IPR Blog

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

Topic: Political ideologies

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.

hung

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A General Election to Challenge – or Intensify – Neoliberalism?

📥  Brexit, Political ideologies, Welfare and social security

Dr Bryn Jones is Senior Teaching Fellow in the University of Bath's Department of Social & Policy Sciences. Professor Mike O'Donnell is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Westminster.

Public sector retrenchment, deregulated markets and corporate takeovers of public and civil society spheres are contested topics in this election. Yet the protagonists do not directly acknowledge that these arise from the disruptive effects of the generation-long, neoliberal system.

austerity

 

Neoliberalism still underlies the current social unrest and political crisis – but its ideological hegemony is under threat. Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes: de-industrialisation, public sector austerity, worsened living standards and insecure and/or poorly paid employment.

The stances of the main parties in the election reflect different orientations to this crisis. The Labour manifesto tends to over-emphasise selective aspects of neoliberal rule in order to project more statist alternatives. The orientation of the Conservatives is more tortuous.

Their manifesto hints at ideological retreats from neoliberalism. Yet an explicit rejection of ‘untrammelled free markets’ and ‘the cult of selfish individualism’ is not matched by any general reversal of fiscal austerity, or by increases in genuinely public sector activity, or reversals of privatised and corporate control of the servicing of public and personal needs.

A ‘Hard Brexit’

Thanks to an adroit move to capture the forces behind the fading UKIP project, the Tories are making a virtue of a ruthless break with the EU systems of regulated markets – even though such a ‘hard Brexit’ would mean more neoliberalism: subjecting British businesses, public services and workers to the rigours of harsher international trading arrangements, with greater freedoms for corporations from taxes and regulation. Labour’s more activist state framework of re-nationalisations, higher public spending and selective tax increases directly attacks key elements of neoliberal governance, but has two significant weaknesses.

Firstly, its ‘retro’ character ignores the fiscal and governance flaws in the traditional social democratic (SD) paradigm that enabled neoliberalism to discredit and supplant SD institutions. Secondly, Labour’s proposals lack a distinct and unifying thematic which attacks the core of the neoliberal paradigm in voter-friendly terms. Labour’s tepid stance on Brexit outcomes reinforces this weakness. Rather than confronting Theresa May’s tough Brexit position, Labour claims, unconvincingly, that it is not a defining issue. In short, in a period of acute national uncertainty and division some of Labour’s solutions look dated – ‘back to the future’ rather than innovative and timely.

Useful Ambiguity

The Conservatives’ strategy has been to surf the populist wave: flaunting a hard Brexit and severing trading agreements with the EU. Yet in other contexts May advances onto Labour territory: promising not only novel SD elements such as vague promises of worker representatives on company boards, but also guaranteeing to maintain EU-enshrined employment rights.

Such policies may be chimerical but their reportage creates useful ambiguity: even the TUC gave them guarded support. How are voters likely to react, and will the opposition parties’ campaigns at least open up neoliberalism’s hegemony to popular challenges?

Polls suggest a large Tory majority, a corresponding loss for Labour and modest gains for Lib Dems with little or no further progress for Greens, UKIP and the SNP. Such a Tory landslide depends on three plausible but uncertain conditions.

  1. May wins seats outside the Tory heartlands and votes from erstwhile Labour voters.
  2. Corbyn’s Labour fails to win, or loses support of, traditional and potential supporters: disadvantaged working classes, youth, minorities etc.
  3. The Lib Dems’ appeal to ‘Remain’ supporters from the EU referendum fails to convert into enough votes or seats.

Momentum and the progressive alliance

Labour’s massive advantage in terms of activists on the ground, especially its Momentum praetorian guard, could mobilise latent Labour voters to preclude the first two of these conditions. Other potential grass-roots checks on a sweeping Tory victory could be belated surges of voter registration amongst the young, transient and often politically disenchanted, promoted by the numerous tactical voting campaign groups, some derived from the EU Remain movement.

A further positive development is the necessarily belated launching of a Progressive Alliance. Supported by cross-party politicians and civil society activists and organisations, it aims to promote tactical voting to return sufficient progressive MPs for democratic checks on a potentially all-powerful Conservative government.

Together these initiatives could hold off Tories in marginal seats. Finally there is the question of whether the Tories ‘air war’ supremacy – financial and media superiority – can maintain a discursive integrity, avoiding internal dissent or refutations from opponents.

These political and ideological ramifications reflect the broader societal conflict over the neoliberal regime, with civil society forces trying to resurrect the public sphere and curb the dominance of the corporate and financial establishment, which Conservatives covertly seek to strengthen through Brexit. The worst-case Parliamentary scenario for the opposition parties would set back progressive alternatives rooted in equality, community, environmental and democratic reform movements.

Their common core is the pursuit of the cumulative emancipation, amelioration and improvement which flourished under post-war social democracy and post-60s social liberalism. Thomas Marshall placed the early upsurge of this project within a three-stage progression through the acquisition of legal, political and then social rights. In the vortex of Brexit’s economic upheaval, under a right–wing Tory Parliament and government, these rights could stall or even reverse.

Democratic Equality’s Fourth Phase

More positively, even if Labour’s retro Social Democracy fails and they are out of power, an emergent fourth phase of democratic equality could become politically plausible. Its key theme would be challenging neoliberal inequality by enhanced participation – the fostering of everyday democracy as a norm. Buttressed by a participation-linked basic income, it would be rooted in the lifeworld of civil society; for instance, extending support for family and neighbourhood caring networks.

Economic development would mean small and social enterprise development and regulating corporations’ local operations by social licensing with social stakeholder decision-making at board level. Transformation on this scale would require a legal and organisational framework encoding and securing participatory democracy – in parallel with more organic development through educational institutions, local bodies and workplaces.

This ‘bottom-up’ democracy would support aspects of a re-invigorated public sphere – consistent with, but advancing beyond that currently envisaged by social democrats. A scenario this ruthlessly sprung election threatens to suffocate.

This article originally appeared on the Policy Press Blog and draws on themes further explored in a book edited by Dr Jones and Professor O'Donnell:  Alternatives to Neoliberalism: Towards equality and democracy, recently published by Policy Press.

 

Some Manifesto Matters

📥  Brexit, Political ideologies, UK politics

I have the dubious distinction of having helped draft a manifesto for an election that was never held. In 2007, the No10 Policy Unit was mobilised to draft a manifesto at short notice, should it have been needed. It wasn’t. It is still on a hard drive somewhere.

manifesto

 

Theresa May evidently learned the most important lesson of that debacle, which is not to let anyone speculate that you might call an election before you have actually done so (not that it took much working out). It surely helps that her closest confidantes and advisers are not fellow Cabinet ministers.

The forthcoming general election will be a national interest election, dominated by one big issue. That makes the party manifestos less important than during “normal” times. But it does not make them redundant. The now widely held view – shared by pundits and the markets alike – is that a snap election makes Brexit inevitable and a softer Brexit more likely. This is because the Prime Minister will secure a large majority, enabling her to marginalise those Eurosceptics agitating for “no deal” or WTO status, while also convincing the European Union that there is no turning back on Brexit.

If this is the Prime Minister’s strategy, she will need to drop her line that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. If that appears in the Conservative manifesto, it will empower, not neuter, the hardline Eurosceptics (It is also worth bearing in mind that if the Liberal Democrats make gains, they are likely to do so against soft Brexit or Remain Conservatives, and that if the older UKIP vote falls into the Conservative bloc, it will benefit Hard Brexiteers). If only for this issue, what is written in the Conservative manifesto will matter.

On current polls, the other manifesto that will matter most to post-election scenarios will be the SNP one. It will doubtless include a carefully crafted line on holding a second independence referendum before Brexit, which can then be claimed as an additional mandate for the SNP’s plans. But if Theresa May is true to her Conservative-Unionism (which, as Will Davies pointed out on Twitter has “an ugly Schmittian strain to it – an ideal of a single national community, where the only (internal) enemies are all in Westminster”) she will seek to trump that with a line in the Conservative manifesto that gives her authority to refuse the section 30 notice.

Those who draft manifestos agonise over lines like these, particularly when the general framework for the content is clear, as it is in 2017. The refusal of the Prime Minister to participate in leadership debates means that the manifesto launches will get more scrutiny than in the last two elections. They will inevitably cover the waterfront of policy, as they must. But the big issues are likely to hang on a small number of words.

 

New Nationalism and Old Ideologies

  

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

Dr Sivamohan Valluvan is Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester.

No event in recent British political history has generated the level of despondency, exhilaration and chaotic scramble that has accompanied the result of the 2016 European Referendum. Brexit, in the course of engendering a historically unique standard of socio-political uncertainty and constitutional intrigue, tore apart the two-party compact that had defined much of 20th century politics. Put differently, the allure of nationalist assertion in the form of exiting Europe seemed to cross and confound the distinctions of class, geography and ideology that had underpinned so much of recent British, and – truth be told – Western European politics writ large.[1]

march

 

Brexit represents, however, only one – albeit spectacular – milestone. Indeed, the issues constitutive of new nationalism, and the demagoguery intrinsic to it, only seem to be intensifying in the wake of the referendum result. These iconic issues include: the purported ‘refugee crisis’ and immigration concerns more generally; the War on Terror and cognate anxieties regarding British Muslims; the diffuse disenchantment with even just a nominal commitment to multiculturalism; alongside the outpouring of nativist concern regarding the plight of a disenfranchised ‘white working class’.

Whilst this expansive nationalist present is at last acquiring the analytic regard that it had long been denied,[2] insufficient attention is being given to the actual ideological content of new nationalism. Most critical analysis tends instead towards an account of the socio-economic and/or party political circumstances that have allegedly provoked the nationalist reaction.[3] An emphasis on the economic and the institutional is certainly necessary – but equally important is the need for sustained scrutiny of the multiple and conflicting ideological traditions that new nationalism comprises of. Any such undertaking consequently allows us to repudiate some of the complacencies currently prevalent about what nationalism is vis-à-vis its ideological composition.

Namely, populist-nationalism is not just a base appeal to fear and hatred lacking in any broader conceptual loading. On the contrary, various ideological repertoires definitive of political contestation across the 20th century all assume an integral role in anchoring the nationalist wave. Recognising this expansive ideological map accordingly prevents the convenient attribution of the current malaise to an allegedly vulgar but largely contained rump of racism. Instead, any attempt to resist nationalism must first involve properly addressing its sophisticated affinity to multiple ideological forms, some of which we mistakenly consider to be inured from such trends. I will accordingly gesture here, in an admittedly synoptic manner, at how various political traditions have all become susceptible to the capture of contemporary nationalism. These repertoires include: classical ‘values liberalism’; a resurgent anti-market left communitarianism; neoliberal individualism and the particular racial pathologisation of poverty that sits within its moral economy; some nominally feminist rhetorics regarding sexual freedoms and liberation; strands even of bucolic environmentalism; and, of course, a more familiar conservative nostalgia for the putative unity, stability and public morality of pre-war, colonial whiteness.

Muscular Liberalism and Civic Nationalism

A significant trend in academic and political discourse over the last two decades contended that a national community need not be demarcated by its ethnic origins but by its civic, liberal principles – what was alternatingly called the ‘post-ethnic’ nation, civic nationalism and, elsewhere, ‘Constitutional Patriotism’. It might be said that this line of speculation did open certain interesting progressive possibilities regarding visualisations of the democratic polity, visualisations that look beyond the origin myths of blood and soil. It is, however, also apparent that an aggressively white nativism has been very successful in publically capturing this liberal assertion – an appropriation that is particularly likely given the broader legacy of Orientalist civilisationism that sits within most public affirmations of liberal distinctiveness. Put less obliquely, it becomes apparent that many ideas of liberal virtue become ethnically coded during the course of everyday populist demagoguery. An early anecdotal primer of this capture was evident in then Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a ‘Muscular Liberalism’ whilst championing his case for integration.

It is instructive to consider here the regularity with which many ethnic minorities are popularly presented as lacking the cultural disposition to assume these prized liberal virtues, virtues foregrounded as constitutive of the national self. The opportunist recourse to certain ostensibly feminist themes regarding sexuality and gender becomes a uniquely important site of analysis here in terms of scoping the full, sophisticated reach of an ethnically aggressive civic nationalism – an incorporation that is particularly pronounced amidst the public demagoguery aimed at European Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiment, so central to the contemporary nationalist sensibility, is routinely channelled through reference to how Muslim culture is said to be antithetical to a liberal value base. What consequently materialises here is a kind of self-satisfied and racially marked liberal civilisationism that does so much work in terms of how new nationalism attains its popular validity, particularly regarding its attractiveness to certain middle-class constituencies.

Melancholic Conservatism

Popularly seen as the direct antonym of the liberal position, a prosaic conservatism is perhaps the domain most commonly associated with new nationalist desires. We witness today a set of conservative nostalgias – a pastoral and imperial nostalgia, or what Paul Gilroy famously identified as ‘Postcolonial Melancholia’. These nostalgias are seen, for instance, in the rehabilitation of monarchy through recurring spectacles of weddings and reproduction; in the revival of Edwardian and inter-war period drama; in the disproportionate success of the Help for Heroes charity, insofar as it has become a key staging ground for the much broader symbolic valorisation of the soldier and military, both past and present; and, also, in the all-too-explicable popularity of rustic Countryfile and other cultural phenomena that invoke a similarly provincial ideal. All these instances speak to a conservative cultural nostalgia and the thinly veiled imperial mythology that accompanies it. It is a nostalgic formation that remembers a homely greatness and the genteel whiteness redolent of that greatness.

However, what is often elided or misunderstood in existing analyses of conservative nostalgia is that much of this commentary and cultural output does actually pivot on a certain critique of unbridled free-market capitalism, a critique that is often expressed via a conservationist, pastoral, Christianist, and/or culturally elitist mould. It therefore becomes necessary to disentangle this particular formulation of nationalist desire from neoliberalism, a project that it is often but wrongly bundled together with in commonplace critiques of contemporary politics. Maintaining this distinction allows us to tie another constituency and tradition, so significant as it is, to the broader flurry of voices that animate the nationalist cry.

Neoliberal Will

When seen accordingly on its own terms, the primary concern of the neoliberal right posits that a market-society ideal is hampered by cultures of welfare dependency and inadequate individual responsibility. This neoliberal position individualises outcomes of success and failure, muting in turn issues of structure and access to resources. But, again, important questions arise regarding the imperative of this neoliberal frame to also racially code conceptions of failure, dependency and national crisis. It is important to remember here that neoliberalism is not only an economic or legislative programme, but also fundamentally a cultural and moral programme. So whilst it is, on one level, quite obviously about the retreat of the redistributive and interventionist state (except for its security arm) in favour of the market and its internal mechanisms, it is also a cultural category that foregrounds particular values and motifs. This includes the modelling of the ideal individual as aspirational, responsible, and self-reliant.

And the symbolic mediation of these ideals does draw heavily upon established racial representational frames in asserting who is not the ideal neoliberal subject. Consider, for instance, images of the black ‘welfare queen’, the lazy, deceitful immigrant leaching on the largesse of the welfare state, or the Muslim and her unproductive proclivity for matters of family, religion, and custom. These are what we might call the racial subjects of the neoliberal. Indeed, even when some working-class white figures are brought into the fold of a general capitalist shaming, they are often judged by their proximity to the pathologies of blackness. An obvious but nonetheless indicative instance was when the ubiquitous David Starkey claimed in the wake of the 2011 riots that the ‘whites have become black’; or simply consider the racial implications of the term ‘white trash’, or consider why the term ‘chav’ is seen as the preserve of poor white people – signalling a reaffirmation of whiteness, when properly realised, as a marker of neoliberal success. Amidst the expansive resonances of these popular terminologies, it becomes possible to note that a neoliberal moral framework provokes its own distinct set of nationalist anxieties and constitutive outsider figures.

Neoliberalism’s prizing of urban consumerism, and the remaking of cities and its inner core as havens of ‘experience shopping’, also brings about a series of racial anxieties whereby certain bodies, languages and tastes become antithetical to the ideal consumer space. These bodies become repulsive and disruptive to pleasurable consumption, adding in turn another layer to how everyday neoliberal rationales induce a particular anxiety about the outsider, the new migrant, and the urban poor more broadly. Put bluntly, if Roma people show up on your carefully curated consumer street, it poses an acute challenge to neoliberal consumer aesthetics.

Left Communitarianism and the Left Behind

Amidst the historically defining advance of the above neoliberal orthodoxy, an influential counter in 1990s public commentary was the communitarian position – a left-driven critique of the increased normalisation of the market society, globalisation, and its attendant individualism. It was accordingly argued that an altruistic society which might operate beyond the terms of solipsist self-reliance and provide solidaristic reference points for its polity requires a common community bond. Considerable emphasis was placed here on the thick emotional ties of community[4] as necessary for a defence of a redistributive welfare state ideal.

It is clear however that this communitarian critique of global capitalism’s excesses enjoys a close proximity to more avowedly nativist political discourses. For instance, there is increased talk of how a defence of the welfare state is only possible if an idea of unitary ethnic community is rejuvenated. The emergence of the tendency called Blue Labour, a communitarian school within the pre-Corbyn Labour Party, and also the general ubiquity of David Goodhart’s writing and political influence speak to this recuperated ideal of ethnic homogeneity. Goodhart’s important ‘Too Diverse?’ article in Prospect ought to be considered a particularly formative moment for a whole spate of subsequent left-leaning nationalist commentary.

It is my broader contention here that the initially progressive understanding of community, as a critique of market individualism, has been reduced in prominent public analysis to a concern with majoritarian ethno-national community. It is particularly telling here that the already well-established, putatively far-right parties across Scandinavia[5] exhibit a very assertive but racially coded defence of the welfare state, workers’ rights and collective solidarity, a defence that is presented as a central plank of their nationalist aspirations.

This nationalist frame has obtained particular ubiquity in the UK in the wake of the Brexit referendum, whereby much public analysis has centred on what is increasingly referred to as the ‘left behind’ – this being a conception that speaks to a particular concern for some notion of the white working class. Whilst many anti-racist critics rightly consider this to be a highly disingenuous appeal to class (see Bhambra and Goodfellow for two such exemplary pieces), it is nonetheless an invocation that is central to leftist renditions of nationalism. Put more specifically, the left behind refers to a working class, defined exclusively as white, that is understood as being uniquely marginalised and looks, accordingly, to legitimate certain anti-immigration and anti-minority attitudes that are popularly attributed to this constituency. An extensive matrix of populist left-wing idioms – anti-establishment, anti-metropolitan elite and anti-globalisation – are in turn folded into a much broader, symbolically aggressive nationalist attachment to particular understandings of authentic white working-class consciousness. Herein, in unpacking the left rationales that have become susceptible to contemporary nationalist articulation, particular critical attentiveness must be given to how this ‘left behind’ framing of the white working class manifests, and the racial ideological work it is accordingly called upon to perform.

Conclusion

Resisting the inclination to attribute a unitary, generally rightist character to this new nationalism, it is important to appreciate how its heightened appeal hinges crucially on the convergence of multiple political repertoires. There are of course a variety of other factors equally important to situating the consolidation of nationalism’s electoral power: economic factors pertaining to austerity governance and the precarity of post-industrial labour; media factors regarding shifts in cycles of news circulation and the role of digital platforms in particular; as well as the broader political evacuation by the left of a counter-narrative to neoliberalism’s recent monopoly on our very conceptions of what is even considered politically possible.

It is the case, however, that new nationalism is also an affirmative system of making sense that roots itself across a multitude of well-established political traditions. Amidst this acknowledgment, where nationalism is itself a way of actively thinking about one’s social and political surroundings, it becomes vital that critics apprehend the different conceptual traditions informing the nationalist rationality; a new nationalist cacophony that is righteously liberal, mournfully conservative, belligerently neoliberal, and solidaristically leftist, all at once – and necessarily so. A critique of nationalism is therefore, when properly realised, also a critique of how these respective traditions as currently construed are either complicit in the demonisation of various outsider figures and/or remain hapless at sponsoring robustly anti-racist narratives.

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. Much of this article’s argument constitutes the point of departure for a book that Dr Sivamohan Valluvan is currently working on, provisionally titled The New Nationalism and to be published in 2018 by Manchester University Press.

 

Footnotes

[1] It should be acknowledged that a strongman authoritarian nationalism has already been consolidated in other regional contexts, the most conspicuous being Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey and also, perhaps in a less spectacular sense, Abe in Japan. These contexts are not, however, germane to my argument as regarding the particular ideological configurations prevalent in Europe.
[2] It seems salutary to note here that for a long time, outside of the increasingly siloed field of race and racism, it was a considerable struggle to get questions of the nationalist wave onto the sociological or political agenda. The reasons for this omission as far as academia is concerned are legion – including the above reduction of race and racism attentiveness to merely another discrete academic specialism; the counter-productive fixation with an unimaginatively construed notion of ‘impact’; as well as a byzantine preoccupation with methodological trivialities, increasingly set up as a social science end in itself.
[3] Valluvan has written elsewhere about how we might want to situate the economic within the broader rise of new nationalism, a context that is certainly integral to any comprehensive explanatory account of populist-nationalism but must not be attributed an exhaustive causality.
[4] Affirmative bonds of community that are contrasted to the ‘thin abstract altruism’ of liberal humanism and/or cosmopolitanism. I borrow this phrasing from a short piece on the cosmopolitanism contra communitarianism debate by Gyan Prakash.
[5] The Scandinavian context has increasingly become an accurate portent for later political developments in the UK. Not only are the tropes favoured by British populist-nationalists already well-rehearsed over a longer duration by prominent Nordic outfits, but it was Scandinavia (not least Sweden) that first trialled many of the key manoeuvres definitive of a whole range of recent political developments: for instance, the nominal ‘greening’ of the centre-right as well as their rebranding as the ‘worker’s party’; the outsourcing and deregulation of public provisioning in healthcare and education (e.g. Free Schools); alongside the 1990s embrace of neoliberal maxims by formally Social Democratic parties. For a lively recent account of Sweden’s unique place in the political imagination, see Gavan Titley’s ‘Swedens of the Mind’.

 

The Hard Brexit road to Indyref2

📥  Brexit, European politics, Political ideologies, UK politics

Of all the political parties in the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party is the most consistently strategic. That it lost a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 and barely three years later is in a position to call another one is testament to its strategic acumen. It turns heated internal arguments into clear external purpose, executed with discipline. Yesterday, the Prime Minister accused it of treating politics as a game. She could hardly have chosen a less appropriate attack.

Thistles

 

Calling a second referendum is high risk. If it is lost, as Quebecois nationalists know, the chances of striking it lucky third time are remote. The economic arguments against independence remain formidable, and would be further complicated, not resolved, by a parting of the ways between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom over membership of the European Union.

Two factors explain Nicola Sturgeon’s decision: the intransigence of Conservative-Unionism and the weakness of the Labour Party. Intransigence is in part an artifact of the Prime Minister’s governing style, which combines “personal animus and political diligence”, as David Runciman has written. She sticks to a position doggedly and keeps things close to her in No10. She is capable of ruthless revenge, to the point of petulance, as Michael Heseltine recently discovered. It is a statecraft that has served her well until now. It is not one that is suited to sharing power in a process of negotiation and compromise across a fractured union.

Her choice of the hard route to Brexit has also narrowed her scope for flexibility. Taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union is the proximate cause of Scotland’s discontent. It is also the source of mounting opposition to Brexit in Northern Ireland. There would be no possibility of a hard border in Ireland if the government had not chosen a Hard Brexit. And it is primarily because the government wants to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, and to strike its own trade deals with the rest of the world, that is resisting the devolution to Scotland of the powers over agriculture and fisheries that will be repatriated from Brussels. (What’s more, if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, and unilaterally removes all tariffs in order to smooth its path to the WTO, the impact would be disproportionately felt by Scotland’s manufacturers, farmers, and distilleries). The logic of Hard Brexit is Conservative-Unionist, when to meet the aspirations of its constituent nations, and to hold itself together, Britain needs a flexible, federalist approach.

History is in danger of repeating itself. The last time the United Kingdom was challenged by the aspirations for greater self-determination of a significant proportion of one its nations was during the long struggle for Irish Home Rule. Conservative-Unionists met that challenge by suppression, not accommodation. It didn’t end well.

The second factor is the decline of the Labour Party. It has been widely remarked that the SNP will use Labour’s electoral weaknesses to present the referendum as a choice between independence and indefinite Conservative government at Westminster. But a near-term calculation is at work here too: Labour’s decline means that the referendum campaign itself will be fought between the SNP and the Conservatives. Labour will not carry the banner of unionism – the very term is now toxic for the party in Scotland – and while its UK leader cannot even stick to an agreed script, it will be incapable of marshalling anti-nationalist forces, as it once did. The referendum will become the straight fight with the Conservatives that the SNP has always wanted.

Labour’s vacillation on Europe means that it is currently largely voiceless in the national debate on Brexit. It is shedding votes to the Liberal Democrats as a consequence. It fears a further loss of support to UKIP and the Conservatives if it backs membership of the single market and customs union in the Brexit negotiations. But the prospect of the breakup of the UK, the unstitching of the Northern Irish settlement, and economic decline in its heartlands should give it cause to consider the national interest, not just the party interest. Labour could make itself politically relevant to the future of the UK, and to the Brexit negotiations, if it changed tack and support continued membership of the EU single market, as well as a new (quasi) federal constitutional settlement for the UK (perhaps even creating an English Labour Party in the process). Perhaps this is unthinkable, even for a desperate party. But without such a change, there is no prospect of a parliamentary bloc that unites pro-European Conservatives with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and other parties in meaningful opposition to the government. And without that, there is every prospect of a Hard Brexit and the breakup of the United Kingdom.

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.

whitefleetfinal

 

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

 

Labour’s weakness leaves the Tories free to do as they please

📥  Democracy and voter preference, Political ideologies

This article first appeared in the Financial Times.

Soul-searching about the electoral prospects of the Labour party has been a British political pastime for decades. After Labour’s defeat at the 1959 general election, Anthony Crosland, the party’s pre-eminent revisionist intellectual, published a Fabian pamphlet entitled “Can Labour Win?” His argument was that economic growth had shrunk the industrial working class and swelled the ranks of an affluent middle class, transforming the electoral battleground on which Labour had to fight.

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Pamphlets and polemics have been published with variations on that theme ever since, always after Labour has lost elections. With the exception of a bout of civil war in the early 1980s, Labour has responded to each defeat by seeking to broaden its appeal and modernise its policies. In each era, it has succeeded in getting re-elected.

The results of Thursday’s by-elections paint a bleaker picture, however. It is not simply that Labour’s current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is unpopular, or that his brand of reheated Bennism holds little appeal for most voters. The chances of his leading Labour into the next general election must now be considered minimal. It is that in the heyday of postwar social democracy, Labour won handsomely, whatever the national result, in seats like Copeland (which it lost on Thursday) and Stoke-on-Trent Central (which it held with a reduced majority).

Since then, three things have happened in these constituencies and others like them: turnout has fallen dramatically, the number of parties contesting the seats has multiplied and the Labour majority has been slashed. The party’s grip on power in its historic strongholds is now more tenuous than at any time since the 1930s, when it was split and faced a popular National government.

Until relatively recently, Labour could rely on its working-class supporters, even as the industrial society that shaped their allegiances steadily disappeared. Today, age and social class inequalities in voting patterns work decisively against the party. Older, middle-class voters turn out in much greater numbers than working-class and younger voters, which disproportionately benefits the Conservatives. Theresa May has been adept at consolidating this older voting bloc behind her government.

The prime minister has used the Brexit vote to offer a new configuration of Conservative politics that is both Eurosceptic and post-Thatcherite, detaching the interventionist, One Nation economic and social traditions of the party (at least in rhetoric, if not yet in practice) from its enfeebled pro-European wing. It is an electorally potent combination, which has had the effect, not just of boxing Labour into liberal, metropolitan Britain, but of holding down the UK Independence party’s vote.

Breathless post-Brexit talk of Ukip eating away the core Labour vote in the north of England has now given way to a more sophisticated appreciation of the flows of voters between the parties — flows from which the Conservatives, and to a lesser degree the Liberal Democrats, appear to be the winners.

Britain’s new electoral geography has also undermined Labour. Once, the party could bring battalions of MPs to Westminster from Scotland, Wales and northern England, where it was indisputably dominant. Now it fights on different fronts against multiple parties across the UK, a national party in a fracturing union. In Scotland, its support has been cannibalised by the Scottish National party, while the Conservatives have picked up the unionist vote there.

In Wales, party allegiances have split in different directions, while in England, the collapse of the Liberal Democrats at the last general election handed a swath of seats to the Conservatives. The EU referendum added another layer of complexity, splitting coastal, rural and post-industrial areas from cities and university towns, and leaving Labour facing in different directions, trying to hold together a coalition of voters with divergent views.

Any Labour leader would struggle in these circumstances — renewing the party’s fortunes at a time of national division is a monumental task. But it is now clear that the surge of support for Mr Corbyn in 2015 was less a new social movement giving energy and purpose to the Labour party, than a planetary nebula collecting around a dying star.

Labour’s weaknesses leave pro-Europeans bereft of political leadership at a critical time. In the absence of an effective opposition that can marshal blocking votes in parliament, the government is able to conduct the politics of Brexit internally. Countervailing forces are restricted to alternative centres of power, such as Scotland or London, and civil society campaigns that are only just starting to form. Big business is curiously mute and the trade unions have other priorities. On the most important question facing Britain, political power is dangerously lopsided.

Yet there are still grounds for optimism on the left, however small. Britain’s radical political traditions — liberal, as well as social democratic — are resilient and resourceful ones, particularly when they combine forces. The defeats inflicted on progressive parties in recent elections around the world have been narrow not decisive, suggesting that talk of a nationalist turn in the tide of history is overblown. While British Conservatism may be remarkably adaptive, Brexit will be a severe test of it.

Five years after Crosland posed the question of whether Labour could win, Harold Wilson became prime minister in a blaze of the “white heat” of technology. It will not be Mr Corbyn, and it will take a lot longer this time, but Wilson may yet have a successor who can do the same.

 

Awkward to the last: Britain and the EU

📥  Brexit, Political ideologies, UK politics

Professor David Galbreath is Professor of International Security and Dean of the University of Bath’s Department of Social and Policy Sciences

Following the Supreme Court ruling on the UK Government’s plans to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Theresa May delivered a 1-page draft bill to Parliament which purposed ‘to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU’. What will most likely become the European Union Act of 2017 signals the beginning of the end for UK membership of the most economically and politically powerful trading bloc in history.

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In his book An Awkward Partner, Professor Stephen George set out to characterise the British role in the EU, stating that while the UK became a member of what was then the European Communities in 1973, it was never all the way in. For European integrationists, the UK was a regular break from ‘an ever-deeper partnership’ – while for European federalists, the UK encouraged state sovereignty that allowed for ‘variable speeds’ of integration. In other words, the UK became a sui generis member of a sui generis institution.

Author of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty when he was Secretary-General of the EU Convention in 2002-03, Lord Kerr set out in a recent talk just how ‘awkward’ and ‘sui generis’ the UK would continue to be – even through the act of withdrawal from membership of the EU. Entitled “Brexit: Will Divorce be damaging, and could it be amicable?”, Lord Kerr’s public lecture – which was hosted by the Institute for Policy Research on campus at the University of Bath – evidenced the argument that in addition to being damaging, Brexit would be very unlikely to be amicable either at home or in Europe.

Lord Kerr reminded us that it was Margaret Thatcher who made the strongest argument for UK membership of the EU. The UK was “stronger in Washington because we were seen to be strong in Brussels, and stronger in Brussels because we were seen to be strong in Washington.” Furthermore, the country was comfortable to assume an identity that was both British and European at that time, which followed the post-war settlement, the major political movements in the region and the quick turnaround in trade after the 1973 accession. Thatcher knew that Britain had an awkward role in the EU, but that it was a role which suited Britain in terms of where it wanted to be in Europe and the world.

Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair followed suit with a vision for Britain that was both strongly European and Atlanticist. Even more, both Major and Blair sought to enlarge the EU so that it would include more states which were like the UK, and would seek a federal rather than integrated Europe. Denmark, which joined at the same time as the UK and was similarly inclined towards Brussels, was joined by Finland and Sweden in 1995. Following this, the augmentation of the bloc continued with the 2004 Enlargement, which brought 10 new member states (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia); further enlargements in 2007 to include Bulgaria and Romania; and the 2013 accession of Croatia. Successive British prime ministers saw this as a way to slow down European integration – and, to all intents and purposes, it worked.

Yet even before the 2004 enlargement the UK (as well as Ireland and Sweden) had opened its economy to EU accession state populations, with the greatest EU migration to the UK being in the years prior to their home country’s inclusion in the bloc.

While EU migration has continued to decline, especially following the 2007-2012 financial crisis, the impact of EU and world immigration to the UK has had identifiable impacts on many communities across the UK – especially in areas that voted to remain in the EU, an irony not lost on remainers. Whereas net migration from the EU has declined over time, the percentage of the population that was not born in the UK has increased. The view on immigration was the single most important indicator for voting to remain or leave the EU in the 23 July 2016 referendum.

The cost of ‘divorce’ is high, and Lord Kerr laid out well the negotiations that will have to go on around trade, industries, banking, and the atomic energy sector – not to mention the status of UK citizens throughout the EU, as well as the EU citizen in the UK. Controlling immigration may give a sense of power to many communities, but it will not solve the problems that existed before the referendum and, in some cases, will be exacerbated by it.

The mistake that the UK government is making is assuming that British industry and products (though not labour) will be needed in Europe going forward, despite the fact that in a globalised world there are many economies that will thrive on being an alternative to the UK in European trade and finance. Already Germany and the Netherlands are receiving marked increases in business and capital that previously would have gone to the UK, and from those that would have invested in the UK but will not following the triggering of Article 50.

To say that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are the only winners in this situation gives the European economies too little credit and discounts the power of new regional economic blocs that just might use this opportunity to build a real alternative to Europe and the UK as a whole. Now that would be awkward.

This post was inspired by a recent IPR Public Lecture given by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, author of Article 50. You can read more about the lecture, and find links to the video and podcast, here.

 

Liberalism can survive but it has to renew its social traditions

📥  Political ideologies

I wrote this for the Financial Times yesterday on the breadth and resilience of liberalism and how it can be renewed by reaching back to the social liberal tradition.

As 2016 comes to an end, liberalism will be given a place on the roster of the year’s notable deaths, slotted in somewhere between Harper Lee and Muhammad Ali. In the year of Brexit, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, liberalism has been declared dead and buried. “The liberal pageant is fading,” writes John Gray, the dystopian philosopher, and “all that really remains of liberalism is fear of the future.” He is not alone. All around us, a “post-liberal” era is being announced.

European liberalism joined forces with nationalism in the 19th century to give political expression to demands for autonomy and self-rule. Today, the two have mostly parted company, save where civic nationalists still seek liberation from larger nation states, as in Scotland and Catalonia. Nationalism now wears an illiberal face and it does so with pride. Authoritarian, conservative nationalists govern much of the world, including swaths of eastern Europe. Liberal politics is in retreat.
Yet the rush to read the funeral rites of liberalism is premature. It is a capacious and tenacious ideology with a rich, diverse history. The concept of liberty always at its core, it has worn numerous political and intellectual guises — from the classical defence of property rights and restraints on arbitrary power, to the expansive social liberalism that gave birth to the British welfare state, and also the emancipatory liberalism of civil rights movements worldwide. Even when politically weak, it has lent its ideas and energy to other movements. John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge gave the UK Labour party the intellectual tools with which to build Jerusalem after the second world war.

Nordic social democracy can be readily assimilated to the social liberal tradition, as can Rooseveltian American liberalism. Even continental liberalism can lay claim to its part in the success of postwar Christian Democracy. With an ideological lineage of such range and influence, liberalism will not be so easily consigned to oblivion. But to thrive again it needs rescuing from its friends as much as its enemies.

In recent decades, it has been stripped of its philosophical and political power. In the quest for robust theories of social justice, liberal political philosophy grew ever more removed from daily struggles for improvement in the human condition. Liberalism lost sight of its insurgent roots in the fight against established orders and lost ground as politics focused after the financial crisis on questions of jobs, security and identity.
Meanwhile, the decline of the social liberal tradition left the field open for colonisation of liberal language by the Thatcherite right, which used it to pioneer the extension of markets, competition and new managerial regimes of regulation into public life and social relationships. Benthamite utilitarian liberalism has been recently revived but as a “science of happiness”, less often to liberate humans than to devise new means of governing them, furnishing justification for technologies to monitor moods and behaviour, corporate HR strategies and government by technocratic nudge.

Little wonder that, when they finally acquired some power by joining the UK coalition government, the Liberal Democrats were reduced to an agenda of softening the edges of public spending cuts and constraining conservative Euroscepticism. Theirs was a besieged version of liberalism, for which a heavy price was paid at the ballot box last year.

The renewal of liberalism will start with resistance. Already in eastern Europe a liberal rearguard is being fought to defend democratic and constitutional rights, from Poland to Hungary. We can expect American liberalism, at its radical and rumbustious best, to stand its ground against attacks on constitutional norms, environmental degradation and incursions into the rights of minorities. In the UK, liberals of all parties are at the heart of opposition to hard Brexit. In these battles, particular as they are to different national political arenas, liberalism can throw off the caricature of unpatriotic rootlessness and self-righteous political correctness.

But liberalism will fail if protest is all it can muster. It needs to renew its social traditions and the alliances once forged with the working classes — to rediscover social liberalism’s emphasis on the interdependence of individual and community, the pursuit of human flourishing and the economic radicalism with which to shape capitalism in the common good. It must play its part in constructing a liberal politics of community to compete with that offered by nationalists: one that responds to demands for good jobs, decent housing and social respect, and which appeals to voters outside the cosmopolitan cities.

These are big tasks, made harder by the political weakness of the UK Labour party and its centre-left sister parties elsewhere in the world. But liberalism is a resilient, adaptive creed. We should not pronounce it dead yet.

 

How the left should respond to the steady march of nationalism

📥  European politics, Political ideologies

Published in The New Statesman, December 2017

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage.

“Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built,” remarked ­Florian Philippot, the chief strategist of France’s Front National, after Donald Trump’s victory. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States has consolidated a global shift towards nationalism that has been under way since the 2008 financial crisis. The steady march of nationalist politics has swept up swaths of the world’s population: Russia and Turkey are governed by authoritarian, ethno-religious regimes; eastern Europe is criss-crossed by illiberal, nationalist governments; and western Europe is now home to virulent, far-right movements and large, electorally competitive political parties, such as the Front National and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party) in Austria, which have made their way into the democratic mainstream. Japan and India are governed by democratic, conservative nationalists, while in China an emergent strongman, Xi Jinping, has been newly designated as the “core” of the Communist Party leadership.

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Until recently, the Anglosphere countries had largely bucked these trends. Centrist conservative dominance in England, Justin Trudeau’s victory in the 2015 Canadian general election and the likelihood that the Democrats would retain the White House promised to build a liberal firewall against the nationalist ascendancy. Brexit and Trump upended those assumptions. The nationalist virus has infected the body politic of Burkean Anglo-America.

A focus on populism – in policy, rhetoric and political style – obscures the asymmetry of this shift along the left/right axis. Contemporary nationalism is almost wholly conservative or authoritarian, and sometimes avowedly fascist. It is only civic or leftist in the case of political movements seeking liberation from existing nation states, as with Scottish or Catalan nationalism. Its ascendancy is therefore another marker of the electoral weakness of the contemporary centre left.

But it is also highly differentiated. In the UK, Theresa May’s government represents an attempt to reconcile post-Thatcherism with a soft economic nationalism and renewed social conservatism. Its bedrock is an older, security-conscious electorate that is sceptical of immigration and hostile to elites. This is a far cry from the nativist and fascist movements of the European mainland, which draw energy from youthful extremists as well as the post-industrial dispossessed, and which direct unstinting fire at migrant populations and the EU project.

European nationalism, in turn, cannot supply the conceptual frameworks with which to understand Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s business-friendly Hindu identity politics in India, nor, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist, anti-Kurdish authoritarianism, which seeks to wrench Turkish nationalism out of its 20th-century secular, Kemalist frame. These have their own origins and trajectories. For its part, China maintains a political order that is highly ethnocentric, built around the dominant identity of the Han Chinese, and its leadership is increasingly centralised. But China is committed to the rule-bound, liberal global economic order on which its economic growth critically depends, and shows no interest in the military adventurism of its Russian neighbour.

This suggests that talk of a nationalist ­revolt against globalisation offers too simple an account of a complex picture. The new wave of nationalism has been incubated in the era of global integration, but it will not bring it to a close. Global supply chains, foreign direct investment, cross-border lending and the political institutions of managed trade all inhibit a reversion to autarky, imperial blocs or high tariff walls.

Global trade has fallen because of weak demand and the slowing of China’s growth, not protectionist sentiment, and although new multilateral deals with the Americans may now be off the cards, the cost of the US launching punitive tariff wars will be punishingly high. Trump’s election signifies an end to the signature trade agreements of the Obama era, and his narcissism and volatility introduce a deep uncertainty into global politics, particularly in the handling of relations with China, as the storm over Taiwan has shown. But regional trade blocs such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European single market are unlikely to collapse, and the integration into the global economy of the huge working populations of Asia will continue, not unwind.

Still, such are the howls of protest from the rust belts of advanced economies, the surge of discontent among debt-laden, college-educated young people who have been locked in to low salaries and priced out of housing markets, and the political shocks administered by Trump and Ukip, that austerity in Europe and inequality in the US will come under renewed pressure. A “reactionary Keynesianism” of tax cuts for the rich, increased military spending and infrastructure credits will form the core of Trump’s economic strategy as he seeks to repay his base. He will be inaugurated at a time of rising wages, and as long as inflation is held in check, American workers will feel their pay cheques swell throughout his first term. In the UK, the rhetoric of delivering for the “just about managing” classes will outpace reality, but, like their Republican counterparts, the Conservatives will seek to lock down the electoral allegiances of working-class voters.

The eurozone is more uncertain. A victory for Marine Le Pen would be a cataclysmic defeat for European liberalism, but even if her Front National doesn’t manage to emulate Trump, the size of its popular support, the pressure of left-wing opponents of austerity in southern Europe, and the electoral threat posed by reactionaries in Germany may yet force Angela Merkel to abandon the self-defeating straitjacket of EU-wide austerity and weaken the mercantilism of the country’s export sectors. By dint of history and conviction, Germany’s leaders remain deeply committed to the European project; they will not let it disintegrate easily.

Some reshaping of the global security order is likely, in which tacit co-operation between the main military powers returns, retrospectively endorsing Vladimir Putin’s land-grabs and power plays in the Middle East. With the US, Japan and France pivoting towards more Russia-friendly postures, and Britain detached from European security diplomacy by Brexit, the stage is set for a new rapprochement with Putin. The EU is likely to expend more effort in defending the Paris climate-change agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal than in contesting Crimea or Aleppo, despite the fears of the Baltic states. China has already indicated that its priorities for dealing with a Trump presidency will be resisting protectionism and any backsliding on climate change.

The electoral success of nationalist and conservative authoritarian governments also masks the continued strength of liberalism’s social and economic redoubts. Cosmopolitan liberalism is not rootless: it is founded on large and growing university-educated, ethnically diverse urban populations. In recent electoral contests, this bloc has roughly matched those of the conservatives and nationalists. It has suffered narrow defeats, not decisive ones. It will now dig in to defend its social gains and to resist encroachments on civil rights and liberal constitutionalism. This resistance is already facing down authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe, and will put up a fight against evangelical-inspired culture wars, environmental degradation and attacks on minority rights. The politics of constitutional patriotism, often restricted to a “kissing the typewriter” liberalism of procedural justice, will, for once, attract passion and anger.

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. It is unlikely to usher in a post-liberal order, let alone foreshadow the end of capitalism, though one cannot discount increased violence and repression of minority communities. The space for a broad alliance of liberal, centrist, social-democratic and green politics remains wide – but it will need to find a way of articulating working-class interests, economic as well as cultural, and to find a more expressive, emotional and compelling register for its politics.

The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage and political protest. The new times demand a progressive engagement with the politics of identity and belonging, as well as renewed radicalism on economic policy and social protection. “You have made yourself the trustee for those in every country who seek to mend the evils of our condition by reasoned experiment within the framework of the existing social system,” Keynes wrote to Roosevelt in December 1933. If the era of nationalists and authoritarians is to pass, this kind of leadership will be needed again.