There is building anger at home and abroad. We need a new big tent

by Jonathan Todd

“Today my work is global,” Tony Blair reminded us in his inaugural Philip Gould Lecture. Even when Blair was a mere domestic politician, the forces that he grappled with, as he often noted, were global. Policy Network, the international think-tank, sees these forces as having contributed toward 5-75-20 societies.

The fruits of globalisation have been sweet for the 5 per cent at ‘the top’, enjoying ‘runaway’ rewards from finance and property. They have been bitter for those at ‘the bottom’, seemingly trapped in cycles of low-wage, irregular work. The 75 per cent are the squeezed middle. These ‘new insecure’ have suffered declining wages, feeling the pressures of continued globalisation and automation.

In the NICE – non-inflationary continuous expansion – years of prime minister Blair, the pitch to the middle class emphasised aspiration. If they worked hard and played by the rules, they could aspire to lives at least approximating to the 5 per cent. Now, however, the 75 per cent are more fearful about falling behind.

As in the famous class sketch, featuring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the middle classes still look up and down. But angrily in both directions. Upward at the 5 per cent, who are increasingly presumed to hold their status due to underhand methods. Downward at the supposed welfare queens of the 20 per cent.

Of course, this is to paint a very broad brush picture. But reconceptualising contemporary society in 5-75-20 form allows us to understand afresh the popularity of both Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze and the vengeful tone of the government’s welfare policy. The former speaks to the frustration of the 75 per cent with the 5 per cent and the latter to the antipathy of the middle for the 20 per cent.

Viva Hate was one of the albums of the 1980s and we risk regression to that decade’s politics of competing antagonisms, so viscerally evident on Morrissey’s record, rather than building upon the big tent optimism of the Blair years that came in between. 5-75-20 is an attempt to revive a big tent. To pitch progressive politics as the solution to the problems of the broad mass. In this endeavour, grounding social security in contribution, which would curb the resentments of the 75 per cent against the 20 per cent, and making capitalism inclusive, which would allow all to share in the success now appearing the preserve of the 5 per cent, are vital. Liam Byrne is doing his bit by forming and unanimously being elected chair of a new APPG on Inclusive Growth.

In the insecurities of the 75 per cent, however, we can see the seeds of a rolling back of the globalisation that Blair proclaimed as irreversible. Support for protectionist or trade restrictive policies could be predicated upon these worries.

“The world,” as Dani Rodrik has written, “has seen globalisation collapse once already. The gold standard era – with its free trade and free capital mobility – came to an abrupt end in 1914 and could not be resuscitated after World War I. Could we witness a similar global economic breakdown in the years to come?”

It’s not just the strains of the 75 per cent that make me worry that we could. It is, as Timothy Garton Ash put it, Putin’s 19th-century völkisch vision as the policy of a 21st-century state. It is the descent of the Middle East into violent Sunni-Shia conflict. It is the building tensions between China and Japan.

In extremis, these trends could lead to World War III. We wouldn’t have to travel so far down the road in this direction, though, before the free movement of people, goods and labour, which characterises globalisation, is reversed. Some claim that a US more determined to uphold the liberal world order that it built would have prevented these situations escalating as they have. Others see them as beyond the control of the US. Or, in what Ian Bremmer calls a G-Zero world, anyone. What’s most shaming, from a UK perspective, is that these issues are so rarely intelligently debated in our politics, in spite of their profound and potentially grave consequences for us.

Today, in a world such as this, all our work should be global. At least in our perspectives and understandings. Yet burdened by the trials of our 5-75-20 society, we rarely so raise our sights. Which risks, ultimately, recasting Blair as a Henry Campbell-Bannerman type figure. Landslide winner and social reformer, at the last gasp of a global age.

The logic of 5-75-20 leads us toward a new big tent at home. While such a tent would partly be a response to the discontents of globalisation, the gains of this process, including lifting hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty in the developing world, are too great for us to not also take the steps required internationally to fortify it.

Jonathan Todd is the Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut 

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5 Responses to “There is building anger at home and abroad. We need a new big tent”

  1. swatantra says:

    I could have told him that he’s compltely wasting his time and of our time on the peace keeping side of his work. But I didn’t. Not in that audiance of glazed eyed adorationists. I would probably have been lynched. In fact Tony is probably the biggest handicap we have to solving the Palestine problem, and what to do with Israel.
    I don’t think the world can stand another 50 years of basically bulls*t by the West on this issue. But on his Relief of Poverty work I am generous enough to commend him and his Foundations. Tony is our President Carter whose still going strong at 80 something; so by the turn of the Century Tony could still be around doing his charitable work.
    It truly is a Global Village, the trouble is the 1% in control of the wealth, the Land and Minerals and industry. You may not have heard about the Minig and Minerals Industry. But there is a lot of money in it and a lot of corruption, as Govts are bought off to secure lucrative contracts. The British govt is involved as much as the rest. They do deals behind our backs; the same elite of politicians and industrialists and they connive to get out of paying their share of tax. So what are the rest of us going to do about it?

  2. Tafia says:

    Stop putting your head in the sand – over coming decades the ‘middle’ is going to get smaller and the ’20’ is going to get bigger. Accept it, embrace it and welcome it – it’s the future and is our own fault.

    We are in a time of transition and are witnessing a massive and increasing shift in wealth and productivity to BRIC and the developing world. The west no longer has enough young people and children, can no longer provide decent guarenteed employment for it’s citizens and does not have it’s own major energy sources nor grow enough of it’s own food.

  3. Dan says:

    “In fact Tony is probably the biggest handicap we have to solving the Palestine problem”

    Eh? How’d you figure that one out?

    Also, ‘we’ aren’t going to solve the Israel/Palestine grudgematch, that’s for them to figure out ultimately. If us and the Yanks can host talks, act as mediators, then fine. But ‘Solve’? No. I don’t think so.

  4. Madasafish says:

    You really need to read this article in Tuesday’s Telegraph.. which explains that one of the consequences of QE has been an explosion in asset prices (so making the rich richer) and a fall in interest rates .. thus enabling the Government to borrow at low rates of interest..

    If you decide to reverse the asset inflation we have seen – through taxes or deflation – you risk another big implosion in banking as security for loans collapses and banks become insolvent (again).

    And of course if interest rates rise a lot, economic activity will stall.

    Any future Labour Government will find itself so constrained by economics, it will be unable to make any difference.. unless it does something so radical it has not been thought of. The Labour Party economics team shows no sign of having that genius- rather the reverse.

  5. Ex Labour says:

    This blog seems to lack any clear direction or make any clear point, or rather it conflates issues in trying to make a point. I have read through it and also the links to various other blogs – all rather tedious. It seems to be a mish mash of left wing cause celebs and ‘straw men’ from a number of left wing indivduals and organisations.

    The general point seems to be that the rich are now richer, the majority are unsure of their future due to globalisation and the minority are poor. This actually flies in the face of recent evidence which suggests income gaps are closing and have been doing fso for some time. But lets not dwell on this.

    The remedy to the assumed and overstated problem seems to be a new “big tent”, some joining of disperate groups and ideas from the left to address this. The only problem is that the writers and referenced indivduals start from the premise that globalisation and capitalism is bad and taxation and redistribution is good. This kind of thinking got Brwon into trouble and Labour screwed the economy.

    Tony Blair’s “big tent” recognised that it should include truely diverse ideas from the left and right of the political spectrum and should be for the majority. Perhaps it was the “third way”. But one thing it did recognise is that the world has changed and continually looking back to some misty eyed golden age is a waste of time and has probably never existed.

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