Is the decision by British voters to exit the European Union last night actually a sober lesson for progressive movements around the world?
Then immediate results are there for all to see; the longer term has yet to be determined.
– The equivalent of ten New Zealand economies were wiped off global markets in the first day;
– The UK faces a credit rating downgrade and a currency “collapse”. This will feed through to a risk premium on global credit and higher mortgage costs in New Zealand. We may offset some of this with new trade and migration opportunities into the UK;
– The fallout has only just begun, and there is a real chance of a tip to a global recession, at least in the Eurozone and US. European bank risk is already high after Greece and this could be a major blow.
– Western recession will reduce demand for Chinese exports at a time when Chinese assets are already in a bubble. Economic dominoes may tumble despite concerted central bank intervention to print money like there’s no tomorrow.
– Massive geo-strategic shifts are inevitable. Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland will stay in the EU. Britain will fracture. NATO will be weakened. The Russia-China relationship will strengthen.
– Domestic politics in the UK is in turmoil. Cameron is gone. Johnson has split from Farage. Corbyn faces a leadership revolt. There will be immense pushback against Brexit even after the vote.
Pundits will analyse the causes of the Brexit vote and what it means for other polities, including our own.
The fact is, the vote was predicted by almost no pollster or expert in the days prior. In that respect it echoes Trump’s largely unpredicted populist campaign in the United States.
Trump was quick to seize on the parallel; and many Brexit voters also took pleasure in ambushing the conventional wisdom among the privileged that they were about to lose.
This is a victory that the most unsavoury parts of politics, not just in the United Kingdom but across Europe, will be celebrating, whether it is Farage, Le Pen or Trump.
The Brexit vote represents the current progressive paradox: the left should be able to represent the many marginalised by neo-liberal capitalism; but is struggling to connect with them in reality, particularly young people and males.
The result is that extremist nationalist figures are converging far right and left wing dissatisfaction thinking under a nationalistic, populist banner.
The duality between elitism and democracy, between highly-educated globalists and less-privileged voters, is becoming a growing force in global politics. As one commentator said, it’s either “an uprising of real people against out-of-touch economic and political elites”. Or throwing their country under a bus, or both.
The conundrum is how to we fix it? This must been seen as a wake-up call by all who believe in progress and recognise the interpendance of the global system.
The message from Brexit and Trump, Sanders and Corbyn is (ironically) the same: ignore working people at your peril. Wealth can only be concentrated for so long until popular backlash hits. High grade PR may delay but cannot avoid that reality.
People want to feel good about their country. They want to feel proud and connected. The need to feel their country is progressive and has a plan. We can and will deliver on that, but in the meantime there are things that everyone in the left movement can be doing to connect and respect.
In Labour we call that restoring the “Kiwi dream’. First, attend to the basics:
– A warm dry home that every family can afford to own or rent. No more kids sleeping in cars or garages for goodness sake!
– Free or affordable education that underpins the economy of the future and provides opportunity and social mobility for all;
– First class health care that is there when you need it not just when you can afford it;
– A welfare safety net to bounce back off when misfortune strikes;
– A plan for the future of our country that is inclusive and understood; and
– A society that is tolerant, outward looking and celebrates diversity and talent.
As progressives who believe in a non-racist, anti-xenophobic future we should be very, very worried by what has happened in the UK. We’ve now got a world in which it is much scarier place to be a migrant and much harder to advance the values we hold dear – the equality of people, the rights of the individual, accountable and democratic Government.