European Thought for the Day No 1. So here is the first thing that we HAVEN’T learned. That the victory of the Leave campaign signals the victory of ordinary people over the Establishment.
In my opinion the EU referendum was a contest that reflected an underlying tension within the global capitalist Establishment, between a social democratic model and a Neo-Liberal model. For all the simplistic binary opposites Stay / Go; In / Out; Leave / Remain, and however many times the BBC tried to get ‘with it’ by playing The Clash’s ‘Should I stay or should I go’ I have not been persuaded otherwise. To endorse so-called Brexit is turning out to be a de facto endorsement of the Neo-Liberal Establishment, effectively providing a mandate for whatever Brexit Conservative government rises whether led by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Theresa May or even the obese John Bull himself.
Big business elites support for so-called populism. Headline in yesterday’s Daily Star, owned by Richard Desmond, reputedly the 48th richest person in UK
Breakdown of the social democratic consensus
Since WWII there has been a largely social democratic consensus. This was a combination of:
A pragmatism and self-interest – in order to compete with the state capitalist power block of the Soviet Union and its satellites and in order to defuse revolutionary socialist demands for a society to be run for human need not private profit from the militancy before and after World War One to the Spanish Revolution, to the popular disaffection that threw out Winston Churchill’s after World War II and the ‘evenements’ in Paris and elsewhere in 1968 and growth of the counterculture in the late 1960s, early 1970s.
B a Whiggish assumption of social progress and liberal humane belief that if the economy kept growing then the ultra-rich could continue to reap huge profits whilst raising the standard of living for all.
At the same time the social-democratic model has been based on, first, direct Imperialism and then, after decolonisation, neo-imperialist trade relations due to the vast inequalities in global capital and power. It has experienced regular and defining crises, such as the oil crisis of 1973. Above all is it based on unsustainable economic growth on a finite planet.
Neo-Liberalism tears asunder
Since the 1970s a rival global capitalist model, usually termed Neo-Liberalism, has emerged, personified by right-wing politicians such as Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, steeped in the thinking of free market ideologues such as Milton Friedman. Critics such as Naomi Klein have traced the first interventions of this programme to the US influenced intervention in the Chile in 1973 when the elected social democratic government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup, resulting in the deaths of thousands (the number of those that ‘disappeared’ has been impossible to quantify) and the installation of the Pinochet Dictatorship. This new model was consolidated by the collapse of state capitalist Soviet regime from 1989 to 1991 when Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed the ‘End of History’ and the final victory of free market Liberal Democracy.
The Neo-Liberal programme has been broadly characterised by the implementation of policies to wipe away social protections and slash public spending, welfare programmes and environmental protection and to build up a powerful state apparatus to smash opposition to such so-called ‘reform and modernisation’ from troublesome communities such as the miners, travellers, anti-war activists and environmentalists. Notwithstanding occasional setbacks, such as the popular defeat of the Poll tax, this neo-Liberal juggernaut has enjoyed, in its own terms, much success. In this context the so-called Brexit is a significant step forward for Neo-Liberalism.
The European Union is a kind of muddling together of the two approaches. It was forged in the heyday of social democracy during the immediate post-War period and was deeply imbued with such values so with significant differences of opinion on particular policies and strategies existed a broad social democratic consensus as the European Union has evolved and enlarged to its current 28 member states (current until the exit of the UK is formalised). However the EU is a deeply contested space enshrined internal contradictions and the forces within it are now causing this consensus to break down. It has always been a powerful force for globalisation and dominated by national interests and existed as a Fortress Europe to violently exclude others from sharing in the vast capital it has ‘accrued’ (even if this capital has been generated off the backs of, and through the intellectual endeavours of, non-EU workers).
This muddling together of motivations and approaches accounts for the divisive interpretations of the value and direction of the European Union with big business supporting both sides and close friends with similar ideological approaches such as David Cameron and Michael Gove.
Euros latest. English and Welsh working and middle class score an own goal in Brexit.
As I write global markets are jumpy. This may precipitate an ongoing economic crisis, a second wind for the economic crisis of 2008 and will almost inevitably be followed by the unleashing of an intensified imposition of austerity measures. It is conceivable that some parts of the British economy will do well and economic growth will rise due to the attractions of a ‘business friendly’ economy. But the UK politicians on both sides of the EU referendum debate have already trumpeted the UK’s status as the world’s 5th largest economy – this has clearly not benefited most of the people who live in this area. Real wages have declined. The number of people that are homeless and living on the streets rapidly increased. And for the time in modern history a generation is leaving school that can expect to work more hours for less reward. In a particularly profound demographic indicator that all is not well there are even signals that increases in life expectancy are reversing.
Brexit is in effect a mandate for neo-Liberalism since if a new Conservative Brexit government consolidates its new found power I confidently predict:
- The accelerating dismantlement and privatisation of the NHS – among leading Brexit supporters, John Redwood wanted to stop EU contributions in order to put more money into the ‘Health Service’ during the run up to the referendum, tellingly not the National Health Service. Nigel Farage has long been known to favour outright privatisation of the NHS
- More restrictions on trade unions – I would speculate that the recent Trade Union legislation was moderated in part because David Cameron needed to make a temporary strategic ceasefire with representatives of the labour movement because many had common cause in the Remain campaign.
- More zero hours contracts, and ‘flexible working’ a longer working week, further reduced pensions’ provision,
- Cuts to welfare and public spending,
- More expenditure on state forces, repression of public protest and increasing removal of civil liberties
- The removal of environmental protection measures
- The destruction of historic buildings and loss of green spaces in rural and urban districts alike for profitable private construction schemes
As I write there are already promises by the Conservative government’s Business Secretary, former City Banker, Sajid Javid to make Britain more ‘business friendly’. ‘Business-friendly’ is Neo-Liberal Establishment code for low wages, reduction of taxes on big business, and the removal of such ‘red tape’ as health and safety and environmental protection measures.
The Ultra-Establishment ‘Anti-Establishment’ elites
Now here’s the crowning irony. This is the real stroke of genius this one. The greatest achievement of this Neo-Liberal ultra-Establishment has been to present itself as anti-establishment. This phenomenon has been accepted at face value and unchallenged by the BBC and most of liberal opinion. We have seen the rise of the so-called ‘anti-Establishment’ mavericks and rebels such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in politics and Jeremy Clarkson in popular culture. This is exemplified above all by that multi-billionaire inheritor of wealth and property tycoon Donald Trump, who has consistently presented himself as an anti-Establishment man of the common people.
Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are not anti-Establishment or the advocates or defenders of the interests of ordinary people. Neither are they our friends.