Monday, 11 September 2017

Wrapping up Identity Politics

by Les May

I HAVE little liking for Tony Blair’s politics but I am inclined to agree with him that the only way to make Brexit a ‘success’ is to turn the UK into a Singapore style low tax, low regulation economy to compete with the EU.

After a quarter of a century of scepticism about the EU I realised that at the heart of the project was a desire to produce a ‘level playing field’ and prevent economic competition between countries leading to a ‘race to the bottom’ which is why I voted to remain in the EU.

Blair is not the first to point out that a Singapore style economy is a possible outcome of the vote to leave the EU.  Vernon Bogdanor made exactly this point in a wholly non-partisan way in a lecture broadcast on the Parliament Channel (Freeview 232).

A shift to a Singapore style economy would result in profound changes not just in our economic relationships but in our social and democratic relationships. Singapore has been described as a ‘flawed democracy’ and ranks 70th in the Democracy Index tables.

Where I disagree with Blair is his claim that ‘voters would not back such big shake up to the economy and society. In reality no-one is gong to ask the voters for their opinion until it is too late.

The fact is that there is little interest in economic matters amongst the public which take its lead from what appears in the press and on the electronic media. A shift to a Singapore style economy seems to be entirely consistent with the policies being pursued by the politicians in charge of negotiating the UK’s leaving the EU and the line of the Brexit supporting papers.  Even the supposedly more ‘liberal’ papers rarely put the case for a fairer economic system.  Commentators can pass themselves off as ‘left of centre’ by holding forth on the ‘right’ views about sexism, racism, and the ‘alphabet soup’ of ---phobias.

If you remember what attracted most attention from these commentators after both the leadership elections won by Corbyn wasn’t his economic policies but whether he had the right number of women in the shadow cabinet and whether the posts they held were sufficiently prestigious.

Much attention has been given to the fact that younger people tended to vote for Labour at the recent election but was it Labour’s economic policies which attracted them?

Speaking to students at the Cambridge Union during a book promotion tour of the UK earlier this year Bernie Sanders said “If I give a speech about combatting racism people would say ‘that’s great we cannot tolerate racism or sexism or homophobia’ and people respond to that. But what is harder for a variety of reasons for people to deal with is the fact that increasingly in this country, and Corbyn makes this point, and in my country, we are looking at oligarchic forms of government where the people on top have increased power, increased wealth, while the middle classes shrink and why many people live in desperate poverty. That is an approach that makes certain people uncomfortable. They feel uneasy about that, but I applaud Jeremy Corbyn for raising those issues”.

At the Oxford Union he said, “There is an area which is not nearly so sexy as dealing with race, as dealing with gender, as dealing with homophobia and that is the economic struggle and in that struggle we are not only not making progress, we are losing ground”.  As if to emphasise his point the applause came when he made reference to ‘gay’ marriage in the UK.

The anti Labour press knows how to exploit the politics of identity for its own ends. See for example So let’s not play their game.

Sander’s point was that economic issues and the increasing influence of the super rich on our political life, ‘wrap around’ these questions of identity politics. Identity politics plays to the interests of a few.   How we organise our economy and how fairly the wealth it creates is distributed affects us all.

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