immigration and Integration Unit at the think tank Policy Exchange. His recent book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics is one of the most influential post-Brexit analyses and was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. His previous book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration was runner-up for the Orwell Prize in 2014 and was a finalist for ‘Political Book of the Year’ in the Paddy Power Political Book Awards.

Anand Menon

Director of UK in a Changing Europe

Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London, and Director of UK in a Changing Europe, an authoritative, non-partisan initiative researching the complex relationship between the UK and the European Union.