It has been 935 days since voting closed in the Brexit referendum. Since then we have been bombarded with speculation, hyperbole, insinuation and even occasionally information about the future of the UK after 29 March 2019. With only 72 days left, are any of us any clearer on what might lie ahead?
After all the hype, is this really the week that decides the fate of the UK for generations to come? Andrew Marr, in his book, My Trade, offered some advice on reading a newspaper. He suggested that any headline ending in a question mark should be treated with extreme caution and if the answer to the question could quite reasonably be ‘no’, then it was probably best to skip the rest of the article. It has become clear that a 24-hour post-saturation news cycle, where speculation has become the norm, is uniquely incapable of dealing with a crisis without precedent. Even Peter Hennessey is struggling to find historical events that might help us navigate our way through.
As a committed member of the Labour Party (and a remainer), I have struggled to understand the Party’s position on Brexit. Even now, the call for a general election, though welcome, will not change the unpalatable reality that leaving the EU will be deeply damaging to the people of the United Kingdom. It will not be possible to leave the Union and yet retain the same benefits that are currently enjoyed by British citizens, whether they live in Brighton or Berlin. Should Labour win a snap election, it will be left in the same dilemma that currently faces Theresa May.
Whatever the outcome of tonight’s vote, one thing remains clear to me: the democratic Left must develop a vision for a globalised world. To be fair, it has tried once and failed. The Third Way project spearheaded by Clinton’s Democrats and Tony Blair’s New Labour was a valiant attempt to find a social democratic economics for the new world order. Clinton and Blair grasped - more than their respective parties - that there was a paradigm shift happening in global politics and a realignment that moved beyond the old politics of Left and Right. What they failed to grasp was that neoliberal economics with its commodification of common goods, was an ideological attempt to control the processes of globalisation rather than a product of them. In a post-communist Europe, we were all seduced by neoliberalism’s lie of TINA - There Is No Alternative - and equally captivated by our own cleverness by which we would trick the market into powering social progress. Like the bankers a decade later, hubris got the better of the Third Way and when the market bared its teeth, there was nowhere to run.
No everyone on the Left was duped by neoliberalism. The Labour Party is now in the hands of those who saw through the deception and waited around long enough to see their predictions come to pass. Ironically, they bought into the same lie peddled by the neoliberals, that global capital and globalisation are the same thing. Their antidote to the ravages of global capital is therefore the same as those emerging on the Right: protectionism. For the Right, this is a return to familiar ground and can easily be wrapped in a flag and forms of nationalism that are hard to distinguish from xenophobia and outright racism. For the Left, it comes in the form of state aid and interventions in the market to protect wages and manufacture and the need to control capital flows. Neither narrative works for the world in which we now live, which is why both main parties struggle to come up with policies about migration or climate change, two of the greatest challenges of globalisation that demand global responses. We may laugh at Donald Trump’s wall, but the idea that the UK can, alone, build virtual barriers to migrants or imports is just as ludicrous.
I want to see Labour, as a democratic socialist party, embracing the reality of globalisation in order to promote the positives and fight the negatives. Here are three examples of policies that might flow from a vision of the world that is more peaceful, united, sustainable and fair:
A Global Minimum Wage - We talk about making work pay and ensuring the dignity and protection of workers, but limit this to the UK. When 3 billion people still survive on less than US$2.50 per day, with many of them manufacturing clothes and goods for the consumers of the Global North, the catalyst for economic migration remains. Global capital wants to pit the poor against the poor, with manufacturing jobs in the West being undercut by cheap labour in the South. When workers in Europe and the US see jobs shipped overseas, they blame low-paid workers, when their anger should be directed at exploitative businesses. A concerted effort to use the power of regional and global institutions, as well as pressure on multinational companies, to pay a fair wage to workers, wherever they live, is both achievable and socialist. Our solidarity cannot simply be national in scope.
Care for the Carers - this is an idea from Tim Jackson in his book, Prosperity without Growth. He argues that, whilst many jobs are mobile in the global economy, many are not. Instead of railing against the outsourcing of manufacture or call-centre work, those of us in the Global North should focus on making those jobs that cannot be outsourced as dignified and sustainable as possible. He highlights the growing care sector among a population that is increasingly aged and the need for high quality care for people who suffer from diseases of age, including Alzheimer’s. Why is it that most of these jobs are minimum wage? If we made these jobs more attractive through higher wages, training and status, not only would the quality of care improve, but the take take would also increase. Because carers have to be resident in the UK, for instance, they would be spending into the local economy and thus is created a virtuous circle.
A Carbon Tax and Tax Credit Scheme - whilst I am not hugely in favour of hypothecated taxes, helping the average person to understand how much their actions are contributing to climate change is absolutely essential to bring about the kind of behavioural changes needed to protect the planet from catastrophic damage. This could begin in simple ways with fossils fuel purchases and be a part of the tax take from purchases, replacing the price escalator. Food miles could be used to calculate the carbon cost of food, with unseasonal produce becoming more expensive. And taxpayers could be encouraged to offset their carbon production through giving to or volunteering on environmental projects, receiving tax relief on energy reduction schemes, or investing in Green ISAs to be used to invest in environmental innovation.
The Left cannot win the battle against Global Capital by mitigating its worst excesses. It is an ideology that can only be defeated by recognising it as such, and developing an alternative vision that seeks a common good that is global in scale.