Simon Kuper in FT:
About four years ago, George Soros began to focus on Europe’s white working class. This was a new departure for him: in Europe, his liberal Open Society Foundations tended to study and advocate for ethnic minorities. But Soros thought the white working classes had a lot in common with European Muslims: they were mostly poor, they suffered discrimination because of the way they looked and dressed, and their voices were seldom heard.
The financier’s sympathies might surprise some in the white working class. After all, Soros featured in Donald Trump’s final campaign ad — alongside other prominent Jews in finance — as one of “these people that don’t have your good in mind”. And yet Soros’s OSF commissioned studies of six white working-class neighbourhoods around western Europe. This was groundbreaking research. The OSF believes its report on Lyonwas “the only empirical study on the majority population that has been conducted in France”. (Disclosure: as a paid sub-board member of OSF at the time, I was involved in the studies.)
Today, the white working classes aren’t forgotten any more. Mainstream parties are now desperate to win them back from populists. The OSF research suggests how this could be done.
Before visiting the neighbourhoods we studied in Manchester and Lyon, I hadn’t realised just how much the white working classes are mocked. They are called “chavs” in Britain, “white trash” in the US and, sometimes, “beaufs” (“oiks”) in France. “Poverty porn” TV shows make fun of supposedly lazy, half-witted, track-suited scroungers. Many poorer whites complain that the “elite” care about ethnic minorities and gay people, but not about them.
No wonder, because their states had often abandoned them. The people I met in Manchester lacked decent public transport, childcare, elder care and mental-health care (a particular issue for the poor). They distrusted the police. They had “zero-hours contracts” or did agency work, with no guaranteed salary. In weeks when they earned little, they had to fill in complicated forms at the benefits office, and hope for help. Some didn’t send their children to university because they couldn’t afford the living expenses. People in Lyon told me they feared ending up on the streets — an outcome they saw as entirely possible.