Labour should see the bigger picture on the UK in the EU

by Jonathan Todd

“In 1941 there were only a dozen democracies in the world. Today there are over a hundred. For four centuries prior to 1950, global gross domestic product (GDP) rose by less than 1 percent a year. Since 1950 it has risen by an average of 4 percent a year, and billions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The first half of the twentieth century saw two of the most destructive wars in the history of mankind, and in prior centuries war among the great powers was almost constant. But for the past sixty years no great powers have gone to war with one another.”

These, according to Robert Kagan, in a book published at about the same time as Obama’s second term began, with the clear intension of dissuading the president from stepping back from global leadership, are American fruits. Since then, Kim Jong-un and Putin, Syria and the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, have brought into question America’s global reach. Nonetheless, Obama has held the international institutions that have held sway throughout much of the period venerated by Kagan – EU, NATO, IMF, UN, World Bank – in as much reverence as any modern US president.

We have our discontents with globalisation (and these are justified, notwithstanding its gains, which, in Kagan’s historic sweep, are considerable, even unprecedented). We have our grumbles with Obama (but it is hard not to feel that he has made a sincere attempt to recalibrate American strategy and recraft international institutions for ongoing transition to a more multipolar world). None of these discontents and grumbles, however, justify a retreat to nineteenth century statecraft.

John Kerry bemoans Putin playing by “19th century rules”, while Thomas Wright has chronicled Donald Trump’s “19th century foreign policy”. Trump – like Nigel Farage and George Galloway – holds Putin in high regard. The feeling is mutual. The Russian leader has said of Trump that he is a, “really brilliant and talented person”.

“For Putin,” according to Wright, “Trump would be a dream come true: an American president who possesses views commensurate with Putin’s own antiquated notion of great-power politics. Putin would no longer have to deal with a president committed to wide-open global trade, NATO and democracy close to his borders—the formula that won the Cold War.” In addition to the Cold War, these presidential commitments greatly assisted the gains applauded by Kagan. “It’s not hard to imagine these two men sitting down to cut a deal,” Wright continues, “perhaps something like Putin offering to help Trump on ISIL and Iran in exchange for giving Putin a freer hand in Europe”.

Imagine such a Europe. It would be divided. Perhaps by Brexit, if Farage and Galloway have their way. Certainly, by the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and the Euro’s sclerotic performance. Division is what Putin invariably seeks and preys upon. President Trump would shed no tears. Because he would look upon America’s global responsibilities differently from any other modern US president. He’d see minimal responsibility to anyone beyond the walls that he would erect, literally and metaphorically, upon his country’s borders. Farage and Galloway would see little to object to in this Europe either. They’d have Brexit, they have few qualms with Putin.

In such a combustible, disunited continent, though, it is not hard to envisage a President Le Pen, another admirer of Putin, emerging in France and the EU unravelling, receding to memory as the League of Nations did before it. Still, presumably, Farage, Galloway and Trump wouldn’t mourn. Nor, of course, would Putin.

If Jeremy Corbyn sees any plausibility in this scenario whatsoever, he ought to throw himself, and his party, into the campaign to keep the UK in the EU. It doesn’t always feel like this is happening. And if the worst were to happen, if the world were at the mercy of Trump, if Putin were the vulture on carcass of Europe, if France were reduced to Le Pen, what, then, would Corbyn think? What he has always too easily convinced himself: it is all America’s fault. The presence of Trump would varnish this belief, as with much of Corbyn’s worldview, with a veneer of plausibility. But beneath this would only be conceit. That he holds no culpability. That he did as much as he could to keep the UK in the EU. That, anyway, Brexit contributed nothing to this nadir.

On the contrary, Brexit has the potential to be a significant contributor to the unwinding of the second great globalisation, the benefits of which are described by Kagan. The first great globalisation occurred over the century to 1914. On many measures, the world economy only recently surpassed the 1913 levels of globalisation in trade and finance. As this first era reversed, protectionism built walls, as Trump would now build walls, and humanity pummelled some of its deepest depths. There is little reason to think that the closing of the second great globalisation would be any less barbarously regressive than the first.

We need to preserve the benefits of globalisation, while correcting its faults. And these weaknesses – inequality, suspicion of elites, institutional failure – are echoed, in different ways, in the rises of Corbyn and Trump. But would deepen under President Trump. And Brexit.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  

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10 Responses to “Labour should see the bigger picture on the UK in the EU”

  1. Peter Kenny says:

    The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn supports ‘Remain’ and will campaign on that basis. In fact we’ll be crucial in that campaign.

    In this article you seem to think he’s one of the four horseman of the apocalypse!

    Here is an big area where the party will unite – where are you? Talking catastrophe on the side.

    It’s actually like you want things to be as bad as possible.

  2. Tafia says:

    nd billions of people have been lifted out of poverty.

    So you can define poverty in material terms then?

    Really, only North America, Western Europe, most of north Eastern Europe, some parts of SE Asia/Oceania have been lifted out pf poverty. And even then there are pockets of poverty.

    Which is not that much different to 50 years ago.

    More than half of the worlds population doesn’t even have safe drinking water.

  3. Mike Homfray says:

    Jeremy has got the position absolutely right. Stay in the EU but recognise that there is nothing commendable about Cameron’s deal. And that Labour believes in another Europe – a social Europe which is possible.

  4. Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for a great piece, which articulates something I’ve had trouble expressing, that Western values of democracy, liberal values and the rule of law are under threat.

    There’s a brilliant article in the New Statesmans that makes a similar argument

    For me, the key quote is: “[The USA] see the EU’s crucial role in strengthening the West against those who would weaken it.”

    Like you, I’m underwhelmed by Corbyn’s defence of the EU. I’ve been alarmed by what he, and those around him, have said about the West. And I’ve be gravely concerned about what they have not said – in other words their failure to clarify previous statements that indicate a lack of a commitment to the best of Western values. They have equivocated in condemning terrorists and in condemning the behavious of Putin.

    As they have also previously talked about honouring terrorism, leaving NATO and abolishing capitalism, I don’t regard them as allies at all. I fear they are as much the opposition as Trump is.

    If those of us who believe in social democracy and western liberal values want to be effective in fighting for those beliefs, I believe we need to put our party divisions (I’m a Lib Dem) to one side.


  5. Disenfranchised says:

    “But for the past sixty years no great powers have gone to war with one another.”

    But those great powers have gone to wars against others, haven’t they – with devastating effect; they have been the root of most of the problems we are seeing now.

    The most dangerous problem we have now is ‘progressive interventionism’ – which seeks to impose our values on other countries whilst importing their barbarism into our own.

  6. philip martin says:

    So, you think we should remain ? That means the EU does its TTIP deal, so destroying our NHS and giving it to the profit seeking privateers. What a plonker.

  7. Mike Stallard says:

    Janathan you’re assuming that the EU is strong. It is appallingly weak because, at the moment, it depends on 28 varied and quarrelling states deciding on common policy. It simply doesn’t work. Immigration, the Euro, unemployment and a stagnant economy, Greece (and Italy Spain and Portugal?) all seem to be unconquered problems. And, without a strong leadership (le Pen? AfD? Golden Dawn?) that ain’t going to happen.

    But the EU does not bring peace any more. It has always been suspicious of the USA – our main NATO ally – and therefore of NATO. It wants its own military power. When the Ukraine asked to join the EU, the answer from wise people would have been a diplomatic and polite, “Not yet”. Instead Baroness Ashton travelled out to join the anti-Russian rioters!

    The historic Drang nach Osten – the drive to the East which destroyed Napoleon and Hitler and which was actually nearly achieved by the Kaiser – is terribly dangerous in a nuclear age and it is now assumed to be the natural thing.

    Bismarck said that the secret of European politics was a good treaty with Russia. His successor proved him right.

    Shame we haven’t listened to the great statesman.

  8. Tafia says:

    Latest polling of Labour Party members.

    Read from Paragraph 2 downwards.

  9. Anne says:

    Again Corbyn seems like a second rate politician – Labour’s position being articulated by Alan Johnson, Chuka and Hilary Benn – first rate politicians.

  10. tim says:

    I don’t understand it, a labour party website, a left wing labour party leader, and labour party supporters extolling the virtues of globalisation? What happened to the Labour party?

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