IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Topic: Political history

A Parliament hanging by a thread

📥  Political history, Political ideologies, UK politics

Back outside No10, Theresa May has confirmed that she will govern anew in the way she campaigned: obdurate, closed and controlled. The governing styles of Prime Ministers do not suddenly change, as Gavin Kelly pointed out this morning. The Prime Minister simply states her position, asserts nothing has changed, and waits for someone else to fill the void. It is relentlessly unyielding.

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A deal with the Democratic Unionist Party will give her the votes she needs to pass a Queen's Speech, assuming she pays down initial instalments on their demands and can persuade resentful and agitated Conservative backbenchers to support her. But what policy programme will underpin the Queen's Speech? The Conservative manifesto was shredded in the campaign. It cannot now form the basis of a programme for government. There will be no grammar schools, fox hunting, net migration targets, cuts to the Winter Fuel Allowance and half baked social care proposals. None of that will get through the House of Commons, let alone the Lords. The odds on an autumn election must be short. Harold Wilson managed to run a minority administration for eight months in 1974, having returned to power in circumstances far more propitious than those which accompanied Theresa May back to No10. History may not be an infallible guide, but it is the best we have to go on. The autumn also happens to be when the German federal election result will be known. That matters too.

What of Mayism, such as it is? Her Chamberlainite rhetoric always outstripped the reality of her policy agenda. The prospect of a Conservative realignment, in which Euroscepticism is detached from neoliberalism and bolted onto a One Nation interventionism of the kind historically associated with the pro-European left of the party, now looks remote.  The prospects of a "no deal" Brexit, and perhaps even the Hard Brexit agenda of leaving the EU single market and customs union, have receded. Liberal conservatives will reassert their credentials, trimming the nationalist edges of May's agenda and tilting the party's electoral strategy towards younger, urban and centrist voters (precisely the kind of calculation Boris Johnson will now be makings as he weighs up his leadership options). But Conservatism now looks ideologically stuck: unable to advance further on either its left or right wings.

Labour's dilemma is whether to align itself with the SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and Remain Conservative MPs, to support Britain staying in the single market - an EEA style Brexit. Labour did not campaign on that basis and to shift its position may reopen old wounds which have been closed up in the euphoria of the Corbyn surge. But the economic interests of its supporters will perhaps way more heavily now on Labour's calculations than concerns about free movement once did, and unless the Labour bloc of MPs in the House of Commons joins battle with the Eurosceptics, the terms of the Brexit deal cannot be shifted closer to the new centre of gravity amongst the electorate. The future of the UK also remains at stake: the problems of a hard border in Northern Ireland will now loom larger in British political calculations. Corbyn campaigned in a (certain kind of Labour left) poetry; now he must lead in prose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In what ways does gender matter for voting behaviour in GE2017?

📥  Democracy and voter preference, Political history, UK politics

Rosalind Shorrocks is Teaching Fellow in Quantitative Political Science at the University of Bath's Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies.

The Fawcett Society recently published analysis in which it claimed that there would be a ‘missing eight million’ women in the 2017 general election. To support this, they argue that 2.5% points fewer women than men say they are certain to vote in the election, and 2.5% points fewer women than men say they are registered to vote. If women were to vote in substantially lower numbers than men, this would lead to serious concerns about the representation of women in our political system, as well as raise questions as to why our political parties are putting off women.

genderballot

 

However, it would be surprising if women did, in fact, vote in substantially lower numbers than men on 8 June. The British Election Study, the highest quality post-election survey data available, shows us that in most elections women and men have voted at roughly similar rates. In fact, we have to go back to 1964 to find a statistically significant gender difference in turnout, and even then women were only 3% points less likely to vote then men. There is no reason to expect this pattern to be different in this year’s election.

Figure 1

 

So, are there any significant differences in voting behaviour between men and women in 2017? Most opinion polls conducted since the general election was called indicate small to modest gender differences in vote intention, with more men than women supporting the Conservatives, and (slightly) more women supporting Labour. Most polls also show men intending to vote for the Liberal Democrats in greater numbers than women, although the numbers are small. Data from YouGov and Panelbase highlight the age dimension in these gender differences. They show that women are more supportive of Labour than men in younger age groups, but more supportive of the Conservatives than men in older age groups. Age differences in the gender gap have been well-studied in the academic literature (see here and here).

However, the 2015 general election was the first election where we saw this specific age-by-gender pattern in Britain. The figures below show the distribution of votes by gender for those aged 25 and under, and 66 and over, in 2015. The well-known age dynamics are visible, with younger voters more supportive of Labour, and older voters more supportive of the Conservatives. Within this, there are divisions by gender. Younger women were 16.5% points more supportive of Labour than young men, and young men were 14.5% points more supportive of the Conservatives than young women. Conversely, older women were 12% points more supportive of the Conservatives than older men, but older men were more than twice as likely to vote for UKIP than older women. Those aged 26-35 looked very similar to those aged under 25, but the gender gap reversed for those aged 36 and above so that women were more supportive of the Conservatives than men.

Figure 2

 

Figure 3

 

Current polling thus suggests we can expect the pattern of results in 2017 to look very similar to that in 2015 for men and women. This is perhaps to be expected given the short, two-year window between the elections. Yet the age dynamics in the gender gap in British elections have not historically been consistent between elections. In 2010, young (25 and under) men were more supportive of both Labour and the Conservatives than young women, whilst young women were much more supportive of the Liberal Democrats. In 2005, young men and women differed very little in their degree of support for Labour or the Conservatives, but young men were more supportive of the Liberal Democrats than young women.

This suggests that specific election contexts produce different gender gaps in younger age groups. In the current election, none of the major parties have yet made specific appeals to women voters (contrast this to the ‘Woman to Woman’ battle bus of 2015). The Women’s Equality Party, contesting its first general election, is only fielding candidates in 7 seats. The election is framed to a certain extent – particularly by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – as the ‘Brexit’ election, but polling has suggested that women are less likely to think of Brexit as a key issue in this election compared to men (see here and here for the latest polls on this). Women are more likely to list the NHS, education, health, or welfare as important issues, which might explain Labour’s comparative advantage with young women.

Importantly, though, women are much more likely to say that they don’t know who they are going to vote for than men. In current polls, on average around 10% of men say they don’t know who they are going to vote for; whilst 20%-25% of women say this. As the first section of this post argues, this is unlikely to lead them to be less likely to actually vote. Women have always tended to be more uncertain about their vote intention than men, but still turn out to vote at a similar rate. What’s particularly interesting is that Panelbase shows it is especially women under the age of 55 who are unsure. This could bode either well or ill for Labour: either the undecided women in these age groups will eventually settle for the Labour Party, as many of them did in 2015, or the reason they are undecided is because, although they prioritise the issues that Labour is primarily campaigning on (the NHS, public services), they still don’t see the current Labour Party as a viable option.

The relationship between gender and the vote in this election, as with previous elections, is complex. Women do not tend to vote at lower rates than men in Britain, and at the aggregate level – comparing all men and all women – differences in vote choice between men and women are rather modest. In 2015, overall, there was little difference between men and women in support for Labour whilst women were about 4 points more supportive of the Conservatives. Polls suggest a similar advantage for the Conservatives, but amongst men, in the current election.

However, such headline figures hide substantial gender gaps within age groups, particularly amongst the young. Evidence suggests that Labour is particularly successful amongst young women, but this is also the demographic most undecided about how to vote in the upcoming election. Perhaps this is because this group find it difficult to identify a party to vote for in the current election, characterised by a focus on Brexit, gender-neutral campaigns and a dominant Conservative Party.

This article originally appeared on LSE's British Politics and Policy blog.

 

From Brexit to European Renewal: the fracture of the social contract underlies the current turmoil

📥  Brexit, European politics, Political history

Professor Graham Room is Director of Research and Professor of Social Policy in the Department of Social & Policy Sciences at the University of Bath

The European Commission’s 2017 White Paper on reform of the EU focussed on completion of the single market and firmer governance of the Euro, wholly ignoring inequality and social justice. Yet this is the ‘hot politics’ of European progress: the fracture of the ‘social contract’ between political leaders and the population at large. If ignored, it risks the melt-down of the whole Union.

The UK referendum in 2016 revealed deep popular disaffection with the European Union – in particular, on the part of working class communities that felt that they had been left behind, with their cohesion and their very identity under threat. Some of the roots of this disaffection may lie elsewhere – in national government policies or in the effects of globalisation more generally. The disaffection may also have been stoked by opportunistic politicians. The blame may, therefore, have been laid unfairly on Johnny Foreigner – the Brussels Eurocrat as much as the Syrian refugee. Be that as it may, it was sufficient to provoke one of the worst crises in the history of the EU.

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Three questions arise.

First, was this a uniquely British malaise: or did it tell a more general story about the European project and the European citizen? In 1848 Marx and Engels focussed their attention on the burgeoning industrial towns and cities of northern England. They assured the world at large ‘de te fabula narratur’: the story that is unfolding here shows you your own future. How far did the disaffection of working class communities in the 2016 referendum, especially across that same northern England, encapsulate a larger unfolding story about Europe more generally? If it did, the European Commission (2017) gives little sign of paying heed, to judge by its White Paper on the Future of Europe, published in March.

Second, what are the roots of this disaffection and how appropriate is it, to lay the blame at Europe’s door? Is the EU distributing the benefits of European integration evenly, so that all communities can share in its prosperity, or is it visiting the costs of change disproportionately on those who are already vulnerable? And how far is the discontent of the aggrieved being given any voice, in the long-standing debates about the ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU?

Third, what reforms to the European project might address this malaise – and maybe in the process save the EU itself from further disintegration? Whether the promise of such reforms would suffice to reverse popular opinion in the UK, and even provoke the British electorate to apply an emergency brake to the whole Brexit process, is, of course, difficult to say. What seems clear however is that without such a positive vision of Europe’s future, capable of addressing the grievances that the Brexit referendum revealed, such a U-turn is highly unlikely.

My report for the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research, From Brexit to European Renewal, addresses these three questions.

It starts with the UK referendum and the politics of Brexit. Much has been written about the defenestration of the British political class and the turmoil the referendum result has produced in the British political system. This goes far beyond the politics of Westminster, with strains to the relationship with Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and with potentially disastrous consequences for the UK’s post-divorce relationship with the EU27. My own focus, however, is on the relationship between political leaders and the population at large: the ‘social contract’ which is part of any democratic society. This is the bargain between leaders and led, the trading of political legitimacy for popular security. It is the fracture of this social contract, I argue, which underlay the Brexit vote; but it also raises for the EU the question of how far those cracks extend, across the body politic of Europe more generally.

The report argues that these cracks derive from flaws in the economic model that drives European integration. The single market involves the free movement of people, a principle that aligns well with the liberties that Europe treasures; but it also involves freedom of movement for goods, services and capital. Freedom of this sort has economic and social consequences which are not necessarily benign – reinforcing the inequalities between regions and eroding the social fabric of communities. Such persistent inequality is bound to alienate the communities most adversely affected.

Constitutional reforms to the European Parliament are here of little relevance: what matters are the principles of social justice by reference to which Europe treats its own. Yet these issues are left largely peripheral to the European debate. This is in part because of an economic orthodoxy, which expects social benefit to be evenly spread, as the natural concomitant to the free market; but also because social policy is assigned by the subsidiarity principle to the individual nation states. I argue that social policy and social justice are too important to be left there: they constitute the ‘hot politics’ of European progress and if ignored, they risk a meltdown of the whole Union.

The report sets out a programme of reforms which would accord with such principles of social justice: a social contract between European political leaders and European citizens, trading political legitimacy for collective solidarity and security. This is important for at least three reasons. First, because across Europe, ordinary people have since the financial crisis been struggling to get by on stagnant incomes, even as inequality has grown and the affluence of corporate elites continues to be flaunted. Second, because in an uncertain world, households and communities need to have some sense of stability, underpinned by public institutions. Only on this condition can they engage positively with change. Third, because the limited capacity of the individual nation state, to insulate itself from global uncertainties, means that social stability and justice have a much greater chance of being secured through collective action at European level. Such a social policy can touch the communities which other European policies cannot reach – giving them a critical voice and re-building political trust between leaders and led.

As yet, however, Europe’s political leaders seem to lack that positive vision. Germany continues to insist on austerity and financial prudence, as sufficient remedy for the economic malaise of the periphery. The 2017 White Paper makes much of the completion of the single market and the firmer governance of the euro. What it wholly lacks is any clear vision of social justice. Instead, the leaders of the EU seem stuck in a bubble, viewing the problem as one of institutional re-working.

The report concludes with the larger global significance of this drama. In the wake of the US election, the world is more turbulent and uncertain: rescuing and rebuilding Europe assumes an even greater importance. This will require major acts of political leadership by the EU institutions – demonstrating eloquently the positive benefits of European integration and shared purpose in an uncertain world. It may still be possible for the UK to be part of this grand re-working of the European project. The referendum was a collective decision: and responsible citizens, individually and collectively, are able to change their minds.

This article first appeared on LSE's Brexit blog. You can read more about Professor Graham Room's recent IPR Report, and download it in full, here.

 

 

Things Fall Apart: From Empire to Brexit Britain

  

📥  Brexit, Political history, Racism and the far right, UK politics

Dr Nadine El-Enany is Senior Lecturer in Law in Birkbeck University of London's School of Law.

In her novel Beloved, through its examination of America’s violent and brutal history of chattel slavery, Toni Morrison warns against the forgetting of painful pasts.[1] If a society is to ‘come to terms with its own raced history’, painful memories must be ‘“re-membered”… [or] they will haunt the social imagination and disrupt the present’.[2] Catherine Hall, writing almost 20 years ago, warned European societies against discarding ‘uncomfortable memories of colonialism’, and emphasised the ‘need to do some “memory work” on the legacy of Empire’.[3] Britain’s drastic manoeuvre away from the EU is intricately connected to its imperial history, one that it has long refused to confront and acknowledge for the brutal legacy that it is. Britain’s unaddressed and unredressed colonial past haunted the recent EU referendum and prophesied its outcome.

fallapart

 

Recent policy soundings suggest that the British government wishes to strengthen economic ties with Commonwealth countries in lieu of its fast-deteriorating relationship with its European neighbours.[4] This is an ironic turn of events considering the historical context of Britain’s entry into the EU in 1973. Its membership followed decades of post-war decline and ensuing indecisiveness about whether to jettison its economic dependence on ailing Commonwealth markets, and with it any prospect of a lasting imperial role for Britain, in favour of joining the European Economic Community (EEC). Britain’s imperial nostalgia has long fed its extreme discomfort at its place as, formally, an equal alongside other EU Member States, rather than first among equals, as was its pride of place in the Commonwealth.[5] The decision to join the EEC coincided with the closure of Britain’s borders to people from its former colonies. The explicit target of these controls was people racialised as non-white.6[6] Post-war immigration control was intricately connected to the ebb and flow of Britain's imperial ambitions and attachments. The British Nationality Act 1948 had rolled out British citizenship to encapsulate Britons together with all nationals of independent Commonwealth countries and those of British colonies – a status which included a right to enter and remain in Britain.[7] This granting of British citizenship to Commonwealth citizens was principally an attempt to hold together what remained of the British Empire. British politicians accepted migration of non-white people from the New Commonwealth countries into Britain as a trade-off, an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of maintaining the relationship between Britain and the Old (white) Dominions. Although the British Nationality Act prompted the establishment of some employment recruitment schemes targeted at New Commonwealth migrants, it is significant that post-war labour shortages were primarily addressed through the facilitation of (white) European labour.[8]

The principal beneficiaries of the British Empire’s system of citizenship were Britons, who could move and settle throughout the Commonwealth pursuant to sponsored emigration facilitated through agreements with Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada.[9] Despite the legislators’ lack of enthusiasm for non-white immigration from the colonies, the 1948 Act’s provisions had the effect of facilitating the arrival of around 500,000 people racialised as non-white in Britain. These arrivals and those who followed were not only exercising rights granted to them under the law, but were also escaping economic hardship and an absence of employment opportunities,[10] along with other dispossessive effects of slavery and colonialism.[11] Post-war arrivals from Jamaica, for example, were leaving a country profoundly marked by both the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. By the time Britain colonised Jamaica in the seventeenth century, the country’s ‘indigenous peoples had already been wiped out by the Spanish, and [it] was populated mainly by enslaved Africans and white settlers’.[12]

It was not until 1962 that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act brought all Commonwealth citizens formally under immigration control. The exceptions were the (majority white) citizens who had been born in Britain or Ireland, or who held a British or Irish passport issued by either one of these governments.[13] The Act was designed to restrict the entry of non-white people. In the late 1960s, Britain saw an increasing number of East-African Asians enter the country, many of whom possessed a British passport issued by Kenyan authorities. This movement followed the introduction of policies discriminating against Asians in Kenya by President Kenyatta. The 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act further narrowed the exceptions to control. Rights of entry were limited to Commonwealth citizens born in Britain, or with at least one parent or grandparent born or naturalised in Britain. That the effect of the 1968 Act was to discriminate on racial grounds exposes the hypocrisy and conceit in the British government’s position. The Act ‘created “second-class citizens” who did not have immediate right of entry into Britain even though the only passports they had were British’.[14] The British not only bore much of the responsibility for the divisions in Kenyan society pursuant to their colonial exploits,[15] but also the presence of Asians in Kenya. Although Asians had lived in East Africa for centuries, the majority arrived as labourers and traders following the expansion of the British Empire over the area.[16] In general, the Act had wide cross-party support, despite its severe consequences for Asians whose lives and futures depended on escaping persecution in Kenya.[17]

As Britain closed its doors to non-white Commonwealth migrants, it turned towards Europe in search of opportunities for economic growth – first applying to join the EEC in 1961, and ultimately becoming a member on 1 January 1973. However, Britain maintained its distance from the EU political project, in particular as far as migration control was concerned. Its obsession with its island status and the perceived advantages this brings in relation to security and border control has long plagued its relationship with the EU. While Britain grudgingly accepted the principle of free movement of EU citizens, it insisted on maintaining control of its borders wherever it could. Britain never joined Schengen, and not only continues to exercise border controls in relation to EU nationals, but also has a flexible opt-out from EU law on immigration and asylum – which it has consistently exercised to opt into restrictive measures that further strengthen its capacity to exclude, and out of those aimed at enhancing protection standards.[18] In view of this, Britain’s decision to depart from the EU primarily over the question of immigration and border control demands scrutiny. The Leave campaign argued that exiting the EU would allow Britain to ‘take back control of its borders’ and would ‘make Britain great again’. The referendum debate was eclipsed by the topic of migration, and not exclusively that of European citizens. The epitome of the Leave campaign’s scaremongering about migration was perhaps the moment Nigel Farage unveiled a poster depicting non-white refugees crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015 along with the slogan ‘Breaking Point’.[19]

The terms on which the EU referendum debate took place are symptomatic of a Britain struggling to conceive of its place in the world post-Empire. Present in the discourse of some of those arguing for a Leave vote was a tendency to romanticise the days of the British Empire, a time when Britannia ruled the waves and was defined by her racial and cultural superiority. Brexit is not only an expression of nostalgia for empire,[20] it is also the fruit of empire.[21] The legacies of British imperialism have never been addressed, including that of racism.[22] British colonial rule saw the exploitation of peoples, and their subjugation on the basis of race; it was a system that was maintained through the brutal and systematic violence of colonial authorities. Imperial nostalgia is sometimes combined with ‘a reluctance to see contemporary British racism as a product of imperial and colonial power’.[23] The prevalence of structural and institutional racism in Britain today made it fertile ground for the effectiveness of the Brexit campaign’s racist and dehumanising rhetoric of “taking back control” and reaching “breaking point”. The Brexit and Trump victories have resulted in the legitimisation of racism and white supremacy to an unprecedented degree. A week prior to the referendum, pro-immigration Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered by a man who shouted ‘Britain first’ as he killed her, and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as ‘Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain’.[24] Since the referendum, racist hate crime has increased by 16% across Britain, and peaked at a 58% rise in the week following the vote.[25] Weeks after the referendum, Arkadiusz Jóźwik was beaten to death in Essex, having reportedly been attacked for speaking Polish in the street.[26]

Britain’s impending departure from the EU now sees it turning once again to the Commonwealth. It is no coincidence that Nigel Farage expressed a preference for migrants from India and Australia as compared with East Europeans, and has advocated stronger ties with the Commonwealth.[27] Theresa May, in her speech on the government’s plans for Brexit, referred to the Commonwealth as being indicative of Britain’s ‘unique and proud global relationships’, and declared it was ‘time for Britain to get out into the world and rediscover its role as a great, global, trading nation.’[28] It is telling that the Old Dominions [Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada] ‘were Britain abroad, what was called – in the jingoistic heyday of imperialism – “greater Britain”’.[29] Economic policy is being oriented towards a revival of Commonwealth ties, in a manner that patently ignores the brutal reality of the British Empire.[30] This ignorance was aptly captured in MP and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox's statement last year in the run up to the referendum that ‘The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century history’.[31]  Paul Gilroy has observed that the tendency to romanticise colonial times – ‘this embarrassing sentiment’ – manifests itself today in ‘an unhealthy and destructive post-imperial hungering for renewed greatness’.[32] The hankering after the halcyon days of empire was expressed in a tabloid headline following the referendum: ‘Now Let’s Make Britain Great Again’.[33] This slogan, taken from Trump’s presidential election campaign, has since become popular among those who backed Brexit.[34]

The rhetoric of ‘making Britain great again’ is entirely divorced from an understanding of British colonial history – including the country’s recent imperial exploits, which have destabilised and exploited various regions and set in motion the migration of today. In the absence of an acknowledgement of the racism, violence and brutality of British colonialism, and its ongoing dispossessing effects, imperial nostalgia can fester and work in harmful ways. Paul Gilroy notes that ‘[t]he appeal of being great again was central to Mrs Thatcher’s premiership, particularly after her South Atlantic triumph, but it did not vanish with her. It has endured and mutated and emerged again as one significant element that propelled a largely reluctant country to war against Iraq in 2003’.[35] The ‘desire’ for ‘renewed greatness’ thus ‘feeds Britain’s vicarious investments in US preeminence’,[36] the calamitous result of which was the violent and premature deaths of nearly half a million Iraqis.[37] Britain’s commitment to its close relationship with the US has gained new vigour in the wake of the vote to leave the EU. British Prime Minister Theresa May, wary of the notion that Britain might have set itself adrift through its vote to leave the EU, isolating itself from centres of global power, is working to ensure that post-Brexit Britain is firmly aligned with the new Trump administration.[38] Britain’s rose-tinted view of its imperial history, and its refusal to recall and confront the reality of the British Empire and its legacy of racism, haunted the EU referendum, foretelling its outcome and casting Britain into an uncertain and dangerous future.[39]

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.

 

References

[1] Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987 [original date], Vintage, London, 2007).
[2] Catherine Hall, ‘Histories, Empires and the Post-Colonial Moment’ in I. Chambers and L. Curti (eds.), The Postcolonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons (Routledge, London-New York, 2002), 66.
[3] Catherine Hall, ibid.
[4] Ben Chapman, ‘Liam Fox’s 'Empire 2.0' meeting is backed by corporate interests and will ‘fleece’ Africa, say campaigners’ (The Independent, Thursday 9 March 2017). Available at www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/liam-fox-empire-trade-meeting-africa-corporate-interests-claims-a7619326.html (Last visited 16 March 2017).
[5] Nadine El-Enany, (B)ordering Britain: the Migrant, the Refugee and the State (Hart Publishing, forthcoming 2018).
[6] See Randall Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000); Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1997).
[7] Lord Goldsmith QC, Citizenship Review, ‘Citizenship: Our Common Bond’ (2008), 15.
[8] See R. Miles and D. Kay, Refugees or Migrant Workers? European Volunteer Workers in Britain 1946-1951 (London: 1992).
[9] Randall Hansen, ‘The Politics of Citizenship in 1940s Britain: The British Nationality Act’ Twentieth Century British History Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 1999), 76.
[10] Caryl Phillips, ‘The Pioneers: Fifty Years of Caribbean Migration to Britain’, in A New World Order (New York: Vintage, 2001), 264.
[11] A. Payne, ‘The Rodney Riots in Jamaica: The Background and Significance of the Events of October 1968’ The Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics Vol 21(2) 1983; T.A. Simone Patrice Wint, ‘“Once you Go You Know”: Tourism, Colonial Nostalgia and National Lies in Jamaica’ (Report to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin, 2012), 6. Available at https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2012-05-5846/WINT-MASTERS-REPORT.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[12] Catherine Hall, note 2 above, 67-68.
[13] Lord Goldsmith QC, note 7 above, 15.
[14] Yumiko Hamai, ‘“Imperial Burden” or “Jews of Africa”?: An Analysis of Political and Media Discourse in the Ugandan Asian Crisis (1972)’ Twentieth Century British History Vol. 22, No. 3, (2011), 418
[15] Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic politics in Nigeria (Enugu, Nigeria, 1978), ch. 1.
[16] Randall Hansen, ‘The Kenyan Asians, British Politics, and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968’ The Historical Journal 42, 3 (1999), 814.
[17] Randall Hansen, ‘The Kenyan Asians, British Politics, and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968’, ibid., 810.
[18] See N. El-Enany, ‘EU migration and asylum law under the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’ in A. Arnull and D. Chalmers, The Oxford Handbook of European Union Law (OUP, 2015); N. El-Enany, 'The Perils of Differentiated Integration in the Field of Asylum' in A. Ott and B. De Witte (eds.) Between Flexibility and Disintegration: The Trajectory of Differentiation in EU Law (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017)
[19] Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason, ‘Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police’ (Guardian, 16 June 2016) Available at www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/16/nigel-farage-defends-ukip-breaking-point-poster-queue-of-migrants (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[20] Nadine El-Enany, ‘Brexit as Nostalgia for Empire’ (Critical Legal Thinking, 19 June 2016) Available at http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/06/19/brexit-nostalgia-empire/ (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[21] Nadine El-Enany, ‘The Iraq War, Brexit and Imperial Blowback’ (Truthout, 6 July 2016) Available at www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36703-the-iraq-war-brexit-and-imperial-blowback (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[22] Catherine Hall, ‘The racist ideas of slave owners are still with us today’ (Guardian, 26 September 2016) www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/26/racist-ideas-slavery-slave-owners-hate-crime-brexit-vote (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[23] Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture (Routledge, London and New York, 2004), 103.
[24] Robert Booth, Vikram Dodd, Kevin Rawlinson and Nicola Slawson, ‘Jo Cox murder suspect tells court his name is “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”’ (Guardian, 18 June 2016) Available at www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/18/thomas-mair-charged-with-of-mp-jo-cox (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[25] Alan Travis, ‘Lasting rise in hate crime after EU referendum, figures show’ (Guardian, 7 September 2016) Available at www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/07/hate-surged-after-eu-referendum-police-figures-show (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[26] Louie Smith, ‘He was killed for speaking Polish: Brother’s claim as man murdered in UK street in suspected race-hate attack’ (Mirror, 30 August 2016) Available at www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/he-killed-speaking-polish-brothers-8738218 (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[27] Rowena Mason, ‘Nigel Farage: Indian and Australian immigrants better than eastern Europeans’ (Guardian, 22 April 2015) Available at www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/22/nigel-farage-immigrants-india-australia-better-than-eastern-europeans (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[28] The RT Hon Theresa May MP, ‘The government's negotiating objectives for exiting the EU: PM speech’ (17 January 2017 Lancester House, London) Available at www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[29] Randall Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000), 17-18.
[30] See Adam Ramsey, ‘For Britain to solve its economic problems, it needs to stop lying to itself about its past’ (Open Democracy, 9 March 2017) Available at www.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/trade-empire-2-0-and-the-lies-we-tell-ourselves/ (Last visited 17 March 2017).
[31] Liam Fox, (Twitter, 4 March 2016) Available at https://twitter.com/LiamFoxMP/status/705674061016387584 (Last visited 17 March 2017).
[32] Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture (Routledge, London and New York, 2004), 331.
[33] Jeff Farrell, ‘Now let’s make Britain great again’ (Daily Star, 25 June 2016) Available at www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-star/20160625/283132838125934 (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[34] Georgia Diebelius, ‘UKIP’s youth wing sold “Make Britain Great Again Hats” for price of £9.11’ (Metro, 10 November 2016) Available at http://metro.co.uk/2016/11/10/ukips-youth-wing-sold-make-britain-great-again-hats-for-price-of-9-11-6250052/ (Last visited 10 November 2017).
[35] Paul Gilroy, note 32 above, 103-104.
[36] Paul Gilroy, ibid., 103.
[37] Amy Hagopian, Abraham D Flaxman, Tim K. Takaro, Sahar A. Esa Al Shatari, Julie Rajaratnam, Stan Becker, Alison Levin-Rector, Lindsay Galway, Berq J. Hadi Al-Yasseri, William M. Weiss, Christoper J. Murray, Gilbert Burnham, ‘Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003-2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study’ PLOS Medicine 15 October 2013 Available at http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001533#abstract1 (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[38] Heather Stewart and David Smith, ‘Theresa May and Donald Trump bond over love for Thatcher and Reagan’ (Guardian, 29 January 2017) Available at www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/29/theresa-may-donald-trump-bond-love-thatcher-reagan (Last visited 13 February 2017).
[39] Nadine El-Enany, (B)ordering Britain: the Migrant, the Refugee and the State, see note 5 above.

Sea-Changes in World Power

📥  Political history, Political ideologies, US politics

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt sent the US Navy battle fleet – the “Great White Fleet” of 16 battleships – on a symbolic tour of the Pacific. It was an awesome demonstration of the USA’s new naval power and an announcement to the world of its claims to dominion over the Pacific. The fleet was feted everywhere it went, but particularly so in Australia and New Zealand, where it was welcomed as the “kith and kin of the Anglo-Saxon race” bringing “a grateful sense of security to the white man in his antipodean isolation.” Japan was a rising military power. It had annihilated the Russian fleet in 1905. Racist attitudes towards Japanese migrant workers were running high in the USA and Australasia. “Stars and Stripes, if you please/Protect us from the Japanese”, wrote a New Zealand correspondent.

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Roosevelt saw the fleet’s tour in similar terms. He was resolved to treat the Japanese government with courtesy and respect. But he wanted to assert the importance of keeping the world’s “races” apart, particularly when it came to migration into California, and he inflected his Social Darwinist arguments with a class populism: “we have got to protect our working men”, he was reported to have argued. “We have got to build up our western country with our white civilization, and…we must retain the power to say who shall and who shall not come to our country. Now it may be that Japan will adopt a different attitude, will demand that her people be permitted to go where they think fit, so I thought it wise to send that fleet around to the Pacific to be ready to maintain our rights”[1].

Roosevelt was heavily influenced by the naval strategist Admiral Alfred Mahan, whose books on the importance of sea power and naval strength were key military texts in the late 19th and early 20th century, read and absorbed not just by US foreign and defence policymakers, but by their counterparts in the capitals of all the leading world powers – including Great Britain, whose naval prowess he much admired. He was also highly influential on Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who devoured Mahan’s books as a young man and was a lifelong navy enthusiast, serving as Assistant Secretary for the Navy in Wilson’s administration. As President, FDR would massively expand the US Navy. Spending on the navy – a sort of naval Keynesianism – gave renewed impetus to the New Deal in the late 1930s.

Donald Trump’s speech at the Newport News shipyard, which builds ships for the US Navy, and his pledge to expand the fleet to 350 ships, therefore stands in a clearly defined lineage. It heralds a renewed commitment to assert the naval primacy of the USA and significantly boost military spending. On its own, that might be lifted straight out of the recent Republican playbook – particularly in concert with tax cuts for the wealthy. But Trump’s economic nationalism and his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric also trace a line back to fin-de-siècle Anglo-Saxonist political discourse. His rhetoric symbolically connects the projection of economic and military power to the fortunes of the American working class, particularly the white working class – Teddy Roosevelt shorn of the progressivism and diplomatic tact.

This time, of course, the main antagonist is China, not Japan. China’s navy has been expanding rapidly under Xi Jinping’s leadership. It has commissioned new missile carriers, frigates, conventional and nuclear submarines, and amphibious assault ships. A close ally of Xi’s, Shen Jinlong, has recently been appointed its commander. It has moved from defensive coastal operations to long-range engagements around the world. It will serve to underpin China’s assertion of supremacy in the South China Sea and the projection of its power further afield – towards the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and the Maritime Silk Road routes.

The respective strength and reach of national navies can mark out wider shifts in geo-political power. It was at the Washington Conference in 1921 that the USA finally brought the Royal Navy to heel, insisting on parity in capital ships, and setting the seal on the end of the British Empire’s global maritime supremacy. “Never before had an empire of Britain’s stature so explicitly and consciously conceded superiority in such a crucial dimension of global power,” wrote Adam Tooze of this capitulation. It would take until the late 1960s, when Britain finally abandoned its bases East of Suez, for the process of imperial contraction to be complete (a decision that the current Foreign Secretary laments and risibly promises to reverse).

With tension rising in the South China Sea, war and rival power conflict in the Middle East and the Gulf region, and the prospect of a scramble for power over the sea lanes of the melting ice caps of the North West Passage, this new era of naval superpower rivalry echoes the Edwardian world. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s self-declared economic nationalist adviser, believes it will end the same way: in war. It is up to the rest of the world to prove him wrong.

 

 

[1] For this quotation and other source material, see Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line, Cambridge: CUP (2008), Chapter 8 pp 190 - 209

 

The empire strikes back: How the Brexit vote has reopened deep wounds of empire and belonging, and challenged the future of the United Kingdom

📥  Brexit, Political history

This piece originally appeared in New Statesman

Joseph Chamberlain, it has been widely remarked, serves as an inspiration for Theresa May’s premiership. The great municipal reformer and champion of imperial protectionism bestrode the politics of late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain. He was a social reformer, a keen ­unionist and an advocate for the industrial as well as the national interest – all values espoused by the Prime Minister.

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Less noticed, however, is that May’s excavation of Chamberlain’s legacy is a symptom of two larger historical dynamics that have been exposed by the vote for Brexit. The first is the reopening on the British body politic of deep wounds of race, citizenship and belonging, issues that home rule for Ireland, and then the end of empire, followed by immigration from the former colonies, made central to British politics during the 20th century. Over the course of the century, the imperial subjects of the queen-empress became British and Irish nationals, citizens of the Commonwealth and finally citizens of a multicultural country in the European Union. The long arc of this history has left scars that do not appear to have healed fully.

The second dynamic is the renewal of patterns of disagreement over free trade and social reform that shaped profound divisions roughly a century ago. Specifically, the rivalry was between a vision of Britain as the free-trade “world island”, supported by the City of London and most of the country’s governing elite, and the protectionist project, or “imperial preference”, articulated by Chamberlain, which sought to bind together the British empire in a new imperial tariff union, laying the foundations for industrial renewal, social progress and national security. The roots of these commitments lay in his career as a self-made businessman and reforming mayor of Birmingham. A leading Liberal politician, Chamberlain broke with his own party over home rule for Ireland and, with a small group of Liberal Unionists, joined Lord Salisbury’s Conservative government of 1895, becoming colonial secretary. He subsequently resigned in 1903 to campaign on the question of imperial preference.

The fault lines in contemporary political economy that Brexit has starkly exposed mimic those first staked out in the early part of the 20th century, which lie at the heart of Chamberlain’s career: industry v finance, London v the nations and regions, intervention v free trade. This time, however, these divides are refracted through the politics of Britain’s relationship with Europe, producing new economic interests and political ­alliances. What’s more, the City now serves the European economy, not just Britain and her former colonies.

Chamberlain is the junction between these two critical dynamics, where race and political economy interweave, because of his advocacy of “Greater Britain” – the late-Victorian idea that the white settler colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa should be joined with the mother country, in ties of “kith-and-kin” solidarity, or more ambitiously in a new imperial federation. Greater Britain owed much to the Anglo-Saxonism of Victorian historians and politicians, and was as much a Liberal as a Conservative idea. Greater Britain was a new way of imagining the English race – a ten-million-strong, worldwide realm dispersed across the “white” colonies. It was a global commonwealth, but emphatically not one composed of rootless cosmopolitans. Deep ties, fostered by trade and migration, held what the historian James Belich calls “the Anglo-world” together. It helped equip the English with an account of their place in the world that would survive at least until the 1956 Suez crisis, and it was plundered again by latter-day Eurosceptics as they developed a vision of the UK as an integral part, not of the EU, but of an “Anglosphere”, the liberal, free-market, parliamentary democracies of the English-speaking world.

Greater Britain carried deep contradictions within itself, however. Because it was associated with notions of racial membership and, more specifically, with Protestantism, it could not readily accommodate divisions within the UK itself. The political realignment triggered by Chamberlain’s split with Gladstone over Irish home rule, which set one of the most enduring and intractable political divides of the era, was symptomatic of this. For Chamberlain, Irish home rule would have entailed Protestant Ireland being dominated by people of “another race and religion”. Unless there could be “home rule all round” and a new imperial parliament, he preferred an alliance with “English gentlemen” in the Tory party to deals with Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of Ireland’s constitutional nationalists.

The failure of Chamberlain’s kith-and-kin federalism, and the long struggle of nationalist Ireland to leave the UK, left a bitter legacy in the form of partition and a border that threatens once again, after Brexit, to disrupt British politics. But it also left less visible marks. On Ireland becoming a republic, its citizens retained rights to travel, settle and vote in the UK. The Ireland Act 1949 that followed hard on the Irish Free State’s exit from the Commonwealth defined Irish citizens as “non-foreign”.

A common travel area between the two countries was maintained, and when immigration legislation restricted rights to enter and reside in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, Irish citizens were almost wholly exempted. By the early 1970s, nearly a million Irish people had taken up their rights to work and settle in the UK – more than all of those who had come to Britain from the Caribbean and south Asia combined. Even after the Republic of Ireland followed the UK into the European common market, its citizens retained rights that were stronger than those given to other European nationals.

In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement went a step further. It recognised the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to hold both British and Irish citizenship. Common EU citizenship north and south of the border made this relatively straightforward. But under a “hard Brexit”, Britain may be asked to treat Irish citizens just like other EU citizens. And so, unless it can secure a bilateral deal with the Republic of Ireland, the UK will be forced to reinvent or annul the common travel area, reintroducing border and customs controls and unstitching this important aspect of its post-imperial, 20th-century settlement. Will Ireland and its people remain “non-foreign”, or is the past now another country?

***

Today’s equivalent of 19th-century Irish nationalism is Scottish national sentiment. Like Gladstone and his successors, Theresa May is faced with the question of how to accommodate the distinct, and politically powerful, aspirations of a constituent nation of the United Kingdom within the unsteady framework associated with the coexistence of parliamentary sovereignty and ongoing devolution. Scotland’s independence referendum bestowed a sovereign power on its people that cannot be set aside in the Brexit negotiations. The demand for a “flexible Brexit” that would allow Scotland to stay in the European single market is also, in practice, a demand for a federal settlement in the UK: a constitutional recognition that Scotland wants a different relationship to the EU from that of England and Wales.

If this is not couched in explicitly federal terms, it takes the unitary nature of the UK to its outer limits. Hard Brexit is, by contrast, a settlement defined in the old Conservative-Unionist terms.

Unionism and federalism both failed as projects in Ireland. Chamberlain and the Conservative Unionists preferred suppression to accommodation, a stance that ended in a war that their heirs ultimately lost.
Similarly, the federal solution of Irish home rule never made it off the parchment of the parliamentary legislation on which it was drafted. The federalist tradition is weak in British politics for various reasons, one of which is the disproportionate size of England within the kingdom. Yet devising a more federal arrangement may now be the only means of holding the UK together. May’s unionism – symbolised by her visit to Edinburgh to meet Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in the first days of her premiership – will be enormously tested by a hard Brexit that cannot accommodate Scottish claims for retention of single-market status or something close to it. Separation, difficult as this may be for the Scottish National Party to secure, may follow.

The idea of Greater Britain also left behind it a complex and contentious politics of citizenship. As colonial secretary at the end for 19th century, Chamberlain faced demands for political equality of the subjects of the crown in the empire; Indians, in particular, were discriminated against in the white settler colonies. He strongly resisted colour codes or bars against any of the queen’s subjects but allowed the settler colonies to adopt educational qualifications for their immigration laws that laid the foundation for the racial discrimination of “White Australia”, as well as Canadian immigration and settlement policies, and later, of course, the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Nonetheless, these inequalities were not formally written into imperial citizenship. The British subject was a national of the empire, which was held together by a common code of citizenship. That unity started to unravel as the colonies became independent. Specifically, a trigger point was reached when, in 1946, the Canadian government legislated to create a new national status, separate and distinct from the common code of imperial citizenship hitherto embodied in the status of the British subject.

The Attlee government responded with the watershed British Nationality Act 1948. This created a new form of citizenship for the UK and the colonies under its direct rule, while conferring the status of British subject or Commonwealth citizen on the peoples of the former countries of empire that had become independent. It was this that has made the act so controversial: as the historian Andrew Roberts has argued, it “gave over 800 million Commonwealth citizens the perfectly legal right to reside in the United Kingdom”.

This criticism of the act echoed through the postwar decades as immigration into the UK from its former empire increased. Yet it is historically misplaced. The right to move to the UK without immigration control had always existed for British subjects; the new law merely codified it. (Indeed, the Empire Windrush, which brought British subjects from the Caribbean to London in June 1948, docked at Tilbury even before the act had received royal assent.)

At the time, ironically, it was for precisely opposite reasons that Conservative critics attacked the legislation. They argued that it splintered the subjects of empire and denied them their rights: “. . . we deprecate any tendency to differentiate between different types of British subjects in the United Kingdom . . . We must maintain our great metropolitan tradition of hospitality to everyone from every part of our empire,” argued Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the Tory shadow minister of labour and future home secretary.

As the empire withered away in the postwar period, some Conservatives started to change their minds. Enoch Powell, once a staunch imperialist, came to believe that the idea of the Commonwealth as a political community jeopardised the unity of allegiance to the crown, and so was a sham. The citizens of the Commonwealth truly were “citizens of nowhere”, as Theresa May recently put it. As Powell said of the 1948 act: “It recognised a citizenship to which no nation of even the most shadowy and vestigial character corresponded; and conversely, it still continued not to recognise the nationhood of the United Kingdom.”

Once the British empire was finished, its core Anglo-Saxon populace needed to come back, he believed, to find their national mission again, to what he viewed as their English home – in reality, the unitary state of the UK – rather than pretend that something of imperialism still survived. On England’s soil, they would remake a genuine political community, under the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament. If Greater Britain could not exist as an imperial political community, and the Commonwealth was a fiction, then the kith and kin had to live among themselves, in the nation’s homeland.

Contemporary politicians no longer fuse “race” and citizenship in this way, even if in recent years racist discourses have found their way back into mainstream politics in advanced democracies, Britain included. However, the legacies of exclusivist accounts of nationality persist, and not merely on the populist right. British politics today is dominated by claims about an irreconcilable division between the attitudes and national sentiments of the white working classes, on the one hand, and the cosmopolitanism of metropolitan liberals, on the other.

But thinking and speaking across this artificial divide is imperative in both political and civic terms. Many Remainers have the same uncertainties over identity and political community as commentators have identified with those who supported Brexit; and the forms of patriotism exhibited across the UK are not necessarily incompatible with wider commitments and plural identities. Above all, it is vital to challenge the assumption that a regressive “whiteness” defines the content of political Englishness.

***

Brexit thus forces us once again to confront questions about our citizenship, and the question of who is included in the nation. In an ironic twist of fate, however, it will deprive the least cosmopolitan of us, who do not live in Northern Ireland, or claim Irish descent, or hold existing citizenship of another EU country, of the European citizenship we have hitherto enjoyed. Conversely it also leaves a question mark over the status of EU nationals who live and work in the UK but do not hold British nationality. The government’s failure to give guarantees to these EU nationals that they will be allowed to remain in the UK has become a matter of deep controversy, on both sides of the Brexit divide.

As only England and Wales voted for it, Brexit has also exposed the emergence once again of distinct identities in the constituent nations of the UK. Although Scottish nationalism has been the most politically powerful expression of this trend, Englishness has been growing in salience as a cultural and, increasingly, as a political identity, and an insistent English dimension has become a feature of British politics. Although talk of a mass English nationalism is misplaced – it can scarcely be claimed that nationalism alone explains the complex mix of anxiety and anger, hostility to large-scale immigration and desire for greater self-government that motivated English voters who favoured Brexit – it is clear that identity and belonging now shape and configure political arguments and culture in England.

Yet, with a handful of notable exceptions, the rise in political Englishness is being given expression only on the right, by Eurosceptics and nationalists. The left is significantly inhibited by the dearth of serious attempts to reimagine England and different English futures, whether culturally or democratically.

It is not just the deep politics of the Union and its different peoples that Brexit has revived. The divisions over Britain’s economy that were opened up and positioned during the Edwardian era have also returned to the centre of political debate. Though as yet this is more apparent in her rhetoric than in her practice, Theresa May seems drawn to the project of reviving the Chamberlainite economic and social agendas: using Brexit to underpin arguments for an industrial strategy, a soft economic nationalism and social reform for the “just about managing” classes. She has created a new department responsible for industrial strategy and advocated places for workers on company boards (before watering down this commitment) as well as increased scrutiny of foreign takeovers of British firms. Housing policy is to be refocused away from subsidising home ownership and directed towards building homes and supporting private renters. Fiscal policy has been relaxed, with increased infrastructure investment promised. The coalition that delivered Brexit – made up of struggling working-class voters and middle-class older voters (or the “excluded and the insulated”, as the Tory peer David Willetts puts it) – is seen as the ballast for a new Conservative hegemony.

Presentationally, May’s vision of Brexit Britain’s political economy is more Chamberlainite than Thatcherite, a shift that has been obscured in Brexit-related debates about migration and tariff-free access to the European single market. Her economic utterances are edged with a national, if not nationalist, framing and an economic interventionism more commonly associated with the Heseltinian, pro-European wing of her party. In a calculated move replete with symbolism, she launched her economic prospectus for the Tory leadership in Birmingham, advertising her commitment to the regions and their industries, rather than the City of London and the financial interest.

It is therefore possible that May’s project might turn into an attempt to decouple Conservative Euroscepticism from Thatcherism, creating a new fusion with Tory “One Nation” economic and social traditions. It is this realignment that has left the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, often exposed in recent months, since the Treasury is institutionally hostile both to economic interventionism and to withdrawal from the single market. Hence his recent threat to the European Union that if Britain cannot secure a decent Brexit deal, it will need to become a deregulated, low-tax, Dubai-style “world island” to remain competitive. He cannot envisage another route to economic prosperity outside the European Union.

It also leaves those on the Thatcherite right somewhat uncertain about May. For while she has sanctioned a hard Brexit, in crucial respects she appears to demur from their political economy, hence the discontent over the government’s deal to secure Nissan’s investment in Sunderland. As her Lancaster House speech made clear, she envisages Brexit in terms of economically illiberal goals, such as the restriction of immigration, which she believes can be combined with the achievement of the new free trade deals that are totemic for her party’s Eurosceptics.

In practice, the Prime Minister’s willingness to endorse Hammond’s negotiating bluster about corporate tax cuts and deregulation shows that she is anything but secure in her Chamberlainite orientation towards industrial strategy and social reform. Her policy positions are shot through with the strategic tension between an offshore, “global Britain” tax haven and her rhetoric of a “shared society”, which will be difficult to resolve. May has embraced hard (she prefers “clean”) Brexit, but a transformation of the axes of conservative politics will only take place if she combines Euroscepticism with a return to pre-Thatcherite economic and social traditions. This would make her party into an even more potent political force. The recent shift of the Ukip vote into the Tory bloc and the notable weakening of Labour’s working-class support suggest what might now be possible. This is the domestic politics of Chamberlain’s social imperialism shorn of empire and tariff – only this time with better electoral prospects.

***

There are some big pieces of 20th-century political history missing from this jigsaw, however. In the 1930s, Chamberlain’s son Neville succeeded where his father had failed in introducing a modest version of tariff reform, and trade within the empire rebounded. Britain abandoned the gold standard in 1931 and cheap money revived the national economy. The collectivism of the wartime command economy and the postwar Keynesian settlement followed. New forms of economic strategy, industrial policy and social reform were pioneered, and the Treasury beliefs in limited state intervention, “sound money” and free trade that had defined the first decades of the 20th century were defeated.

This era was brought to an end by the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Her government smashed the industrial pillars and the class compromises that had underpinned the postwar world. The ensuing “New Labour” governments inherited a transformed political economy and, in turn, sought to fuse liberal with collectivist strands in a new settlement for the post-industrial economy. What many now view as the end of the neoliberal consensus is, therefore, better seen as the revival of patterns of thinking that pre-date Thatcherism. This tells us much about the persistent and deep problems of Britain’s open economic model and the continuing, unresolved conflict between finance and parts of industry, as well as London and the regions.

Brexit brings these tensions back to the surface of British politics, because it requires the construction of a completely new national economic and political settlement – one that will be thrashed out between the social classes, the leading sectors of the economy, and the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

Few peacetime prime ministers have confronted the scale and kinds of challenge that Brexit will throw up: holding together the UK, revitalising our industrial base, delivering shared prosperity to working people and renegotiating Britain’s place in Europe and the wider world. This is the most formidable list of challenges. Lesser ones, we should recall, defeated Joe Chamberlain.

Michael Kenny is the inaugural director of the Mile End Institute policy centre, based at Queen Mary University of London

Nick Pearce is professor of public policy at the University of Bath 

 

Brexit Redux

📥  Brexit, European politics, Political history, UK politics

If only Alan Milward were still alive. Our foremost historian of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and author of the first volume of the official history of the United Kingdom and the European Community, would have brought the full force of his intellect and scrupulous scholarship to bear on the prospectus the Prime Minister has set out for the Brexit negotiations.

Why, he asked, did our first attempt to join the EEC fail in 1963, and our national strategy collapse?  “Britain’s weakness in the negotiations did not spring from its tactics”, he wrote in his official history, “but from the direct conflict between its own worldwide strategy, which in the Conservative Party still had powerful adherents, and that of France.  It was not a part of the United Kingdom’s strategy to base its economic or political future on European preferences. France, however, would accept nothing less and the outcome was de Gaulle’s veto.” (Milward, A., The Rise and Fall of a National Strategy 1945-1963, 2020 p483).

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That history seems wearily prescient now. Should we learn any lessons from it? Contemporary eurosceptics, whose number must now be taken to include the UK government, would doubtless retort that leaving is not the same as joining: we are not petitioning for entry, but quitting. “No deal is better than a bad deal”, as the Prime Minister put it in her Lancaster House speech. Unfortunately, we have been given to such hubris before and it has not served us well. Britain has now played the key cards in its negotiating hand: to leave the single market and the customs union, and end free movement. It is left with the threat of imposing retaliatory tariffs on incoming EU goods and turning Britain into a corporate tax haven – the United Kingdom offshoring itself into one of its own dependent territories. These do not look like strong bargaining chips, even if they weren’t so patently undesirable in their own terms. And, just as in the early 1960s, we are bringing perspectives to bear that are shrouded in the mists of our national history, not the realities of contemporary European diplomacy.

Britain sought entry to the EEC when it became undeniably clear that our post-war economic performance was vastly inferior to that of the six EEC countries.    Between 1950 and 1960, GDP grew at an annual average of 2.7% in the UK, compared to 7.75% in West Germany, 5.85% in Italy and 4.6% in France. By the early 1960s, productivity levels in West Germany and France overhauled those in the UK, and have remained higher ever since. Unlike continental Europe, the UK did not successfully integrate commercial and industrial policy in the 1950s. It preferred, as Milward put it,  “nebulous rhetoric about global competition”. Thus, “while British diplomats and civil servants, pushed into action by the Bank and the financial interests it represented, argued for a “one world system” in which British industry might well in reality have been at a serious disadvantage compared to its competitors, their European counterparts kept their eyes on the finer details of the relationship between industry and trade. All of them were rewarded by higher rates of growth of productivity in manufacturing than in Britain.” (Milward A, The European Rescue of the Nation-State, 1992, p393).

The post-war regime of fixed exchange rates meant that this loss of economic competitiveness showed up in recurrent balance of payments crises and pressure on sterling reserves. Policymakers were forced to address underlying weaknesses in our economy and direct national resources towards exporting sectors. This drove the change in Britain’s strategy towards the EEC – instead of standing aside, we sought to join the new, burgeoning European market, opening up our manufacturers to the competitive pressures it would bring, as well as to its consumers. The 1960s saw the development of a new industrial strategy to support this economic reorientation. It led to massive investment in our infrastructure, a new regional policy and a huge expansion of further and higher education opportunities.

Today, a floating exchange rate means that sterling bears the weight of adjustment. Our loss of competitiveness is signalled in a weakening pound. It is just that the markets decide its level, not Prime Ministers or Chancellors.  They are absolved from addressing the root causes of our current account deficit, as and until inflation eats deeply into living standards or foreign direct investment dries up. When faced with the prospect of a bad Brexit deal and further relative economic decline, our current Chancellor and Prime Minister argue for tax cuts and deregulation, not industrial strategy, capital investment and stronger public services.

In the early 1960s, it was our failure to resolve our relationship with the Commonwealth, and what entry to the EEC would mean for their critical exports to the UK, that sunk our negotiations. But more than that, what the EEC negotiations forced the UK to confront was the accumulated geopolitical and economic problems of the post-war era; not just our relative economic decline or our trading relationship with the old, “white settler” Anglosphere commonwealth, but the economic development needs of India and Pakistan, the political demands for decolonization in Africa, the status of three European territories (Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus) and the meaning of our Atlantic defence and security relationship after the Suez crisis. As Milward put it, the “cumulative problems of 250 years of British rule” were “all gathered together in one negotiation.” (Rise and Fall p370).

Today that list would read rather differently. But Brexit will still be a prism through which a profound set of national challenges will be refracted. Inter alia, these include: the future of the United Kingdom itself, given Scotland’s vote to stay in the EU and the positions taken by the elected SNP government; Northern Ireland’s relationship to the Republic of Ireland, given our impending departure from the single market and customs union; the balance of economic and social class interests within the economy and political system of the country, and the weight given to the regions and manufacturing vs London and the City; and, most of all, our ability to pay our way in the world, given our longstanding trade deficits. All of this takes place against the radical uncertainty introduced into global politics by the election of Donald Trump. It is a formidable challenge.

Future historians will have to rise to the task of explaining how a marginal political preference that was largely (if not entirely) the preserve of the Eurosceptic right in British politics became the official position of the UK government.  We can be pretty sure that the answers will not be found in the Whitehall archives, as they were for Milward. Brexit has become a deeply political process, inside the Conservative Party, and outside it. Official histories will only tell us half the story. But as the negotiations with the European Union get underway, we would do well to learn from our past.

 

Legacies and long shadows: will Theresa May succeed where Chamberlain failed?

📥  Political history, UK politics

Birmingham has a square named after Joseph Chamberlain, its most famous politician, through which visitors to the Conservative Party conference will pass on their way up from rebuilt New Street station this week. Although the square is home only to a lacklustre memorial fountain, and not his statue, Chamberlain will still loom large over proceedings at the conference. He will be celebrated by Theresa May and her colleagues as a champion of the manufacturing industry and a great social reformer, the radical who campaigned for municipal education, decent housing and civic improvements for the Victorian working class.

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Chamberlain was also an apostle of imperial unity between Great Britain and her settler colonies – what today’s Brexiteers call the “Anglosphere”. As Colonial Secretary, he sought closer economic and political ties between Great Britain and Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. His passion for this cause would eventually lead him out of government, the better to campaign for tariff reform that would give preference to colonial goods and shelter British industry from international competition. It was a lost cause. Free trade was too deeply embedded in the political economy of Edwardian Britain for Chamberlain to dislodge it. Birmingham’s manufacturers were no match for the financial, commercial and shipping interests that had the deepest stakes in the liberal British world order, while the free traders’ “big loaf” beat Chamberlain’s “little loaf” for the loyalty of the working class. Unionist imperialism plus social reform lost out to a new progressive alliance of Liberal and Labour interests.

Theresa May wants to succeed where Chamberlain failed in uniting working-class voters with the British industrial interest. She has created a new department for industrial strategy and promised to prioritise “just managing” households. Housing policy is to be refocused from subsidising home ownership, to building homes and supporting private renters. Fiscal policy will be relaxed, easing planned cuts to services and benefits. The electoral coalition that delivered Brexit – of struggling working-class voters and middle-class older voters (or the “excluded and the insulated”, as David Willetts recently put it) – will form the ballast of a new Conservative hegemony.

But the Prime Minister’s chosen path to Brexit – of prioritising immigration control over the single market, and “sovereignty” over the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – will bring her into conflict with Britain’s existing political economic interests, just as much as Chamberlain’s campaign for tariff reform did. Britain’s leading-edge manufacturers – in the automotive and aerospace sectors, for example – are deeply integrated into the European single market. They do not simply make products in the UK, and sell them to the rest of Europe, tariff free, as Brexiteers suppose: they have complex supply chains and move parts and people across plants in the EU. Imposing custom checks, slowing down supply chains, and limiting the movement of workers will matter as much as tariffs to their operations. And what goes for manufacturing is doubly true for services.

Decisions about new investment will often be taken in global HQs, not national branch offices. The growth of foreign direct investment in the UK since the 1980s means that much of Britain’s industrial capital is no longer national in any meaningful sense. Economic patriotism will hold little sway over multinational investors or global bankers.

Some political economists argue that the advanced sectors of the economy are not subject to partisan division, since their centrality to national prosperity is such that political parties agree on the policies needed to secure their interests. If so, that may be about to change. The City of London and the leading export sectors – trade unions and employers – have yet properly to flex their muscles in the Brexit debate. Although they cannot currently turn to an electorally credible Labour opposition to make their case, they will have advocacy routes of their own, not least through the Mayor of London and the Scottish government. Hard Brexit will stretch Theresa May’s unionism and the unity of the country, as much as that of her own party, to the limit (and that is before the status of Northern Ireland’s border is factored into the equation).

Few peacetime prime ministers have confronted a set of challenges like those facing Theresa May: holding together the United Kingdom, revitalising British industry, delivering shared prosperity to working people, and renegotiating Britain’s place in Europe and the world. It is a formidable list. Lesser ones defeated Joe Chamberlain and his generation. Theresa May will hope that she isn’t memorialised by failure.

Whatever happened to the soft left?

📥  Political history, Political ideologies

The New Statesman led its Labour Party conference edition with a series of “New Times” pieces, in emulation of the 1988 Marxism Today special of that title. For people of a certain age, Marxism Today remains talismanic. It was where the future was debated on the left in the 1980s, in a spirit of intellectual openness and curiosity. It analysed and probed culture, as much as politics and economics, and stood for broad anti-Thatcherite alliances. It featured progressive Tories on its pages, as well as feminists, greens and eurocommunist Marxists. Remarkably, (but characteristically) you could buy it in WHSmith.

It was also a potent source of intellectual renewal for the Labour Party in the 1980s. Although it was originally a Communist Party magazine, it consistently engaged in debate with Labour MPs and intellectuals, seeking to understand the popular appeal of Thatcherism and its place in history, and to sketch out paths forward from the ruins of post-war Keynesianism and the ossified, dying cultures of the industrial Labour movement. It was everything the Trotskyist, Bennite and Old Labour right were not.

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Selection of Marxism Today covers: Composite, Amiel Melburn Trust

The key receptacles of this intellectual debate in the Labour Party were the soft left and its leading thinkers: MPs like Bryan Gould, Robin Cook and Gordon Brown. In the 1980s, the soft left had an important place in the Labour Party’s modernisation. Where the right provided organizational ballast, the soft left provided ideas and energy. They were trusted with the party’s values, but also its intellectual journey to the future. They understood the importance of winning elections, but they fed off wider social movements and organisations, like environmentalism and Charter 88, and engaged with Labour’s grassroots in local government and the trade unions.

To get a feel for the interplay of ideas that took place between the Labour soft left and Communist Party modernisers in the late 1980s, read this exchange from the Marxism Today archive between Bryan Gould, David Blunkett, Bea Campbell and Charlie Leadbeater. It ranges across political strategy, theory, and substantive issues of economic and democratic reform. Something of the soft left’s modernising impatience comes across: Gould talks about “leapfrogging” Thatcherism, while also displaying the economic radicalism that was later to cost him his career. Blunkett meanwhile combines electoral realism with a participatory democratic impatience with “parliamentarianism”.

This exchange would be inconceivable today, and not just because the Communist Party of Great Britain folded in the early 1990s. The contemporary Labour soft left has become a shadow of its former self. As the 1990s and 2000s wore on, its luminaries deserted, departed or died, and it proved incapable of renewing itself. In the last two Labour leadership elections, the soft left torch was carried by Owen Smith and Andy Burnham. It did not burn brightly. Rather than contest the terrain of ideas with Corbyn, both chose to surrender the intellectual field to him.

If Labour’s moderates are to stand any chance of political renewal, they will need to rediscover the party’s soft-left traditions, not simply in name, but in spirit and substance. These traditions have become associated with political ineptitude and intellectual torpor, but it was not always thus. The soft left was an important ingredient, not just in the recovery of the Labour Party in the 1980s, but in the birth of New Labour in the mid-1990s – precisely when Tony Blair was at his most ecumenical. He too graced the pages of Marxism Today, though the magazine would come to disown his project. The soft left contributed ideas and energy that a leader from the right of the party absorbed. There is an enduring lesson in that.

Colin Crouch: The familiar axes of politics are changing, with momentous consequences

📥  Democracy and voter preference, Political history

The familiar axes of politics are changing, with momentous consequences, argues Colin Crouch

From the time of the French Revolution, mass politics has revolved around two core conflicts: that between preferences for more or less economic inequality; and that between conservative, authoritarian values and liberal ones. The main divisions among political parties in most countries fit into this frame, but we have become accustomed to seeing the former, raising issues of redistributive taxation, the welfare state, and the role of trade unions, as the senior partner. In western Europe, if not in the USA, this has become even more the case as organized religion, the main historical carrier of social conservatism, has declined in importance.

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This situation is challenged by the growing prominence of a chain of partly associated, partly quite independent, forces: economic globalization, immigration, refugees and the assertion of Islamic identities, which includes terrorism as its extreme. Together these reassert the old struggle between authoritarian conservatism and liberalism. Many people feel that everything familiar to them is being threatened, that they are being confronted with decisions, cultural artefacts and the presence among them of persons, all coming from outside their familiar and trusted sphere.  They seek security by trying to exclude the forces and people that are doing this to them. Most affected are those whose own working lives give them little control in any case, and who are accustomed to the security that comes from the enforcement of rules that exclude troubling diversity. This response takes various forms. Many Russians become both highly nationalistic and also stress their homophobia. Many people in the Islamic world assert their religion (which is here far more important than nationality as a symbol of a pre-globalized past) and impose strict dress codes on women. Many Americans not only become fearful of Mexican immigrants and Islamic terrorists, but become agitated about abortion. A more general social conservatism, most powerfully embodied in deep-rooted feelings around sexuality, mixes with xenophobia to produce new social supports for the traditional, not the neoliberal, right.

Europe, especially western Europe, has been a partial exception. The final great battles of the 1970s in Catholic lands over contraception, divorce and finally abortion petered out, the churches, the main bearers of European social conservatism, became weak and in many cases often liberal in their social attitudes. There are today few supports for general authoritarian conservatism, and matters have narrowed down more closely to immigration and the following chain: the European Union is a super-national force that suppresses traditional national identities; in particular, it brings immigrants with unfamiliar cultures and languages; it is difficult to distinguish immigrants from refugees, who come in alarming numbers from even more unfamiliar cultures; and since these refugees are Moslems, they are likely to include terrorists who will try to kill us.

Against these beliefs and fears stands a liberal, inclusionary mind-set that sees in globalization and multiculturalism a series of opportunities for a richer life, more varied cultural experiences, perhaps new possibilities for individual advancement.

A brief history of political identity

To put this confrontation into context, we need to understand how it happened in the first place that ordinary people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose daily lives were very remote from big political issues, ever came to have political identities. It occurred as they found that aspects of their social identities, which they understood very well, were engaged in struggles over inclusion and exclusion in voting and other political rights. Depending on one’s social position, one’s identity was implicated in either demands to be included, or demands to exclude others. Class and property ownership, religion, and occasionally ethnicity (in Europe normally with reference to Jews, in the USA to Afro-American people) were the key identities around which these struggles revolved. By the end of World War II and after considerable bloodshed the concept of universal adult citizenship had become accepted in almost all advanced economies. Spain and Portugal remained outside the consensus until the mid 1970s; Greece flitted in and out. In central and eastern Europe a very back-handed kind of universalism dominated, where universal inclusion came to mean universal exclusion except for a small communist party elite; but in general in the west politics became peaceful and more or less democratic.

Once universal citizenship was achieved, those identities forged in struggles to achieve or prevent citizenship began to lose their raison d’être, but so deeply rooted were they that paradoxically they became the basis of democratic electoral politics. Over time they could do this not as direct memory but only as memories of parents’ and grand-parents’ experiences. These necessarily faded, and in any case many people moved away from the social locations of their parents and grandparents. Democracy therefore began to depend for its vigour on forces that its very achievement had weakened. Their decline was reinforced by three major changes. First came the rise of the post-industrial economy and the creation of many occupations that have no resonance with the struggles of the past, and whose practitioners cannot easily relate their occupational identities to political allegiance at all. Class declined as a reliable source of political identity. Second, (in Europe but not the USA) religious adherence declined, and along with it both the power of the identity struggles surrounding it and general conflicts over authoritarianism versus liberalism. Finally, the use of ethnicity or nationality as identity resources in partisan struggles had been rendered horrifying to most politicians and ordinary people, partly as a result of the two world wars and their demonstration of the destructive force of nationalism, and partly through knowledge of the Holocaust and the passions that had lain behind it. A nationalistic fringe continued in some countries, and the separate issue of racial entitlements to citizenship continued to flourish in the USA until the 1960s, but in general this became a no-go area in political conflict.

We should not puzzle at declining voting turnout and even more strongly declining identification with political parties once we appreciate that a strong interest in politics by the mass of citizens who have no chance of being politically effective needs social supports, and that those bequeathed to us by the struggles of the past have declined in salience. There has now been such a general loosening of ties between parties and voters that it increasingly seemed inappropriate to include a discussion of voting behaviour within a discussion of identities. Does voting for a party, even repeated voting for it, necessarily imply an ‘identity’ with it any more than frequent purchase of a brand of soap implies an identity with the firm making the soap? Certainly, election campaigns increasingly resemble advertising campaigns for products, suggesting that parties do indeed consider that they bond with voters no differently from the way producers of goods bond with customers.

But this may now be changing, as economic globalization and its broader consequences start to reproduce social identities with powerful political potential. Central is revived national consciousness. While the great majority of politicians had for decades abjured using national identity in party conflict, there was no reason for them not to use it as a non-conflictual rallying call, since after all their role is to care for the nation. As a result national sentiment has been left lying around in popular consciousness, available for other purposes if occasion arose. Globalization, immigration, refugees and terrorism provide such occasions. Meanwhile memories of the appalling consequences of the political use of nationalism in the first half of the 20th century are fading. Nation is strengthening as a political force, while class and religion (unless the latter becomes implicated in conflict around Islam and therefore absorbed into nationalism) are declining.

The turnaround can be seen most clearly in parts of central Europe. The political implications of class identities had been stood on their head under state socialism, and national identity remains the only strong link that people can feel to their polity. This helps explain the puzzle of the Czech Republic, which has suddenly become the most Europhobic country in Europe after the UK. The country has benefited more than any other from the European Union, which has provided its modern infrastructure, a safe framework for the divorce from Slovakia, an easy channel for the German and other investment that has equipped an advanced economy, and a base for trading with the rest of the world that the infant country would otherwise have had to create from scratch. Then the EU asked for some payback, putting pressure on the Czechs to help bear the burden of Middle Eastern refugees arriving on the coasts of Greece and Italy. Czechs – whose nationalism historically never hurt anyone but has been a badge of resistance against various forms of foreign domination – suddenly became responsive to the wave of anti-foreigner feeling sweeping through Europe.

One major, unexpected result of these developments is that the old predominant conflict axis around inequality and redistribution is itself becoming interpreted through nationalism rather than through class politics. The new nationalist movements nearly always include the global financial elite in their attacks. Many observers were surprised when there were relatively few mass expressions of anger after the 2008 financial crisis. We can now understand why. For ordinary non-political people to take any kind of action, including voting, against powerful forces they need some confidence-boosting assurance that they are part of something wider, something rooted in a strong social identity. Given the decline of class, only national identity has been available to give them that assurance. All contemporary xenophobic movements, from Donald Trump in the USA and Mariane Le Pen in France to Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Norbert Hofer in Austria, link their attacks on immigrants and refugees to those on the national elites implicated in the financial crisis. In turn, some protest movement that began as non-xenophobic opponents of elites, like il Movimento Cinque Stelle in Italy, find that they can get more traction if they include resentment at refugees in their rhetoric. Groups like UKIP in the UK or Alternative für Deutschland, which started life as critics of the European Union, have found success by responding to fears around immigrants and Moslems. The challenge to powerful elites is hereby made safe, because it is enfolded in attacks on the weaker symbols of globalization. One might be frightened to kick a strong man, but one might kick what one believes to be his dog.

In a recent Guardian article, Martin Jacques claimed that the successful Brexit campaign and various other instances of widespread support for populist movements around the western world constituted the return of class politics in general and a political reassertion of the working class in particular[1]. This was wistful thinking. Outside Greece, Spain and possibly Scotland, the new populism is precisely not articulating itself as class movements, but as nationalistic, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee – quite apart from the fact that a majority of Brexit voters were comfortably off Conservative voters in southern England.

The social supports of multiculturalism

Is nationalism therefore set to trump all other political forces, as its deeply rooted emotions come up against little more than voting behaviour of the soap-buying kind? Are persons holding liberal opinions anything more than randomly scattered individuals? Stalin invented the term ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ to stigmatize Jews, but the general idea that cosmopolitanism or a positive approach to multiculturalism implies rootlessness or normlessness is widespread. Some recent research suggests otherwise, providing evidence that liberal attitudes are associated with particular social locations.

The starting point is the work of a Swiss sociologist, Daniel Oesch[2]. He became dissatisfied with the idea of an undifferentiated middle class used in so much academic as well as popular discussion, given that the category was coming to mean the broad majority of occupational positions in the advanced economies. He proposed that social and political attitudes were formed, not just by the positions people occupied in organizational hierarchies (class), but by the kinds of work tasks on which they were engaged. He distinguished three of these: technical (e.g. manufacturing), administrative (e.g. banks, public bureaucracies), interpersonal (e.g. public services). If these categories were combined with hierarchical position, he found that one could account for differences in, say, voting behaviour among those occupying middle-class positions.

Oesch’s idea was applied to issues of direct relevance to us here by two German political scientists working in the US, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm[3]. Gathering data from all western member states of the EU, they examined typical differences in attitudes among people working in different hierarchical positions and on Oesch’s different types of task along the three dimensions that I have used here: inequality and redistribution; the role of authority versus liberty; and immigration. The first of these relates to the inequality axis, the other two to the authoritarian versus liberalism axis. Unsurprisingly, they found that people at the upper and middle levels of hierarchies in all types of task held less egalitarian views than those in lower positions, though senior and middle-ranking persons in interpersonal services were considerably less inegalitarian than the others. Those at higher and middle levels in all work tasks had liberal attitudes on both general authoritarianism and immigration, though there were differences. The most liberal were professionals in interpersonal services, then those engaged in technical tasks, least so those in administration. Those at the lowest levels of hierarchies held illiberal views on both dimensions, and egalitarian views on the third dimension. These findings held true after controlling for whether people worked in the private or public sectors, or whether they were male or female.

Without more detailed research it is difficult to know to what extent people with certain social attributes are drawn towards working at particular tasks, or working at particular types of task leads people to develop the attitudes in question. From the finer details of Oesch’s and Kitschelt and Rehm’s work it emerges that the more people have discretion in their work tasks and work directly, face to face, with other human persons, the more liberal and inclusive they are; the more their own work follows rules and routines in impersonal contexts, the more they support authoritarianism and exclusion. There does not seem to be any important difference between attitudes to immigrants and those on general issues of authority. For example, people who believe that immigration should be restricted are also likely to believe that school discipline should be tougher.

It seems clear that attitudes on issues of authority and liberty are not just personal whims, but socially rooted. The Brexit referendum similarly revealed sociological regularities. Young, particularly female, well educated people living in large cities were more likely to vote to remain in the EU; older, mainly male persons in both declining industrial cities and prosperous provincial areas not much touched by the new economy tended to vote to leave. The politics of this question is more complex in the British case than elsewhere. Whereas the Brexit campaign played on fears of foreigners and implicitly encouraged isolationist tendencies, the purpose of the ministers involved in negotiating the UK’s future economic place in the world seems to be to expose the country to intensified global competitive pressure. How they will eventually reconcile that with their mass supporters is a very interesting question, but beyond our concerns here. Most important is to recognize that openness to multiculturalism and internationalism have become deeply felt, socially grounded beliefs among those parts of contemporary populations whose work and other aspects of social location lead them to reject exclusion and value inclusiveness. This determined cosmopolitanism might be based on a positive appreciation of being enriched by engagement with other cultures, or on a desire to be free of constraints on individual freedom. In either case, it is necessary to note that the revival of exclusionary nationalism is not the only popular development in contemporary politics. A major cleavage is opening between two sets of deeply held attitudes.

Long-term implications

These changes will have long-term and unpredictable consequences for all main political forces in advanced societies. The biggest challenge is to the alliance of neoliberals and conservatives, currently the world’s dominant political formation, expressing the inegalitarian end of the inequality and redistribution axis. Hegemonic as the economic ideology of an international elite, neoliberalism is rarely a powerful force in democratic party politics. When it appears virtually alone in a party’s identity, that party is usually very small (as with the German Free Democrats). More normally it appears within conservative parties, as with the UK Conservatives or US Republicans. But classic European democratic conservatism is weakening alongside its former religious supports. Its parties then face a strong temptation to rediscover the nationalism that is part of their heritage and become part of the new xenophobia. They can do this either in coalitions or deals with far-right parties (as in Scandinavia) or through shifts within the party (as with British Conservatives). But this threatens the heart of the neoliberal project, which is globalizing and highly cosmopolitan. So far the tension has been even more severe in the US, where the Christian right is far stronger than in most of Europe. The Republican Party is being torn apart between the neoliberals who have dominated it for years through their billionaire backers and the protectionist nationalism represented by Donald Trump. Neoliberalism and conservatism are allies when the main conflict axis is that around inequality and redistribution; if that is gradually replaced by one that sets liberalism and a nationalist conservatism against each other, they stand at opposite poles.

Moderate conservatives do not necessarily follow the nationalist path. Using their central position in most political systems, they can achieve simultaneous accommodations with the two main rival forms of liberalism, neoliberalism and social democracy. One sees this most clearly in German Christian Democracy – the country where the nationalist option is seen as most dangerous.  It was also there in the currently defeated Cameron-Osborne wing of British Conservatism.

Neoliberals also have the option of shifting to the left by making compromises on the inequality axis, if that axis is being dwarfed by that over conservatism-liberalism. There are certainly precedents. Blair’s New Labour, Schroeder’s Neue Mitte SPD, Clinton’s New Democrats, have all been examples, as are today Renzi’s Democratici. These may seem uncomfortable antecedents, but arguably the largest social change in recent times, the move towards gender equality, has been a shared neoliberal/social-democratic, anti-conservative project. When, following the financial crisis, the OECD and IMF began to resile from their earlier neoliberal policy stances, they were motivated mainly by the risks being posed by growing US inequality to mass consumption[4]. In the wake of the Brexit vote some global investment advisors went further and began to worry whether growing inequality was not nourishing xenophobic resentment against globalization. How far are neoliberals willing to accept redistribution and strong welfare states in order to safeguard their other achievements?

Social democrats have their own crises. As the manual working class declines in size, they reluctantly face the reality that they will never again be the assured representatives of the biggest fraction of society. Instead they fight for their share of that large middle mass of the post-industrial world. Thanks to Oesch’s analysis, we can see that this mass is no longer just the conservative bourgeoisie of the past, but includes, particularly among those engaged in interpersonal work tasks, the new constituency of the left, though where voting systems give them the chance, they often prefer environmentalist and other non-social-democratic forms of the left. These people are primarily liberal, though also favourable to redistribution, and there is growing tension between them and the old working class as the conservatism-liberalism axis grows in importance. Can social democrats reassert the priority of the inequality axis to hold their coalition together?

David Goodhart[5], Wolfgang Streeck[6] and some other observers have pointed out that the social democratic welfare state was an essentially national institution, rooted in people’s sense of shared membership in a national community. The idea is expressed most clearly in the Swedish idea of the welfare state as folkshemmet, the place where people can feel at home. These meanings could be stretched to include small numbers of immigrants, but to how many? Is the US aversion to a strong welfare state a reflection of its cultural heterogeneity? Thinking on these lines leads some to seek a national social democracy, which requires severe limitations on immigration, a rejection of liberalism, and in the case of European countries withdrawal from the EU.

Political clocks cannot be put back. The great welfare states developed under the aegis of a benign form of national identity that was not directed against outsiders. The most advanced welfare states developed in open trading nations – Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK. That world cannot be recaptured. To assert the limitation of social citizenship to ‘real’ nationals now can no longer be the folkshem of a people who just happen to be ethnically homogenous, but becomes symbolized by the demand of the Front National that rights be limited to français de la souche (best translated broadly as ‘true born French’), requiring active exclusion of those deemed to be outsiders. Non-aggressive nationalism is still possible in places like Scotland or Greece, where resentment against external domination does not require the victimization of immigrants and refugees. Elsewhere it has become very difficult to sustain.

Also, free trade is now nested in a regime with global rules, not a series of national decisions to choose how much free trade they want to accept. In this context the EU constitutes an opportunity to extend social policy alongside free trade, expressing the pooled sovereignty of its members, rather than the loss of sovereignty implied by the pure free trade of the World Trade Organization.

But is the direction of pooled sovereignty towards the construction of transnational social policy possible with the current politics of the EU? Today’s European tragedy has two components. First, Europeans are being asked to absorb large numbers of dispossessed people from the other side of the Mediterranean. Second, the EU is coping with both this and the free movement of labour from central Europe at a moment when EU policy makers and the European Court of Justice have experienced an extreme neoliberal turn, rendering it unwilling to provide the social policy support that these large movements of people require. The first was not Europe’s fault; the second it is fully within the power of its policy makers and jurists to change. This is again dependent on some rethinking by European neoliberals, which the withdrawal of the UK might make easier.

No political family can look forward to a comfortable future. The outcomes of these tensions and their explosive consequences for the main contemporary political currents will be very varied. A particularly important variable is the balance between the electoral (democratic) component of political systems and that which concerns lobbying, the role of big money, the bargaining power of global corporations. The latter is probably more important in shaping our politics, though since it is largely invisible we can say least about it. It is the arena within which neoliberalism mainly operates as a political force. Ironically, it is likely to be here that alliances between neoliberals and social democrats are forged. It may be easier for neoliberalism to soften in this non-democratic but dominant part of political life, because change involves rational calculation by small numbers of self-interested individuals and corporations, not the deep feelings of large numbers of people. One can already see the framework for this elite compromise in the changing approaches of the OECD and IMF. As international organizations, these can never share in the new xenophobia. Since the late 1970s they have helped forge the neoliberal hegemony and have been major protagonists of an open global trading system, but their recent fears about the impact of growing US inequality on mass consumption, and the role of big money in political lobbying marks a major shift. The OECD has also started to change its earlier hostility to the work of trade unions and collective bargaining. This could be the start of a new neoliberal/ social democratic historic compromise.

In the electoral sphere much depends on the relative sizes of Oesch’s different fractions of the middle class, on party structures and voting systems. The tensions within both conservative and social-democratic parties as the relative importance of the two great axes of conflict changes can be most fruitfully released in systems where new parties can form and then make various alliances. Electoral systems of the British and in particular US kind force everything to remain within existing parties, sometimes contorting them out of all meaning. Within all this complexity, generational change and economic restructuring seem to favour the growth of various kinds of liberalism, while every new horror emerging from the Middle East strengthens xenophobic nationalism.
[1] Jacques, M. (2016) ‘The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in Western politics’, The Guardian, 21 August.
[2] Oesch, D. (2006) Redrawing the Class Map. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
[3] Kitschelt, H. and Rehm, P. (2014) ‘Occupations as a site of political preference formation’, Comparative Political Studies.
[4] See, in particular, OECD (2011) Divided We Stand (Paris: OECD).
[5] Goodhart, D. (2013) The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration. London: Atlantic.
[6] Streeck, W. (2015) ‘The Rise of the European Consolidation State’, MPIfG Discussion Paper 15/1. Cologne: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.

Colin Crouch is a sociologist and political scientist, and is emeritus professor at the University of Warwick and an external scientific member of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne. His most recent book, Society and Social Change in 21st Century Europe, is published by Palgrave Macmillan

This essay appears in the latest edition of Juncture, the IPPR journal of ideas.